The Lydian Mode Across the Fretboard (with guitar lick examples)

The Lydian mode is used in various genres of music such as Jazz, Fusion, Folk, Rock and Classical.

Guitar virtuosos known for their use of the Lydian mode include Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.

The sound of the Lydian mode can be described as bright, happy, optimistic and heavenly. 

In this lesson you will learn how to play the Lydian mode on the guitar using five 3 note per string scale patterns that cover the entire fretboard.

With each scale pattern you will be given a guitar lick. This will help you explore the flavor of this mode. Every lick will only consist of notes from the scale pattern you have just learned.

At the end of the lesson you will be given a short guitar solo that uses the Lydian mode. Unlike the licks, the solo uses notes from all over the fretboard and is not tied to any particular scale pattern.

If you don’t know how modes work yet, I suggest you go through this lesson on guitar modes first and understand how the Lydian mode fits into the bigger picture.

Lydian is the fourth mode of the major scale

In this set of lessons on guitar modes we’re using the scale of G major as the parent scale.

Thus, since the scale of G major (Ionian mode) is made of the notes G A B C D E and F#, the Lydian mode derived from the scale would be C Lydian. This is made of the same notes of the G major scale but in a different order, starting from C: C D E F# G A and B.

The only difference between a Lydian mode and a major scale of the same name (ex C major and C Lydian) is the fourth note which is sharpened (played a semitone higher) in Lydian.

Compare the sound of C major and C Lydian here and notice how this raised fourth (F to F#) gives this mode its distinctive quality.

In the next section we’ll cover the five 3 note per string scale patterns that cover the C Lydian mode over the guitar fretboard.

With each pattern comes a guitar lick that uses notes from that pattern.

Pattern 1 

The first pattern starts on the 3th fret of the A string. 

Before playing a lick using this mode, let’s see what makes the music sound Lydian.

We’re using the same notes as G major after all, why does the lick sound in C Lydian and not in G major? 

The answer is that if we were improvising in G major, the most important notes, usually the long notes at the end of each phrase would be the notes of the G major triad: G, B, and D.

But since we’re in C Lydian, these emphasized notes will be the notes of the C major triad: C, E and G.

To get the flavor of the Lydian mode it is also important that you make use of the sharpened fourth degree of the scale, F# in our case.

If this characteristic note is never used, your licks and solos could have been written using the C major scale since the notes that you actually play are the same.

(There’s nothing wrong with this of course, your music will still sound good. It just wouldn’t capture the sound flavor of the Lydian mode if that’s what you’re looking for).

When playing these guitar licks, take note of these two things: 

  1. The long notes that have an important role, especially those that end a phrase are usually the notes of the C major triad C, E and G.
  2. In every lick the note F#, the characteristic note of the mode, is used at least once.   

Pattern 2

Start this pattern with your small finger on the 8th fret of the low E string.

The next lick starts on the root note C, rests on the characteristic note F# at the end of the first bar and ends on the chord tone E.

Pattern 3

Start this pattern with your index finger on the 8th fret of the low E string.

In the next lick the characteristic note F# is not emphasized but rather used as a passing note. However it is used three times in the first two bars and still captures the flavor of the Lydian mode.

Pattern 4

Start the next pattern with your index finger on the 10th fret of the D string. 

In the next lick the characteristic note is also used as a passing note and is part of the build up to the final note, the root note C.

Pattern 5

Start this pattern with your small finger on the 15th fret of the A string.

The next lick starts with the arpeggio of C major, rests on the characteristic note F# at the end of the first bar, and resolves to the root note C by the end.

Lydian mode 10

Lydian guitar solo

Each of the Lydian guitar licks in this lesson is restricted to the position of the scale pattern it’s derived from.

Learning the patterns individually is first step when learning how to improvise or compose with scales and modes.

The next step is to start seeing those patterns connected so that you can solo over the entire fretboard.

The following short solo in the Lydian mode does away with pattern restrictions and uses different areas of the guitar fretboard.

Conclusion: Where to go from here

This lesson covered the horizontal aspect of the Lydian mode on the guitar fretboard, that is, the melody.

A more in depth study of the Lydian mode would also look at the vertical aspect, the harmony. 

Harmony simply refers to the chords that back up the melodies, and the progressions formed from these chords.

Harmonizing melodies using the modes can get pretty complex and I suggest that you get fluent with the horizontal aspect before delving into harmonization.


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