• If You Love The Major Scale, You’ll Also Love The Lydian Scale

    in Experienced players,Piano,Scales,Theory

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    Apart from the natural major scale, another major scale every musician should learn is the lydian scale.

    The lydian scale is just like the natural major scale, and can serve as its substitute in ways more than one, especially in improvisation, chord formation and other musical situations.

    There’s something unique about the lydian scale that jazz musicians have discovered and I’m going to share them with you in this lesson.

    Let’s get started by flipping through the natural major and lydian scales.

    A Note On Major Scales (Ionian and Lydian)

    Let’s get started in this lesson by defining the terms major and scale.

    There are so many definitions of a scale out there, however, we’ll go with a basic definition that everyone can understand.

    A scale is a regular succession (aka – “melodic progression“)  of notes  in ascending or descending order.

    From a practical standpoint, playing all white notes on the keyboard in ascending direction from C:

    …to C:

    …or in descending direction from C:

    …to C:

    …produces a scale.

    The term major is one of the regular adjectives that is used to qualify a musical idea, be it a scale, interval, chord, or chord progression.

    In today’s lesson, we’re using the term major to qualify a scale. A scale can only be qualified as a major scale if the interval between its first and third tones is a major third. For example, in the C natural major scale:

    …the interval between its first and third tones –  which are C and E:

    …respectively is a major third.

    In today’s lesson, we’ll be focusing on the following scales:

    • The ionian scale
    • The lydian scale

    …and they are all major scales.

    “What Is An Ionian Scale?”

    The ionian scale is usually considered as the first mode on the keyboard. Check out our previous lesson on modes. The ionian scale can be formed by playing all white notes on the keyboard from C to C:

    Apart from the third (E) and fourth degree (F):

    …and between the seventh (B) and eighth (C):

    …degrees of the ionian mode which have half steps, the rest of the scale degrees like the first (C) and second (D):

    …second (D) and third (E):

    …fourth (F) and fifth (G):

    …fifth (G) and sixth (A):

    …sixth (A) and seventh (B):

    …have whole steps between them.

    Here’s the ionian scale in all twelve keys…

    C ionian scale:

    Db ionian scale:

    D ionian scale:

    Eb ionian scale:

    E ionian scale:

    F ionian scale:

    F# ionian scale:

    G ionian scale:

    Ab ionian scale:

    A ionian scale:

    Bb ionian scale:

    B ionian scale:

    Attention: The ionian scale was used in ancient times when modes were used. Eventually, when the concept of keys (major and minor keys) were introduced, it became the traditional scale of the major key (aka – “natural major scale“.)

    “What Is A Lydian Scale?”

    The lydian scale is usually the fourth in the list of modes. It can be formed by playing all white notes on the keyboard from F to F:

    The distance between successive tones of the lydian scale is the whole steps, apart from the fourth (B) and fifth (C) tones:

    …and between the seventh (E) and eighth (F) degrees:

    …where you have half steps.

    Here’s the lydian scale in all twelve keys…

    C lydian scale:

    Db lydian scale:

    D lydian scale:

    Eb lydian scale:

    E lydian scale:

    F lydian scale:

    F# lydian scale:

    G lydian scale:

    Ab lydian scale:

    A lydian scale:

    Bb lydian scale:

    B lydian scale:

    Now that we’ve covered the ionian and lydian scales, let’s go ahead and talk about one of the top reasons why anyone who uses the ionian scale would also love the lydian scale.

    Exposed: The Uniqueness Of The Lydian Scale

    The ionian and lydian scales are all major scales because the interval between their first and third tones is a major third. Here’s the C ionian scale:

    …and C lydian scale:

    Both scales, have a major third interval between their first and third tones (which are C and E):

    So, for all intents and purposes the ionian and lydian scales are major scales.

    The lydian scale differs from the ionian scale for a variety of reasons, however, we’re focusing on the most important reason:

    The lydian scale does not have an avoid note

    The Major Scale Without An Avoid Note

    In the natural major scale, the fourth tone is usually considered an avoid note for a variety of reasons that we cannot go into in this lesson. However, let’s look at one of the top reasons why the fourth tone of the scale is considered an avoid note.

    In the formation of extended chords, extensions (like the ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth tones) are added to basic seventh chords.

    The C major seventh chord:
    …consists of the first, third, fifth, and seventh tones of the C natural major scale:

    Adding a ninth (D):

    …to the C major seventh chord:

    …produces the C major ninth chord:

    Adding an eleventh (F):
      …produces the C major eleventh chord:
    Major eleventh chords are rarely used because of the intolerable dissonance between the third and eleventh tones. In the C major eleventh chord:

    …the dissonance is a product of the third (E) and eleventh (F) tones:

    In the formation of extended chords, the eleventh (F):

    …is considered as an avoid note because it clashes with the third tone.

    “The Lydian Scale”

    The lydian scale is more than just a major scale because unlike the natural major scale, it doesn’t have an avoid note.

    “Let’s Form Extended Chords Using The Lydian Scale”

    Using the C lydian scale:

    …the C major seventh chord can be formed by playing the first, third, fifth, and seventh tones:

    Adding a ninth (D):

    …to the C major seventh chord:

    …produces the C major ninth chord:

    Adding an eleventh (F#):

    …to the C major ninth chord:

    …produces the C major seventh (sharp eleventh) chord:

    The C major eleventh chord:

    …of the natural major scale has an avoid note (F):

    …that the eleventh chord of the lydian scale:

    …does not have. Consequently, the lydian scale is commonly used in the formation of extended major chords.

    Final Words

    Most melodies, intervals, chords, and chord progressions are derived from the ionian scale because it is commonly used as the natural major scale, which is the traditional scale of the major key.

    But from what you’ve learned about the lydian scale (another unique major scale), I’m sure you have another major scale you can derive melodies and chords from. The good thing about the lydian scale is that you don’t have to worry about the avoid note – it’s not there!.

    This isn’t all about the lydian scale, we’re just getting started. We’ll continue our discussion on the lydian scale in another post.

    See you then!

    P.S.

    The lydian scale can be formed by raising the fourth tone (aka – “avoid note”) of the natural major scale by a half step. Raising the fourth tone of the A major scale:

    …which is D:

    …by a half step (to D#):

    …produces the A lydian scale:

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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