Lydian mode

The modern Lydian mode is a seven-tone musical scale formed from a rising pattern of pitches comprising three whole tones, a semitone, two more whole tones, and a final semitone.

Because of the importance of the major scale in modern music, the Lydian mode is often described (or learned) as the scale that begins on the fourth scale degree of the major scale, or alternatively, as the major scale with the fourth scale degree raised half a step. This sequence of pitches roughly describes the scale underlying the fifth of the eight Gregorian (church) modes, known as Mode V or the authentic mode on F, theoretically using B but in practice more commonly featuring B (Powers 2001).

Ancient Greek Lydian

The name Lydian refers to the ancient kingdom of Lydia in Anatolia. In Greek music theory, there was a Lydian scale or "octave species" extending from parhypate hypaton to trite diezeugmenon, equivalent in the diatonic genus to the medieval and modern Ionian mode (the major scale) (Barbera 1984, 233, 240).

In the chromatic and enharmonic genera, the Lydian scale was equivalent to C D E F G A B C, and C C E F F A B C, respectively (Barker 1984–89, 2:15), where "" signifies raising the pitch by approximately a quarter tone.

Medieval Lydian mode

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, this mode was described in two ways. The first way is the diatonic octave species from F up to F an octave above, divided at C to produce two segments:

The second is as a mode with a final on F and an ambitus extending to F an octave higher and in which the note C was regarded as having an important melodic function. Many theorists of the period observed that B is used more typically than B in compositions in Lydian mode (Powers 2001).

Modern Lydian mode

The Lydian scale can be described as a major scale with the fourth scale degree raised a semitone, making it an augmented fourth above the tonic, e.g., an F-major scale with a B rather than B. This mode's augmented fourth and the Locrian mode's diminished fifth are the only modes to have a tritone above the tonic.

In Lydian mode, the tonic, dominant, and supertonic triads are all major. The subdominant is diminished. The triads built on the remaining three scale degrees are minor.

Notable compositions in the Lydian mode

Classical (Ancient Greek)

The Paean and Prosodion to the God, familiarly known as the Second Delphic Hymn, composed in 128 BC by Athénaios Athenaíou is predominantly in the Lydian tonos, both diatonic and chromatic, with sections also in Hypolydian (Pöhlmann and West 2001, 85).


The 12th-century "Hymn to St. Magnus" from the Orkney Islands, referencing Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney, is in Gregorian mode or church mode V (F white notes), extending from the E below to the octave above, with B's throughout, in two-part harmony of mostly parallel thirds. The Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Ite, missa est of Guillaume de Machaut's Messe de Nostre Dame feature extensive use of F and B, as well as F and B.


A rare, extended use of the Lydian mode in the Classical repertoire is Simon Sechter's 1822 Messe in der lydischen Tonart (Mass in the Lydian Mode) (Carver 2005, 76). A more famous example from around the same time is the third movement of Ludwig van Beethoven's String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132 (1825), titled by the composer "Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart" ("Holy Song of Thanksgiving by a Convalescent to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode"). The alternating passages in F use the Lydian scale with sharp fourth scale degree exclusively.

Charles-Valentin Alkan's Allegro barbaro (Étude Op. 35, No. 5, published in 1848) is written strictly in F Lydian, with no B's present at all (Smith 2000,).

Anton Bruckner employed the sharpened fourth of the Lydian scale in his motet Os justi (1879) more strictly than Renaissance composers ever did when writing in this mode (Carver 2005, 74–75).


In the 20th century, composers began once again to exploit modal scales with some frequency. George Enescu, for example, includes Lydian-mode passages in the second and third movements of his 1906 Decet for Winds, Op. 14 (Hoffman and Rațiu 1971, 319). An example from the middle of the century is the scherzo movement of Carlos Chávez's Symphony No. 3 (1951–54). The movement opens with a fugue subject, featuring extremely wide leaps, in C Lydian with following entries in F and G Lydian (Orbón 1987, 90–91).


In Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, George Russell developed a theory that became highly influential in the jazz world, inspiring the works of people such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Woody Shaw (Anon. n.d.)


  • Many Polish folksongs, including the mazurka, are in the Lydian mode; the first six notes of this mode were sometimes known as the "Polish mode" (Trochimczyk n.d.).

See also


    • Anon. n.d. "Frequently Asked Questions about George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization". (Accessed 23 February 2012).
    • Barbera, André. 1984. "Octave Species". The Journal of Musicology 3, no. 3 (July): 229–41. JSTOR 763813 (Subscription access). doi:10.1525/jm.1984.3.3.03a00020
    • Barker, Andrew. 1984–89. Greek Musical Writings. 2 vols. Cambridge Readings in the Literature of Music. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
    • Carver, Anthony F. 2005. "Bruckner and the Phrygian Mode". Music & Letters 86, no. 1:74–99. doi:10.1093/ml/gci004 (Subscription access).
    • Hein, Ethan. 2012. "The Major Scale Modes". Ethan Hein's Blog: Music, Technology, Evolution (Accessed 26 January 2012).
    • Hoffman, Alfred, and Adrian Rațiu. 1971. "Succese ale simfonistului (1900–1906)". In George Enescu: Monografie, 2 vols., edited by Mircea Voicana, 237–329. Bucharest: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România.
    • Orbón, Julián. 1987. "Las sinfonías de Carlos Chávez." (part 2). Pauta: Cuadernos de teoría y crítica musical 6, no. 22 (April–June): 81–91.
    • Pöhlmann, Egert, and Martin L. West. 2001. Documents of Ancient Greek Music: The Extant Melodies and Fragments, edited and transcribed with commentary by Egert Pöhlmann and Martin L. West. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-815223-X.
    • Powers, Harold S. 2001. "Lydian". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 15:409–10. 29 vols. London: Macmillan Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56159-239-5 (set) ISBN 978-0-19-517067-2 (set) OCLC 44391762 (set) OCLC 248649842 (v. 15) OCLC 249589729 (v. 15, reprint with minor corr.) LCCN 00-55156 or 00055156 (set).
    • Preston, William. 2012, p. 25. "Funk Pop a Roll : The Stylistic Evolution of XTC". Portland, Oregon: Lewis and Clark College.
    • Smith, Ronald. 2000. Alkan, the Man, the Music. London: Kahn & Averill. ISBN 9781871082739.
    • Trochimczyk, Maja. n.d. "Mazur (Mazurka)". University of Southern California Polish Music Center website (accessed 12 November 2018).

    Further reading

    • Beato, Rick. 2018. "What Makes This Song Great? Ep. 2: The Police". YouTube (26 January; accessed 28 March 2018).
    • Benward, Bruce, and Marilyn Nadine Saker. 2009. Music in Theory and Practice, eighth edition, vol. 2. Boston: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
    • Chase, Wayne. 2006. How Music Really Works!: Musical and Lyrical Techniques of the Masters, second edition. Vancouver: Roedy Black Publishing Inc. ISBN 1-897311-55-9; ISBN 1-897311-56-7.
    • Hewitt, Michael. 2013. Musical Scales of the World. The Note Tree. ISBN 978-0957547001.}}
    • Jones, George Thaddeus. 1974. Music Theory: The Fundamental Concepts of Tonal Music Including Notation, Terminology, and Harmony. Barnes & Noble Outline Series 137. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Barnes & Noble. ISBN 9780064601375.
    • Miller, Scott. 2002. Mel Bay's Getting Into ... Jazz Fusion Guitar. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay Publications. ISBN 0-7866-6248-4.
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