XML Feed

Archived Columns

Bookmark and Share

Modal mayhem pt. 1 – Lydian Dreams

Hey again. This month, I’m starting a new series of columns focused on the modes – ‘hands on’ approaches to playing around with those tonal gizmo thingamajigs… um… so what are modes, exactly? Well if you don’t know, it’s not too hard to understand if you’ve got basic scale knowledge.

As we should know, a scale is constructed of tonal intervals, and ignoring exotic scales for the moment, we can see that the Major scale has in fact 7 of these strange ‘intervals’ (ok, if you’re still reading this, you really need a basic theory book…). These are either Tones or Semitones: essentially, a Tone is the space of 2 frets on the guitar, and a Semitone is only 1. There are several other increments within these, but we’ll just stick to these for the time being, and are the easily produced on a normal guitar. Thus, a scale can be constructed from formulae that describe such interval relations. For example, the major scale is constructed tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone. Or, as I will portray in future:

T – T – S – T – T – T – S

Being the precise beings we are as musicians, these intervals have their own special qualities and names. This is called the Roman Numeral system, and helps quickly identify them. These are simply:

I Tonic (Or Root)
II Supertonic
III Mediant
IV Sub-dominant
V Dominant
VI Sub-mediant (Or Relative minor)
VII Seventh
[VIII] Tonic (Or Octave

Ok, now you know how the Major scale is created, and understand the formula. We could now play it in any key, by choosing a root or tonic note, and building the interval pattern on it. The intervals dictate the space between the current and the next note. Say we pick C (easy, no sharps or flats). This would result in the following:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

T – T – S – T – T – T – S – T


Now think about it. If intervals dictate the tonality of scales, what would happen if we ‘started’ the major scale on other degrees or numerals? For instance, taking the same C Major scale, and shifting the current interval pattern around, so it now starts on the original pattern’s supertonic (instead of the tonic)? Yes, the tonality would change, and the funky new pattern would be:

C – D – Eb– F – G – A – Bb– C

T – S – T – T – T – S – T – T


Notice the pattern has been rearranged so the sequence starts on the second ‘tone’. Instead of a ‘tonic’ flavour, we would have a ‘supertonic’ flavour, which has a hint of a more minor-sounding personality due to the 2 flats. You have just seen the wonder of the Dorian mode!

Developed initially by the ancient Greeks (and named after their tribes), ‘modes’ came prominence in the Middle Ages within the Christian Church and music created by monks. By creating patterns based different degrees of a scale, we get modes. These are listed below together with tonality and possible usage; please note that the Ionian mode is diatonically identical to the Major scale!

I Ionian Major mode. Basic Major scale, identical diatonically.

II Dorian Minor mode. Great jazz and rock scale, used the world over. Van Halen anyone?

III Phrygian Minor mode. Also used in jazz a lot, has an slight exotic feel.

IV Lydian Major mode. Surreal sounding, the 4#th adds interest. Very Vai.

V Mixolydian Major mode. Dominant sounding, used in blues and rock to no end.

VI Aeolian Minor mode. Basic Natural Minor scale, identical diatonically.

VII Locrian Major mode. Has a strange exotic taste to it. Used in Jazz & fusion a lot.

Is this theory re-cap over??? Right, on with the lesson. This month, I’m looking at the Lydian mode – a few licks and ideas to try out in a suitable progression. A patent ‘Vai’ trade scale amongst others, the Lydian mode is favoured for its eccentric-and-mysterious-yet-Major-scale-happy-tone style. Play it over and over (preferably to a tone-relative backing track) to get a feel, then dive into the little piece below that I composed in about 5 mins, which is very Vai (a mini passage, not 5 different exercises!). Note that the tone below each line represents the rhythm to be played as backing – NOT the key of that line! There is a difference, for you beginners! Watch the change in the third tab line, and go crazy on the tapping bit. Enjoy, and I’ll see you next month for some Dorian ideas.

I Playing E Lydian over an E backing… hear the distinct sound? Let the open notes and harmonics ring out here for greater effect. Some Vai-ish sliding…

II Rhythm changes to B… Some fluid legato licks.

III OK, to build the tension, a key change to C Major for the first arpeggio, then a key change to D Major for the second, before going back to E Lydian (octave higher). And little tapping… use two fingers on yer tapping hand!

IV Watch out for the fret-hand tapping.

V Tap that darn harmonic good, son. The E chord gives the ending an unhinged feel, as if there is more to come – this is basically because we are so used to hearing ending end with the dominant! A low B Major would have sounded more ‘correct’, but since this is the Lydian mode, fuck it, go for the mystique.

| E Major

| B sus4

| C 5       |D 5          |E sus4

| E sus4                                        |E 5

| E Major

Best wishes,


Bookmark and Share
Please vote for us!

Top 100 Guitar Sites | Top 100 Tab Sites

No comments

Leave a Reply