Lydian Mode Explained using The Simpsons
The opening of “The Simpsons” Theme Song
Lydian mode is one of seven modern modes.
The Lydian mode is a scale. It is identical to a major scale, except that it contains a raised fourth.
Lydian Mode is identical to a major scale, except the fourth scale degree is raised.
Before we describe Lydian mode further, let’s talk about the origin of the name.
Thousands of years ago, there was a kingdom named Lydia. It was located just to the East of Ionia.
Both were part of modern day Turkey.
In Lydia, the language of Lydian was spoken.
The names of our modern day modes harken back to these ancient places.
Now, let’s construct our Lydian Mode, beginning with a major scale.
A major scale is a certain set of notes which follows a distinct pattern of whole and half steps:
The C major scale. Notice the interval pattern: whole–whole–half–whole–whole–whole–half
Each note of the scale can be referred to as a scale degree. In the scale above, for example, C is the first scale degree, D is the second, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.
Let’s focus on the fourth scale degree for a moment.
In a C major scale, the distance between C and F – the 1st and 4th scale degree – is a perfect 4th interval, which is 5 half steps or semitones.
We’ll see how this changes when we transform into Lydian mode.
For more about intervals, check out my introductory article about intervals.
Now, Let’s Transform this into a Lydian Scale
Remember we said that a Lydian scale was the same as a major scale, except that it has a raised fourth?
So let’s transform into Lydian by raising the fourth scale degree:
The fourth scale degree has been raised (F is now F♯). Notice that the interval pattern is now whole–whole–whole–half–whole–whole–half
Notice the distance between C and F-sharp – the 1st and raised 4th scale degree – is now 6 semitones, which is an augmented fourth or tritone.
You can see this by counting the squares on the piano roll.
If you have a piano or guitar nearby, try playing the scale on your instrument. For you guitar players, here are the tabs for an E Lydian Scale:
You will notice that the raised fourth sounds pretty strange.
Now that we understand the construction of a Lydian scale, let’s discuss how it is used.
How Lydian Mode is Used Today
Although Lydian mode is used occasionally in classical and jazz music, it is rarely used in popular music.
However, there is one song from popular culture which is a great educational tool for learning this particular mode.
And that song is… The Simpsons Theme song.
In order to really lock down our understanding of this special scale, let’s examine the iconic Simpsons melody which we all know and love.
Make sure to pay close attention to the raised fourth which is so characteristic of our mode.
Here we go:
The iconic melody of The Simpsons Theme, notated on a piano roll.
Can you hear it?
The raised fourth can be heard in the third note of the phrase, as well as at the end. It gives the melody a unique and compelling sound.
The Fourth Mode out of Seven
One last thing before we conclude this lesson…
Lydian Mode is sometimes referred to as the fourth mode (the 4th mode out of 7).
Why is that?
Imagine playing an ascending C-major scale on the piano, which happens to use all white keys. You can construct a Lydian Scale by starting on the fourth note, which is F, and playing each ascending white key until you’ve played a complete octave.
I will go into much more detail about this in future lessons where we will dive deeper into understanding modes.
Thanks for learning about Lydian Mode with me today.
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