Lydian Mode Explained using The Simpsons

Lydian mode simpsons
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 scale degrees

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.

Lydia

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:

Major Scale Degrees Steps

The C major scale. Notice the interval pattern: wholewholehalfwholewholewholehalf

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:

Lydian Scale

The fourth scale degree has been raised (F is now F). Notice that the interval pattern is now wholewholewholehalfwholewholehalf

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:

E|————————–
B|————————–
G|————————–
D|——————–1–2–
A|———–1–2–4——–
E|–0–2–4—————–

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.

The Simpsons

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:

Simpsons Lydian Scale

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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And if you have any questions or thoughts, I’ll see you in the comments below! I reply to every single one :-)

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37 Comments

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  • Hi Eric, enjoyed this post. Are you going to write about the other modes? I’ve always been very interested in this topic.

    Cheers,
    George

    • Hey George,

      Thanks for the comment. The short answer is: Yes.

      I have been getting e-mails from readers about modes lately… also when I sent out that survey in February, I found out that PMT readers are definitely interested in learning about modes.

      So, I definitely plan on covering more about modes. If you are reading this right now and you are interested in learning more about modes, let me know by replying here in the comments! I love getting feedback from you guys.

      Eric

  • Great lesson, thanks Eric. How does one determine a key when the collection of tones are all the same. In this example C Lydian and G Ionian. I assume it’s what sounds like the greater tonic but I would like more light shed on how and why. Or I could be wrong entirely.

    -JJ

    • Hi JJ,

      I am going to oversimplify a little bit here, but think of the key as two parts. Part #1 is that there needs to be a tonal center. In the beginning of the Simpsons theme, the tonal center is C.

      That means we know that the key is definitely C “something.” We haven’t yet said if it’s C major, C minor, C Lydian etc….

      You would not say beginning of the song is in G “anything” because the tonal center is definitely C. The song later goes on to shift the tonal center, but that is not relevant here.

      Think of part #2 of the “key” as what kind of scale is being used. Right off the bat in The Simpsons theme, we hear a C major chord, so we should be thinking C major … Also though, we hear the raised fourth, so then we also start thinking Lydian.

      Side note:The modern “Ionian” Mode is just exactly the same as major. Will be doing another lesson about this mode too.

      Sorry for the really long comment, I hope this helps!

      Eric

      • So, from what you say is this the same as saying the key shifts momentarily to G major?

        When one thinks in modes what is one really thinking about?

        Is it better to think in modes because the shift is momentary and therefore a more suitable way of describing this shift? As opposed to describing it as a modulation because of it’s momentary nature? I hope this makes sense.

        A lot of questions I know.

        Thanks in advance
        George

        • Hi George,

          Thanks for taking the time to write this comment. I normally pride myself in completely answering questions in comments, so that no stone is left unturned. However, a complete answer to your several questions would take me a full blog post or two’s worth of words to truly answer.

          I will say that no, we are not turning to modes because there is a momentary shift – it has nothing to do with that. Think of it more as a different scale being used rather than a normal major scale, but with the same tonic. It is easy to confuse the construction of the mode and the application.

          Please stay tuned as I am going to cover this more fully in the future!
          Eric

  • Hi Eric,I can’t make a good contrast between verse and course, actually I have great ideas but I have problem with developing them into a song.
    Best
    Nima

    • Nima,

      Believe it or not, you are definitely not the first person to tell me this very thing. I will give you a few quick tips here, but know that this is on my list of topics to write about for a future post.

      First of all – you don’t always need to necessarily use just the chord progression and melody to differentiate between verse and chorus. You can also change instrumentation, texture, rhythm (half time/double time), dynamics, etc…

      And then of course, there are many ways to use the chord progression/harmony to change from a verse to chorus. Definitely look out for a post about this in the future! Thanks for your comment.

      Eric

  • Lydian dominant is the real mode of the melody. Fourth mode of the melodic minor scale. That is actually, the complete melody.

      • Hi Daniel,

        Yes, if you listen to the complete Simpsons Theme, certain parts of the harmony as well as the conclusion of the melodic phrase uses a flattened seventh scale degree. Of course, the flattened seventh scale degree is not part of Lydian Mode.

        For the sake of transparency, I will share that my original draft of this article presented the melody and analysis in this way, but I decided to rewrite the article and only use the beginning of the famous melody to teach a normal Lydian Mode.

        It is great that the Simpsons Theme offers this additional layer of complexity for those individuals, like yourself, who are advanced enough to really get under the hood. For the benefit of others, I decided that a simpler presentation would be the most beneficial. Also, there are not many recognizable songs that use this particular mode, so I went with The Simpsons despite the flattened seventh degree later in the piece.

        I hope this helps explain my decision to write the article this way. Thanks for adding this dimension to the discussion!

  • Hello sir,

    I’ve been a musician for 20 years, and I think I’ll finally get around to learning some theory. I’m self taught on all the “rock n roll” instruments, and I’m a recording engineer (meaning I went to school for it, interned at a major studio, and have made a bit of money in the industry). I think it makes sense that I should probably get around to learning more of the theoretical basis to music, and your site is facilitating that. Sooo I just wanted to say thanks!

    Justin

    • Justin,

      Awesome! I’m really happy you made the decision to learn some theory. It is a great investment and will certainly pay off in spades. I do my best to make theory NOT boring. My instruments are guitar, piano, bass guitar and upright bass so we certainly have the rock & roll instruments in common as well.

      Thanks for taking the time to write and best of luck in your studies sir!

      Eric

      • I would like to also commend you on the handling of your site. I’ve seen how you reply and interact with people (like how you responded to my silly comment), and I think that reflects your dedication to your creation. Anyway. Enough flattery.

        • Wow, thanks for the kind words Justin. Yes, how I handle the comments is very important to me. At the end of the day, all I really want to do is help everyone learn some theory – what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t reply to questions?

  • Eric,
    Great informative site! Love the way you present the stuff here… I would just like to add another popular example of “Maria” from the West side story, composed by Leonard Bernstein also uses Lydian mode in the melody.

  • Nice post! I love the Simpsons theme. I’ve always thought that lydian works better for equal temp while major works better with just intonation.

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