One of the coolest scales out there is the Lydian mode. It has a mysterious, wistful sound that in the right hands can be extremely emotive and beautiful. Lydian is the fourth mode of the major scale and can be viewed as a major scale with a raised fourth degree.  A favourite of greats such as Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, a slow Lydian ballad can bring tears to your eyes!  With that being said, it’s quite rare to hear Lydian used in a heavy metal context. The reason for this is that metal songs are predominantly in minor keys, yet Lydian is a major-type mode used over major chords. The seven modes of the major scale can be loosely grouped into two categories – Major or Minor (depending on whether they contain a major or minor 3rd degree). Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are ‘Major’, while Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrian are ‘Minor’. The minor-type modes have a dark sound and are used frequently in metal, whilst the major-type modes are largely ignored.

This is fair enough for Ionian and Mixolydian – Ionian sounds too happy and Mixolydian is too bluesy. Despite possessing a major 3rd, the construction of Lydian means that it can work quite well for metal music since it contains a #4th degree, which is enharmonic (the same) to b5 – a tritone interval (also know as ‘The Devil’s Interval’). The dissonant #4/b5 interval offsets the brightness of the major scale, creating a more ponderous and dramatic sound. Incorporating Lydian and exploiting the #4/b5 degree can be a great way to fashion interesting and atypical metal riffs and solos.


For those of you unfamiliar with the Lydian mode, it’s constructed by playing the same notes as a major scale but starting and ending on the fourth degree (which becomes the root note of Lydian). This is illustrated clearly in Exercise 1 where I’ve written C Ionian (Ionian is the modal name for a major scale) and F Lydian together on one string. You play C major but start and end on F. With F now the root note the pattern of tones (T) and semitones (ST) changes and you have a whole tone between the third and fourth degree. Thus, the fourth is raised and the resulting formula for Lydian (in relation to a major scale) is 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7.

Hear Exercise 1


Exercises 2 and 3 put Lydian to work in a heavy metal environment.  Exercise 2 (which I’ve named Riff 1) is a fast thrash riff comprised of notes entirely from E Lydian (E-F#-G#-A-B-C#-D#). It mixes two note dyads with palm muted 16th notes pedalling on the low E. Notice the significant use of the tritone in beat three of bars one and two. The #4 is also employed in the power chord of bars three and four.

Hear Exercise 2


This eight bar solo passage (to be played with Riff 1) begins with an alternate picked descending run using a three note-per string fingering in E Lydian. After some held notes, for bars five and six a sweep picked Emaj7#11 arpeggio is employed, alternating between tapping the high E and the major seventh degree. Major7#11 chords/arpeggios (1-3-5-7-#11) specifically call upon Lydian since they contain the important notes of the scale (#11 is the same as #4). The solo resolves on the #4 degree (A#) to further emphasise the dissonant and dark mood Lydian can produce.

Hear Exercise 3

Have a listen to these examples on the cover CD and try them for yourselves. Hopefully you’ll agree that Lydian riffs and solos used in metal can sound pretty sweet!