The Lydian Dominant Scale

I got excited when I learned about the Lydian dominant scale:

1 2 3 #4 5 6 ♭7

and could sing it without much effort on the first try. I seem to be getting better at this sort of thing!

More importantly, it’s a really cool scale. Rob van Hal’s video explains what it sounds like and what you can do with it:

You can think of it as a blend of the Lydian mode, with its mystical raised 4th:

1 2 3 #4 5 6 7

and the Mixolydian, with its lowered 7th:

1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭7

But why does this image from van Hal’s video call the Mixolydian mode ‘dominant’? Probably because it contains the dominant 7th chord, where we take a major triad and extend it by playing a minor 7th on top:

1 3 5 ♭7

Indeed, you can get all the notes of the Lydian dominant scale from a chord where you stack the triad 2 #4 6 on top of a dominant 7th. Since we’re playing them an octave higher, we add seven to 2, #4, and 6 and get this:

1 3 5 ♭7 9 #11 13

This is a nice jazzy chord called a ‘dominant 13th sharp 11’. And if you play it in C, musicians might call it a ‘C13#11 chord’ because the dominant 7th is so prevalent that it’s taken for granted in this notation!

But if you play this chord you might leave out the 3 and 5, which are so taken for granted that actually playing them just muddies the chord with unnecessary notes. So you might just play this:

1 ♭7 9 #11 13

There are lots of other ways to play it.

Another way to think about the Lydian dominant scale is that it’s the 4th mode of melodic minor ascending. Melodic minor is a scale you play like this when you’re going up:

1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7

If you start it on the 4 you get a Lydian dominant scale. Think about it!

Another name for the Lydian dominant scale is the ‘acoustic scale’. This is because you can get approximately get the notes of this scale by playing all the overtones of a single tone… and quitting at the right point. Read this for the details:

• Wikipedia, Acoustic scale.

To see how people apply the Lydian dominant scale in music, start with van Hal’s video. Then take it to the next level by watching Peter Martin and Adam Maness explain how to dominate the Lydian dominant:

For me, watching these guys talk about music is like watching Ed Witten talk about physics. I get bits here and there. It all goes by too fast. Still, it’s tremendously exciting!

They describe and illustrate several things you can do in jazz with the Lydian dominant scale. Adam Maness tries to go through topics systematically, from simple to complicated. But Peter Martin—the pianist for Dianne Reeves, and a very cool cat—interrupts and talks about fancier topics, so the end result is a bit disorganized.

Nonetheless I really benefit from hearing actual jazz theory experts talk about this stuff. At the very least, it gives me a useful sense of how crappy I am at music theory, and playing the piano. But not in a depressing way. It makes me want to improve!

If you want do jam in Lydian dominant, you can use this backing track:

If you don’t, listening to it is still a good way to absorb the vibe of Lydian dominant. There are tons of backing tracks like this on YouTube.

2 Responses to The Lydian Dominant Scale

  1. If you’re interested in scales, check this out:
    I have a good reputation in tuning circles but have been ghosted about this one.

  2. Karen says:

    Thank you.

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