Monday, September 17, 2012

Lesson #26: Lydian Interval Exercise

In this week's lesson we explore one of my favorite scales for improvisation, the Lydian Dominant scale.  The Lydian Dominant scale is based on the Mixolydian scale, also known as the fifth mode of the major scale.  In Lesson #24 we learned the how and why of using the Lydian scale to improvise over Major chords.  In case you missed out, here's a brief explanation of what we learned.

Early on, maybe in a private lesson or high school band class, we learn that the Ionian (first mode of the major scale) is the best choice for improvising on Major seventh chords.  Six out of the seven notes of the scale sound perfectly consonant over a standard Major seventh chord. That makes it an easy choice for beginning improvisors.  Also, there is the added benefit that most students who have been playing for a couple years can easily recognize and play at least a couple major scales.

One problem that improvisors can run in to however is the tension created between the third of a Major seventh voicing and the fourth note of the Ionian scale.  Play a simple Cmaj7 voicing in your left hand (say C-E-B).  Now play the note "F" in your right hand.  Doesn't sound very good does it?  That is because the interval created by these two notes is a minor 9th.  We learn in composition and some improvisation classes that the minor 9th is quite a tricky interval to deal with.  In most jazz books it is referred to as an "avoid" note.

The good news is that there is a simple solution to the problem.  Simply raise the fourth interval of the Major scale to make the interval a more consonant sounding Major ninth.  Raising the fourth of the Ionian scale essential turns it in to a Lydian scale (fourth mode of the major scale).  This means that you can play a Lydian scale by taking any basic Major scale and raising the fourth note.  The more correct and more complicated way of thinking about it is thinking down a perfect fourth to the relative Major scale.  For example, a C Lydian scale is a G Major scale starting on C.  A F Lydian scale is a C Major scale starting on F.

The same minor 9th interval is also created when improvising on Dominant chords using the Mixolydian scale.  We can deal with the tension in the same way we dealt with Major 7th harmony.  Simply raise the fourth of the Mixolydian scale to eliminate the minor 9th.  This new scale is what jazz educators have dubbed the Lydian Dominant scale.

I hope you have fun improvising over your favorite tunes this week using the Lydian Dominant scale!

YouTube Lesson:  Lesson #26 Video on YouTube

Scribd:  Lesson #26 .pdf in all 12 Keys

Free play-along recording @ 80bpm.

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