Lydian Augmented – The Modern Jazz Scale
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Have you ever wanted to improvise with a more modern jazz piano sound? Perhaps you looking for a sound that’s less predictable than the major scale. In this week’s Quick Tip, Lydian Augmented: The Modern Jazz Scale, John Proulx shows you how to construct and apply the unique Lydian Augmented Scale to create surprising chord substitutions and intriguing improv lines. You’ll learn:
- Intro to the Modern Lydian Augmented Sound
- Chords of the Lydian Augmented Scale
- Chord Symbols for the Lydian Augmented Sound
- Major 7(#5) Chord Voicings
- When to Use Major 7(#5) Chords
- 3 Licks Using the Lydian Augmented Scale
With all the voicings, chord subs and improv licks in today’s lesson, you’ll discover plenty of modern sounds to test drive in your playing.
Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Lydian Augmented Scale? Well, the following 2-5-1 sample improv line uses this unique jazz scale to resolve to C▵7(♯5) in place of the more traditional C▵7. Let’s take a listen.
That’s a pretty interesting sound, wouldn’t you say? In fact, it’s rather difficult to describe. Common adjectives used to describe major 7(#5) chords and the corresponding Lydian Augmented Scale are “bright, edgy, or tense.” While they are not entirely unstable or dissonant, they do have a bit of a bite. In today’s lesson, you’ll learn all about how to capture and reproduce this modern jazz sound in your playing.
The Lydian Augmented Scale is a 7-note scale used in modern jazz, neo soul and contemporary gospel music to improvise over major 7(#5) chords. The terms ‘Lydian’ and ‘Augmented’ refer to the fourth and fifth scale tones respectively, indicating that these tones are raised by a ½ step as compared to a major scale. Therefore, the scale formula for the Lydian Augmented Scale is 1–2–3–♯4–♯5–6–7. For example, a C Lydian Augmented Scale contains the notes C–D–E–F♯–G♯–A–B. The intervallic pattern for this scale is W–W–W–W–H–W–H. Other common names for this scale include Lydian #5 and Melodic Minor 3rd Mode.
C Lydian Augmented Scale
Like most jazz scales, the Lydian Augmented Scale has a couple other names that are common among jazz musicians. This section explains related terms that you may encounter.
#1: Lydian #5 Scale
Some jazz musicians use the term Lydian ♯5 to describe the focal scale of this lesson. That’s because the Lydian Augmented Scale differs from the traditional Lydian mode by just one note…the ♯5. The following examples will help you hear and visualize these similarities.
#2: Melodic Minor 3th Mode
Perhaps you’re wondering, “Where does the Lydian Augmented Scale come from?” This unique intervallic pattern is not random. Rather, the scale comes from the 3rd mode of the Melodic Minor Scale (the ascending version). The following examples will help you hear and visualize C Lydian Augmented as the 3rd mode of A Melodic Minor.
Now that you are familiar with how to construct this intriguing jazz scale, let’s examine the chords that it produces.
We can build triads and 7th chords using the Lydian Augmented Scale, just like we do with the ordinary major scale. However, the diatonic chords produced by the Lydian Augmented Scale are much more unique. For example, this scale contains all four types of triads—major, minor, augmented and diminished. This scale also contains dominant 7th chords, minor 7th chords and half-diminished 7th chords. Moreover, it contains two less common 7th chord varieties—the major 7th(#5) chord and the minor major 7th chord.
The following examples will help you hear and visualize all the chords contained within the Lydian Augmented Scale.
If you’re seated at a piano, try playing each of these diatonic chord shapes harmonically and melodically. Consider ascending and descending options. Be sure to observe the C major 7#(5) chord in particular, which occurs on the 1st scale degree above. Can you play this chord in all of its inversions?
Jazz musicians use the Lydian Augmented Scale to improvise over major 7(#5) chords. The chord suffix for this sound contains two indicators—one that represents the major 7th (i.e.: “maj7” or “▵7”) and another that represents the sharp-five (“+” or “♯5)…not necessarily in that order. Therefore, you may encounter C major 7(#5) expressed with any of the following chord symbols: Cmaj7(♯5), C+maj7, C▵7(♯5), C▵7(+5), C+▵, C▵+. In addition, C major 7(#5) sometimes appears as the slash chord E/C.
If you encounter any one of these chords symbols, then Lydian Augmented is your “go to” improv scale. However, these chord symbols are actually rather uncommon. In fact, very few standards contain this chord in the original composition. Instead, jazz musicians generally substitute major 7(#5) chords in place of major chords as a means of reharmonization. We’ll discuss this in more detail a little latter. However, one tune that does contain a major 7(#5) chord is Duke Pearson’s “You Know I Care,” which features an Ab major 7(#5) at end of the 2nd phrase of the bridge (approximately 1:07 in the linked recording).
In the next section, you’ll learn how jazz pianists commonly voice major 7(#5) chords.
Major 7(#5) chords combine an augmented triad with a major 7th (Think: Root, 3rd, ♯5, ▵7). In fact, root position major 7(#5) chords sound perfectly acceptable as long as they are not played too low on the piano. While the available tensions for this chord are the 9th, the ♯11 and the 13th, it is often played with just the root-3rd-5th-7th. However, you should be familiar with the various open position voicings of this chord shown below, which include drop 2, drop 3, and drop 2 & 4. These names refer to the “original position” of the bottom note (or notes) when the chord is in closed position. For example, a drop 2 voicing is formed by “dropping” the 2nd note from the top of a closed position voicing.
The voicings shown above are representative rather than exhaustive. Each major 7(#5) context is unique. However, we’ll look at several examples in the next section.
Now that you know how to voice major 7(#5) chords, the next logical question is, “When can I use them?” Since these chords are used in place of regular major 7th chords, you can use them as a tonic substitute or a subdominant substitute in major keys. In other words, we can insert them to reharmonize a Ⅰ chord or a Ⅳ chord as long as the melody note is the 3rd or 7th of the chord. You can also use major 7(#5) chords as passing chords when comping. This section explore each of these three techniques.
Since the tonic chord in a major key is typically a major 7th chord, the major 7(#5) chord can sometimes be inserted in its place for a more modern sound. Let’s consider an excerpt from the opening of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Example 1 below demonstrates the standard chords as they are often played.
Now, let’s listen to the same excerpt with a tonic major 7(#5) substitution.
Reharmonization With Tonic Major 7(#5)
Notice that the C▵(♯5) is followed by C6, which is a common resolution that creates inner voice movement. In fact, a tonic major 7(#5) chord (Ⅰ▵+) usually resolves to a tonic major 6th chord (Ⅰ⁶) or to a Ⅳ▵7 chord. Knowing this tendency will help you spot other opportunities to add your own tonic substitutions with major 7(#5) chords. However, for a more abrupt sound, some players accentuate the tension of major 7(#5) chords by not resolving the inner voice to a major 6th chord. This is largely a matter of personal preference and playing style.
A second common usage of major 7(#5) chords is as a subdominant substitute. These substitutions behave similarly to the previous example in terms of resolution. We’ll consider this reharmonization technique over Joseph Kosma’s “Autumn Leaves.” First, let’s listen to the traditional chord progression with an improvised melody.
Next, let’s listen to the same excerpt with the Ⅳ chord reharmonized as Ⅳ▵(♯5).
Reharmonization With Subdominant Major 7(#5)
Pretty cool, huh? You can hear how the major 7(#5) really grabs your attention when it’s not expected.
Another way that jazz musicians use major 7(#5) chords is when comping. Just as we often play both C▵7 and C6 over a long 2-5-1 progression in C, we can also include C▵(♯5) as a passing chord. Let’s take a listen.
A player can also accentuate the major 7(#5) chord while comping by landing directly on it rather than preceding it with a major 7th chord. However, all of the examples in this section demonstrate an unaccented passing chord approach. Once you learn to play the exercises as written, you can always omit the first chord for more of a bite.
Let’s look at another example featuring some chord voicings with a bit larger span.
For this example, we transitioned from 5-note quartal voicings on the Ⅱ chord and the Ⅴ chord to 4-note voicings on the Ⅰ chords, which can be challenging from an arranging perspective. In this case, the top four notes of the Ⅰ chords use the drop 2 technique and the root has been doubled on bottom.
Our final example uses a 5-note C▵7(♯5♯11) voicing, which contains both the sharp-four and sharp-five of the C Lydian Augmented Scale.
Perhaps you’re wondering why this C▵7(♯5♯11) voicing (C–F♯ | B–E–G♯) works here? Chances are, you have played this voicing before over a different chord. Perhaps D13(♯11)? Or maybe Am▵13? How about A♭(♯9♭13)? Or what about F♯m11(♭5)? That’s right, this voicing works over all of these chords because D Lydian Dominant, A Melodic Minor, A♭ Altered and F♯ Locrian ♯2 all have the same parent scale—A Melodic Minor. So here’s the big secret…voicings and licks based on the melodic minor scale or any of its related modes are interchangeable because there are no avoid notes in melodic minor!
If the paragraph above doesn’t make sense right now, don’t worry. Melodic minor harmony can be a pretty deep rabbit hole. Just be sure to bookmark this page for future reference. Eventually, you may become more curious about this concept.
Be sure to continue to the next section, which features licks and improv techniques for all playing levels with the Lydian Augmented Scale.
In this section, we’ll explore improvisation with the Lydian Augmented Scale over a static C▵(♯5) harmony. (Note: “static harmony” describes a prolonged chord that is unchanging). The examples in this section are excerpted from today’s lesson sheet PDF. In fact, you can download the complete lesson sheet and backing track from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. In addition, you can easily transpose these examples to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.
Our first lick uses an improv technique called triad pairs. This technique builds improv lines by alternating between two adjacent chords drawn from a common parent scale. For example, this lick uses the triad pair E major and D major, which are the Ⅲ and Ⅱ chords (respectively) of the C Lydian Augmented Scale. Check it out:
Even though professionals often improvise with triad pairs, you can probably see how this technique is also beneficial for beginners. Consider for a moment that a single triad pair contains six-of-the-seven scale tones, albeit just three notes at a time. For example, the only note from C Lydian Augmented that is not included in Lick #1 is the note C. For many beginners, it is much easier to “play around with” E major and D major triads than to stress over a fancy sounding scale like C Lydian Augmented. One further note…although the Ⅱ and Ⅲ chords sound great, other adjacent pairs will also work. For example, you could apply the same general melodic shape with a different pair, such as Bm7 and C+.
Be sure to continue on to Lick #2, which uses multiple triad pairs at once.
Just as we can improvise with a single triad pair, like E major and D major, we can also expand our selection to include multiple triad pairs. The following example uses a total of 4 diatonic triads drawn from C Lydian Augmented, arranged in two pairs: E & D, and G♯º & F♯º. Let’s take a listen:
That sound’s great! For a deep dive on jazz improvisation with triad pairs, check out our course on 2-5-1 Soloing with Diatonic Triads (Int).
Our final example uses a slightly different improv technique as compared to the previous examples. Instead of using diatonic triads, Lick #3 outlines diatonic 7th chords drawn from C Lydian Augmented. The 7th chords are arranged in a descending sequence: C▵(♯5)→Bm7→Am▵7 followed by Am▵7→G♯ø7→F♯ø7. Let’s take a listen:
You’ll notice that John Proulx doesn’t apply the outlining 7th chords technique with absolute rigidity, as if it were a straightjacket. For example, John does not complete the descending chord outlines for Am▵7 and F♯ø7 in measures 2 and 4 respectively. Instead, he inserts a brief ascent in the opposite direction, and even includes a passing tone in each instance. This illustrates how improv methods and musical intuition should work together in the creative process.
Congratulations, you have completed this lesson on Lydian Augmented: The Modern Jazz Scale. We truly hope that you have been inspired and equipped with new tools and techniques to assist you in your jazz piano journey.
If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:
- Augmented Chords—The Complete Guide (Int)
- 5 Scales to Improvise on Major Chords (Int)
- Lydian Dominant Scale—The Complete Guide (Int)
- Jazz Piano Improv with the Melodic Minor Scale (Int/Adv)
- Hip Jazz Piano Chord Substitutions (Int)
- Piano Chord Substitution—The Complete Guide (Int)
- Piano Musical Modes–The Complete Guide (Int)
Thanks for learning with us today! We’ll see you next time.
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Michael LaDisa graduated from the University of North Texas with a major in Music Theory & Composition. He lives in Chicago where he operates a private teaching studio and performs regularly as a solo pianist. His educational work with students has been featured on WGN-TV Evening News, Fox 32 Good Day,...
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