Lydian Dominant Scale – The Complete Guide
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Do you want to learn the most magical sounding scale in jazz music? In today’s Quick Tip, Lydian Dominant Scale—The Complete Guide, John Proulx shows you everything you need to know about this enchanting jazz scale. You’ll also discover how to improvise with this scale on piano while exploring four common jazz chord progressions. You’ll learn:
- What is the Lydian Dominant Scale?
- Chord Symbols for the Lydian Dominant Scale
- When to Use the Lydian Dominant Scale
- Jazz Licks with the Lydian Dominant Scale
The lesson provides the perfect inspiration for improvising serene, summery solo lines on piano.
Intro to the Most Magical Jazz Scale
Perhaps the term “Lydian Dominant” is unfamiliar to you, and maybe even a bit intimidating. Not to worry, you are probably already familiar with this magical sound, even if you’ve never heard its proper name. It’s the specific sound of a dominant #11 chord, and it occurs in dozens of jazz, R&B and gospel tunes.
The following excerpt represents one manner in which you may have heard the unmistakable Lydian Dominant sound used. Listen for the C13(#11) in the last two measures.
What a magical tone color! In today’s lesson, you learn how to replicate this magical sound both melodically and harmonically. Today’s lesson sheet PDF and backing tracks are downloadable from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose the lesson sheet examples to any key using our Smart Sheet Music.
What is the Lydian Dominant Scale?
The Lydian Dominant Scale is a 7-note scale used in jazz, R&B and gospel music that combines characteristics of both the Lydian and Mixolydian modes. The scale formula for the Lydian Dominant Scale is 1–2–3–♯4–5–6–♭7. Therefore, a C Lydian Dominant Scale contains the notes C–D–E–F♯–G–A–B♭. The intervallic pattern for this scale is W–W–W–H–W–H–W. Other common names include the Mixolydian #11 Scale, the Lydian ♭7 Scale and the Melodic Minor 4th Mode.
C Lydian Dominant Scale
What does the name ‘Lydian Dominant’ mean?
The name Lydian Dominant describes both the tonal characteristics and harmonic function of this magical jazz scale. Harmonically speaking, this is a dominant sound. This means that the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th scale tones outline a dominant 7th chord, for example, C-E-G-B♭. However, the term “Lydian” in this case acts like an adjective, indicating the presence of the raised 4th (or ♯4) scale degree, which is a defining characteristic of the traditional Lydian mode. The raised 4th tone is also referred to as the ♯11, because when scale tones are stacked in 3rds, this note is an 11th interval above the root. In other words, an 11th is simply a 4th plus an octave. In the case of C Lydian Dominant, the ♯4 or ♯11 is the note F♯.
The following examples will help you hear and visualize how the C Lydian Dominant scale combines tonal characteristics of the C Lydian and C Dominant scales.
You may wish to compare this scale to the Phrygian Dominant Scale, another dominant scale with tonal characteristic of the Phrygian mode.
What are other names for the Lydian Dominant Scale?
Like most jazz scales, the Lydian Dominant Scale has several other names that are common among jazz musicians. Here are a few you should know.
#1: Mixolydian #11 Scale
Many jazz musicians use the terms Mixolydian ♯11 or Mixolydian ♯4 to describe the focal scale of this lesson. That’s because this scale differs from the traditional Mixolydian mode by just one note…the ♯4 or ♯11. The following examples will help you hear and visualize these similarities.
#2: Lydian ♭7 Scale
Another common name for our focal scale is the Lydian ♭7 Scale. This name is points out that this scale differs from the traditional Lydian mode by just one note…the ♭7. The following examples will help you hear and visualize these similarities.
#3: Melodic Minor 4th Mode
Perhaps you’re wondering, “Where does the Lydian Dominant Scale come from?” Did you notice that this scale formula contains both a sharp (♯) and a flat (♭)? That’s not random. In fact, the scale is a mode of the Melodic Minor Scale (the ascending version). In fact, if you play any melodic minor scale beginning on the 4th scale tone, the resulting intervallic pattern is the Lydian Dominant Scale. The following examples will help you hear and visualize C Lydian Dominant as the 4th mode of G Melodic Minor.
Now that you are familiar with how to construct this magical jazz scale, let’s learn which chord symbols will cue you when to use it.
Chord Symbols for the Lydian Dominant Scale
There are three chord symbols that represent the Lydian Dominant sound. They are dominant 7(♯11), dominant 9(♯11) and dominant 13(♯11). For example, if you see C7(♯11), C9(♯11) or C13(♯11), then C Lydian Dominant is the improv scale you’ll want to use. The example below shows how to play each chord symbol on piano.
Note that C13(♯11) is typically voiced using an upper structure triad in which the right hand plays a D major triad while the left hand plays a C7 chord shell. Since the root of the upper structure triad is built on a major 2nd interval above the root, we can label this voicing construction UST Ⅱ, where UST is short for upper structure triad. The UST can be played in any inversion, but the overall sound is best when the spacing between the hands does not exceed an octave.
Triads in the Lydian Dominant Scale
Let’s take a minute to examine the types of triads that are contained within the Lydian Dominant Scale. In other words, we want to observe what chord qualities are formed when we stack a pair of 3rds on each scale tone. The example below shows the diatonic triads in the C Lydian Dominant Scale. Notice the resulting triads are: major (Ⅰ), major (Ⅱ), diminished (Ⅲº), diminished (Ⅳº), minor (Ⅴm), minor (Ⅵm), and augmented (Ⅶ+).
This information is useful to know because there is common jazz improv technique called triad pairs which uses adjacent diatonic triads as the basis for constructing interesting solo lines. Later in this lesson, we’ll arpeggiate sequential C Lydian Dominant triads as a means of extending the dominant ♯11 sound linearly over a fermata.
When to Use the Lydian Dominant Scale
Now that you know how to build Lydian Dominant scales and chords, it’s important that you are also familiar with the harmonic scenarios in which this sound most often occurs. Naturally, you’ll play this sound anytime you see a dominant ♯11 chord symbol, but chord symbols are not always very specific. However, in this section, we’ll cover the 4 jazz chord progressions that beg for the Lydian Dominant sound.
4 Jazz Chord Progressions that Use Lydian Dominants
Here are four jazz chord progressions that use the Lydian Dominant sound:
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅱ7 (Major 7th tonic followed by Dominant 7th 2-chord)
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅳ7 (Major 7th tonic followed by Dominant 7th 4-chord)
- Ⅰ▵7→♭Ⅶ7 (Major 7th tonic followed by Dominant 7th ♭7-chord)
- Final Ⅰ7 chord (Jazz tunes ending on a Dominant 7th tonic chord)
Jazz Standards with Lydian Dominant Progressions
In today’s featured Quick Tip video, John Proulx demonstrates over a dozen jazz standards which containing these 4 Lydian Dominant chord progressions:
Notice that in the case of the first progression (Ⅰ▵7→Ⅱ7), the II7 is functionally equivalent to the V7(♯11) of V, as indicated in our example in today’s introduction section. However, this chord often resolves to a Ⅱm7 chord instead.
The 4 Lydian Dominant Progressions in C Major
Now, let’s think through these 4 jazz progressions in the key of C:
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅱ7 = C▵7→D7
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅳ7 = C▵7→F7
- Ⅰ▵7→♭Ⅶ7 = C▵7→B♭7
- Final Ⅰ7 chord = C7
The 4 Lydian Dominant Progressions Transposed for C7(♯11)
In the next section, we’ll explore jazz piano improv techniques over each of these 4 typical Lydian Dominant chord progressions. However, did you notice that the progressions above gave us four different dominant 7th chords (D7, F7, B♭7 and C7)? A simpler way to begin practicing with the Lydian Dominant sound is transpose each progression so that the dominant 7th chord is always C7. Therefore, we’ll practice each progression in the following keys:
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅱ7 in B♭ Major = B♭▵7→C7
- Ⅰ▵7→Ⅳ7 in G Major = G▵7→C7
- Ⅰ▵7→♭Ⅶ7 in D Major = D▵7→C7
- Final Ⅰ7 chord in C Major = C7
If you are a PWJ member, notice that the 3 backing tracks in your Lesson Resources are section at the bottom this page correspond to the first 3 keys in the list above. The last example of a final C7 chord does not require a backing track.
Alright, now we’re ready to improvise with the C Lydian Dominant Scale.
Jazz Licks with the Lydian Dominant Scale
In this section we’ll explore 4 jazz soloing techniques with the Lydian Dominant Scale. Remember, our scale for C7(#11) is C–D–E–F♯–G–A–B♭. The four improv approaches we’ll use are:
- Scalar Approach
- Arpeggiated Chords
- Motific Lines
- Triadic Approach
#1: Scalar Approach
First, let’s listen to and improvise Lydian Dominant jazz licks with a scalar approach. This example features a straight 8th-note feel.
#2: Arpeggiated Chords
Next, let’s listen to and improvise Lydian Dominant jazz licks using arpeggiated chords, or chord outlining. This example and the remaining examples use a swung 8th-note feel.
#3: Motific Lines
Now, we’ll improvise with motific lines using the Lydian Dominant scale. A motif (or motive) is a short music idea that repeats.
#4: Triadic Approach
Finally, we’ll use a triad approach to extend the Lydian Dominant sound linearly over a final dominant 7th tonic chord. This produces an airy effect that is similar to the way a drummer might gently play a cymbal roll at the conclusion of a tune.
Congratulations, you have completed this lesson on The Lydian Dominant Scale—The Complete Guide. The next time you encounter a tune with a dominant ♯11 chord, you’ll know exactly how to bring the magic!
If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out the following PWJ resources:
Jazz Swing Learning Tracks
Jazz Ballad Learning Tracks
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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