How To Play the Lydian Dominant Mode on Guitar

Welcome to your scale of choice for dom7#11 chords. This scale is the 4th mode of the Melodic Minor Scale. It is a great one to explore, full of interesting color notes and best of all – it has no avoid notes!

I like to think of this scale as the Mixolydian Mode with a raised 4th (#11). This new #4 note gives this scale huge harmonic potential. It is a great one to sink your musical teeth in to. I recommend you have a basic understanding of the Mixolydian Mode before continuing.

Use this lesson to:

  • Understand the theory behind this scale.
  • Learn the easiest approach to improvising with it.
  • Accustom your ears to its sound.
  • Have fun while learning!

The dom13#11 Lydian Dominant Chord

Do you know how to play a dom13#11 chord? Chords and scales go hand in hand. Your first step to learning any mode is to play the chord and tune your ears into it’s individual sound.

lydian dominant

lydian dominant

lydian dominant

The Lydian Dominant Scale

melodic minor mode

Can you see how it is very similar to F Mixolydian except for the raised 4th (#11)?

Fingering

Here is how to play this mode on the guitar in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale. You can easily move these shapes around the fret board, just center the white circle on the root note of your chosen scale.

melodic minor mode melodic minor mode

How To HEAR the Lydian Dominant Mode

To start off with, it is handy to relate this mode back to its parent melodic minor scale. But to really HEAR the unique sound of this mode you need appreciate it as its own entity.

Try this:

  • Forget about the parent melodic minor scale.
  • Record a dom13#11 chord and play through the scale slowly.
  • Accustom your ears its sound.
  • Try this with all your modes, think of each mode as its own unique scale.

To sum up, modes are easy to learn because they share the same notes as each other. But to get your ears around them, think of each mode as a unique scale and key center.

When To Use the Lydian Dominant Scale

1. Over Tritone Sub Chords

To understand when to use the lydian dominant scale, you need to know a little melodic minor theory. In jazz, there exists an amazing entity called the tritone substitution. Put simply, a tritone sub is substituting a dom7 chord for a dom7 chord a tritone away.

Why tritone substitute? To create tension and chromatic bass movement.

For example, here is our good friend – The II V I:

Dm7 G7 C

Now, put on your jazz hat and substitute G7 for a Db7. Now we have:

Dm7 Db7 C

BAM – listen to that tension. We now have cool descending bass movement too. The quality of this new chord is dom13 #11 – the ‘lydian dominant chord’. You can do this in a minor ii V i too:

Gm7b5 C7 Fm

*Tri Sub*

Gm7b5 Gb7#11 Fm

2. Over Secondary Dominant Chords

A second use for the lydian dominant scale is over another amazing entity called a secondary dominant chord. A secondary dominant is any chord in a major or minor key that is turned into a dominant chord (i.e it has a major 3rd and flat 7th).

You know the song “Girl From Ipanema” right?

The first two chords are Fmaj7 and G9#11. G9#11 is a secondary dominant, normally it would be Gm7 but the composer has chosen the specific sound of a II7 chord.

Play the lydian dominant chord on any secondary dominant that resolves to a MAJOR CHORD.

How To Use the Lydian Dominant Scale

I recommend you treat this scale the same as you treat the mixolydian mode:

  • Your inside notes being: 1 3 5 b7
  • Color tones: 9 13

BUT BUT BUT… 

The #11 in the lydian dominant scale is your most colorful note, unlike the distasteful 11 in a mixolydian mode.

Lydian dominant VS Lydian – What is the difference?

Lydian = Maj7#11
Lydian Dominant = Dom7#11

Lydian dominant has a b7 instead of a normal major 7. Although they have similar names they are very different scales. Think of lydian dominant as mixolydian with a #11 rather than confusing yourself with similarities to the lydian mode.

Lydian Dominant Summary

ScaleLydian Dominant Mode
ChordDom7#11, Dom9#11, Dom13#1
NotesR, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7
C exampleC, D, E, F#, G, A, Bb
Chord/ Guide Tones3rd and b7
Color Tones9th, 13th, #11
Avoid Notesnone!
Sam's TipThis is a VERY useful scale. If you know your mixolydian scale it should feel familiar. Get to know it well and you won't regret spending the time!

How To Learn the Lydian Dominant Scale

Follow these 3 steps to learn this scale:

  1. Play it a few times, up and down.
  2. Record a dom9#11 chord. Play the scale and listen to how each note sounds over the chord.
  3. Check out, How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Apply the patterns I use in that lesson to get your muscle memory happening.

Spending some time on this scale. It has no avoid notes so you can’t make a mistake. Play around with it, and most importantly – have fun!

Good Job, Keep Learning

Once you feel comfortable with this scale, here is some further reading I recommend you check out:

More Free Melodic Minor Mode Lessons

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions you may have.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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