June 17, 2012

Lydian Dominant Flavors in Rock and Metal

Today I will show you a segment from my song „Locrian Locusts” from my 2009 debut instrumental guitar album „Sharp Guitars From a Flat Planet”. As you can guess from its title, this song utilizes some arcane scales and modes, like the locrian nat.6 scale, which is derived from the harmonic minor scale. I’ll be happy to introduce you to this really exotic-sounding scale in a future lesson, but for now, however, let’s delve into the middle solo part of this song, in which I’ve used the lydian dominant scale.

Here you can listen to the segment from the song:

Lydian dominant is the fourth mode of the melodic minor scale. If you take, for instance, the B melodic minor scale, containing the notes B C# D E F# G# and A#, and play these notes over an E drone or an E major triad, then you’ll start recognizing the special flavor of lydian dominant. If you reorganize the above notes, then you get this sequence, starting from E: E F# G# A# B C# D. As you can see, the lydian dominant scale is somewhat similar to the E major scale (notes in common: E F# G# B and C#), but it has a raised fourth (A#) and a lowered seventh (D).

If you are familiar with the modes of the major scale, then you’ll immediately observe an interesting phenomenon: E lydian has a raised fourth compared to the E major scale, while E mixolydian has a lowered seventh. So we can safely bet that if at some point an E lydian and an E mixolydian scale would fall in love with each other, then their child would be an E lydian dominant! The E lydian dominant integrates in itself the qualities of a lydian and a mixolydian, thus creating a really interesting and distinctive feel. You can use this scale to spice up your mixolydian blues chops, or to add a more unusual vibe to your lydian tunes. Or, you can go along the eccentric ‘Jonas Tamas way’ of your humble instrumental guitar guide, and use this mode in a progressive metal setting.

So back to the middle solo part of „Locrian Locusts”! As you can see on the TAB, this segment alternates between 7/8 and 4/4. In the riff, I’ve used tritone and major third intervals on the A and low E strings, descending with a bizarre pattern: in bar 1, there are four E notes after each of the tritone and major third intervals, but in the last part of the bar, the number of the E notes has been halved from four to two. In bar 2, the ‘halving’ approach continues, but with only two E notes between the tritones and major thirds and with one E note in the last part of the bar. Weird, huh? But sounds cool! Note that each interval uses at least one important degree from the lydian dominant: the first E-A# interval contains the root and the raised fourth, the second D-A# interval contains the lowered seventh and the raised fourth, the third D-G# interval contains the lowered seventh and the major third, and so on. At the end of bar 2, there is an outside note (B#), to be able to go on with the intervallic pattern, and at the end of bar 4, there is a cheerful chromatic ending with some sliding fifths.

Now, let’s move on to the main solo that I’ve played over the above riff. I’ve arranged the solo in two guitar tracks, harmonized in sixths. Harmonizing in sixths is a really cool way to create great harmonies, because each sixth interval is an inversion of a third (which of course would be our first choice for harmonizing).  So playing in sixths sounds really pleasant, but it has a more interesting sound than playing in thirds.

The approach of the solo was similar to the way I’ve composed the accompanying riff: my goal was to emphasize the important scale tones of the E lydian dominant throughout the solo. In fact, the first 4 notes of the higher guitar track contain the 4 most important degrees, in the order of appearance: the lowered seventh, the root, the major third, and the raised fourth.

You can use alternate picking for the most part of the solo, combined with some sweep picking in bars 2 and 4. Note the string-skipping part between the last two notes of the first bar and the beginning two notes of the second bar. At the end of the third bar, the string skipping movement is a bit trickier though. The last note of bar 3 must be fretted by your pinky on the G string (fret 16), and the next note must be grabbed by your index finger on the high E string (fret 16 again), so you have to shift positions with your left hand. If necessary, practice this part separately with the metronome, and try to move your left hand pretty fast and accurately. You should only increase the tempo of the metronome when you have mastered this difficult hand movement at the previous BPM. 

Here is the segment again, click on the Play button: 
Enjoy, and keep discovering the musical opportunities which lurk in the lydiant dominant mode! See ya next time, keep on rockin’!

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