Using the Lydian mode in the style of Steve Vai

Back in the day, I used to listen to quite a bit of Steve Vai. I first heard him in 1981 with Frank Zappa on Halloween at the Fillmore East. I was a freshman in college and he totally blew me away. I was impressed with his seemingly effortless virtuosity and flamboyant stage performance. Next, I heard a floppy single of a tune entitled “Blue Powder” and was even more impressed. Finally, after seeing his performance of “Eugene’s Trick Bag” in the movie Crossroads, I decided to give this guy some serious listening time. For a few years, I saturated myself with various recordings and noticed some things about his soloing techniques. One of those things was his use of the Lydian mode (1–2–3–#4–5–6–7) In a number of his solos I noticed he used the main element of this mode (#4) as a sort of spice to liven things up. In other words, he didn’t use it constantly, but added color to his melodies with it. When I started to analyze his soloing techniques it revealed quite a bit about how to properly use this and other modes.

The Lydian scale is identical to the major scale, but with a raised 4th degree. Also, the Lydian and Ionian scales contain a major seventh. These scales go great over a major seventh chord. With these concepts in mind, I’ve illustrated some examples of easy ways to implement this mode into your playing.

Here is an arpeggio based on an A major triad with a raised 4th at the peak of the arpeggio giving it the Lydian quality. Download example audio...

This example demonstrates a linear approach in the key of A for the Lydian arpeggio (1–3– #4 –5). It spans three octaves and ends on the major seventh (G#). Download example audio...

Once again, we use a linear approach but also incorporate the major seventh throughout. Download example audio...

This is an almost entirely pentatonic approach to the Lydian scale (omitting the 6th and 2nd) in triplets. Download example audio...

This is the same Lydian pentatonic concept, except we are incorporating all 6 strings. Download example audio...

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