I've been studying modes recently and since I have a piano, tried to experiment with them by improvising simple tunes.

My problem is that as soon as I use something else that Ionian, my perception of the key immediately shifts. As an example, I've been experimenting around C Lydian.

Initially, to establish the C root as strongly as possible, I do a series of V-I cadences, avoiding II, ivº and vii which contain the F# "lydian" note. At this point, the chord of C major definitely feels home. However, as soon as I start adding the F# note, or a chord which contains it, such as D major or B minor, the home kind of immediately shifts and becomes G major (while C major now feels like an unresolved IV), which is telling me than I'm essentially now playing in the key of G major.

At this point, if I redo a series of I-V-I then I can re-establish C major but I never manage to get this C Lydian feel. It's always either C Ionian or G Ionian, alternatively.

What can I change in my improvisation (or in my hearing) so that it can feel being Lydian with a C root/home?

  • 5
    Does this answer your question? How to make C lydian not sound like G ionian?
    – Edward
    Mar 3, 2021 at 2:40
  • @Edward not quite. I agree it's essentially the same question, but I've tried the answers are they not as convincing (or perhaps less well explained) as the ones below here.
    – Jivan
    Mar 3, 2021 at 7:59
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    Are you studying this from a source that doesn't have any example material? It doesn't have to be an entire piece. Look at how it works and compare it to your own playing. Also note the impact of accompaniment or "backing track", if you have one. music.stackexchange.com/questions/105518/… Here's some stuff with a pedal note music.stackexchange.com/questions/88295/… Mar 3, 2021 at 9:30
  • 1
    Bar 20 should be B/A, it's a mistake. The guitar fretboard and staff are the actual played notes, the chord symbol is wrong. Mar 3, 2021 at 9:40
  • 1
    "Do you think it's possible to maintain this A Lydian feel without the pedal point?" That's a good question! Try it out, explore and get a feel for it. But because of that question there's the part without accompaniment. It's more of a craft, skill and art than science. Can you juggle the balls without dropping any? Can you master the skills? You learn this during countless hours of practicing, not reading theory or watching Youtube videos. :) Mar 3, 2021 at 9:45

1 Answer 1


C Lydian is G major, in the sense that they share the same notes, so it's fairly natural that your ear would re-orient itself to the more familiar sound.

In order to firm up C Lydian, make sure you emphasize the #4. In order to play "in Lydian" -- or any mode -- you want to avoid chord progressions characteristic of, say, Ionian, and instead focus on progressions that emphasize the unique aspects of that mode.

By establishing C major with I-V-I, you are inadvertently also emphasizing G major (via the V chord). In order to change modes, you'll probably need more time establishing the C-F# relationship, possibly avoiding G (the pitch) altogether until the sense of Lydian is established in your ear.

  • I agree, and would suggest taking some time just 'sitting' in a lydian tonality, F Lydian works as its all the white notes, but whatever key you choose, just sit in lydian for a while and use that #4 often, hear how it leads to the 5th. Focus on it's more floating, inquisitive quality (subjective yes). Once you've jammed in the lydian scale for ten minutes put that 4 back to the natural and you will FEEL the difference, the natural 4th will probably feel very stark and out of place!
    – OwenM
    Mar 3, 2021 at 0:36
  • I would say it's the root of lydian scale (C) who says the most loudly "I'm not G major" Mar 3, 2021 at 0:47
  • I agree, make sure you are playing and hearing a scale/mode against the root of that particular scale/mode, to hear it's intrinsic quality.
    – OwenM
    Mar 3, 2021 at 0:56
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    The first paragraph is misleading. Possibly those with perfect pitch excluded, nobody's ear re-orients because of absolute pitches. It's all about relative pitches relative to the most important note, the tonic. Two notes are different here: the tonic and the fourth. In setting the tonic, rhythmic placement of notes on strong and weak pulses in the time dimension is important. Talk about modes should include time and rhythmic dynamics, not just pitches. It's not just what notes, it's when and how. Adding a metronome click or drum beat can change the harmony! :) Mar 3, 2021 at 8:36

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