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I've recently found out about George Russell's book the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization and I've been curious about exactly what the Lydian Chromatic Concept is and how it can be used to compose music. I eventually plan on getting the book, but I've also tried to learn about it from other sources and they have been really lacking in basic information about it.

So what exactly is the Lydian Chromatic Concept and what are some examples of this in practice?

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    I don't have the book (it costs a fortune on Amazon), but from what I know it talks about how would the music be, if it was built around the Lydian mode, instead of the Major scale. Jul 5, 2015 at 10:22
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    I've been looking for the same thing. The publishers seem to be very keen on protecting their intellectual property - as is their right of course - I think the only way to find out is to buy the book. Jul 5, 2015 at 15:06
  • Google for the title + author + "pdf". You'll likely find a copy. The link that once worked for has been taken down. Looks like another is available.
    – Kirk A
    Jul 7, 2015 at 18:57
  • I cannot comment on other countries, but in the U.S., if you contact your library, you should be able to "check out' a digital copy of the book at no cost.
    – user3235
    Apr 13 at 8:37

1 Answer 1

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I'm going to give a very cursory simplification for the answer because asking about Lydian Chromatic theory is just like asking about Set Theory or Serialism.

Lydian Chromatic Concept Theory basically asserts that the lydian scale is more closely aligned to the natural, universal properties of sound than the conventional major scale. It explains and justifies this reasoning through the overtone series, interval vectors, and what is described as tonal gravity. Tonal gravity is the aural relationship between a given note and the fundamental of it's prime-order lydian chromatic parent scale. A tonal gravity field is something not unlike a pitch-class region.

Because the perfect fifth is the first interval introduced after the perfect octave, it is

"thus established as the strongest harmonic interval" (pg.2).

In other words, the fifth is considered to be the "foundation" or "cornerstone" interval. To this end, the fifth then establishes itself as the basic unit of tonal gravity whereby

"a ladder of fifths proceeding upwards from the tonic...produces the first seven tones of the Lydian Scale..." (pg.3).

When discussing this theory you need to dispense with functional harmony. That said, this theory may be used to create tonal, atonal, and pantonal music. It is important not to conflate functionality with tonality. Tonal Gravity is measured vertically as well as horizontally.

Here is another quote from the text in question that might help:

There is no "goal pressure" within the tonal gravity field of the Lydian Scale. The Lydian Scale exists as a self-organized Unity in relation to its tonic tone and tonic major chord. [It] implies an evolution to higher levels of tonal organization. [It] is the true scale of tonal unity and the scale which clearly represents the phenomenon of tonal gravity itself.

"Goal Pressure" here of course refers to the depends on the Dominant -> Tonic relationship. "Unity" is the process by which "gravitational energy is passed down a ladder of fifths to its lowermost tone..."

Each Chromatic Order has seven principle scales. These principle scales (along with most things in this theory) are derived from the overtone series.

From there on, it just gets a lot more complicated.

The Take Away

  • Lydian Scale is more closely aligned to the natural, universal properties of sound than the conventional major scale.

  • The harmonic series is the most natural expression of sound at its fundament.

  • All musical grammar and expression of this language evolves from the harmonic series.

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  • The Lydian Chromatic Concept does not prefer the Lydian scale because it is "more closely aligned to the harmonic series than the major scale". This case would be very hard to argue: the relevant harmonic (at 11 times the fundamental frequency) is at 551 cents, which is almost exactly in between a 4 (500 cents) and a #4 (600 cents). The real argument for the Lydian scale is the fact that it can be generated by stacking 6 ascending perfect fifths on top of each other. The unique quality of a perfect fifth can of course be motivated by the overtone series.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 6, 2015 at 7:02
  • @MattL. If you happened to read the top of my answer, you would have seen that I said that the theory "asserts" (as in an inference) that the lydian scale is more closely aligned to the natural, universal properties of sound than the conventional major scale, not that the theory itself states it explicitly. Close though the frequencies may be, the 11th partial of the overtone series is almost always understood to be a flattened #4. I rarely see productive conversations when people start using "cents" and "Hz" as you can quickly dissolve the inherent validity of any note. Jul 7, 2015 at 22:46
  • I wasn't about to get into an argument whether the 11th partial is closer to a 4 or a #4, I just pointed out that your mentioning the overtone series might be misleading, because Russell only uses the perfect fifth (and nothing else from the overtone series) as an argument for using Lydian as the basic scale. If he had based his reasoning on higher harmonics, he should have ended up with Lydian b7. So nothing in his justification of Lydian refers to any higher harmonics than the interval of a perfect fifth.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 8, 2015 at 16:45
  • So it's a good thing that you edited your answer accordingly by adding some text and quotes about the perfect fifth.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 8, 2015 at 16:46
  • @MattL. Yes, the point you made made me realize that my answer lacked some specificity - specifically relating to use of perfect fifths. Jul 8, 2015 at 19:17

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