Focus On Simple: The F Lydian Mode

November 10, 2017

The internet is full of great advice. and horrible advice. If you search long enough, you can find believable information and opinions about any topic imaginable. Often the advice is inconsistent.

Contradictions abound: Only use three left-hand fingers. But use four left-hand fingers if you want to play fast. Never practice with a metronome. But you should practice with a metronome to make your time solid. Never check your bass as baggage on an airplane. On the other hand, never try to take your bass into an airplane as carry-on baggage. Never pour water into a pot of boiling oil. That has nothing to do with bass playing, but it can’t be repeated often enough.

The world of online (mis)information is overwhelming. The best antidote to misleading and self-important bass advice is to find a few trusted sources. A good local teacher or musical mentor can provide guidance for making music and becoming a better bassist. In addition, your musician friends and bandmates serve as beacons in the sometimes weird world of music making and study. Learn to trust your trusted sources. Good teachers—online and in the flesh—have personal relationships with their students, and are invested in each student’s progress, success, and fulfillment.

This month, let’s cut through the internet noise and focus on something simple that will make you a better bassist: the F Lydian mode. The C major scale, when played from the 4th scale degree, generates the F Lydian mode (Ex. 1). There are many ways to think about modes, but we’ll simply define the F Lydian mode as the notes of the C major scale, from F to F.

Example 2 shows the difference between an F major scale and the F Lydian mode. The defining note is the 4th scale degree: In the F major scale, the 4th scale degree is Bb. The 4th scale degree of the F Lydian mode is the note B. The terms mode and scale are often used interchangeably; check out my column Scales & Modes Explained (see Connect) for the complete scoop.

The Lydian sound is brighter than the major sound because of the #4. Take the #4 up one octave, and it becomes the #11—in the key of F, it’s still the note B—in the upper structure of the chord Fmaj7(#11). Example 3 shows several ways that an Fmaj7(#11) might be voiced as a chord. You’ll have to play these chord voicings on a keyboard or guitar, unless you have a Thundercat-worthy 6-string bass, and maybe an extra finger or two.

The Lydian sound is beautiful and mysterious. One of Jaco’s trademark harmonic tricks on a C Lydian was to play the high G harmonic (G string, 5th fret), the high F# harmonic (D string, between the 4th and 3rd fret), while adding a low C (Ex. 4). The note F# is the #11 in a C chord.

Example 5 is a 16-bar étude using the F Lydian mode. Note the dynamic markings, crescendo markings, slides, and accents on certain notes. This étude builds two musical skills: (1) playing bass lines and melodies based on the F Lydian mode, and (2) phrasing and playing dynamically. First, read through the line, playing slowly or even out-of-time if you need to find notes. Once you’re comfortable hitting all the notes, play the étude slowly, using the marked dynamics. Make sure you can hear the difference between forte (f) and mezzo-piano (mp), and between mezzo-forte (mf) and fortissimo (ff).

Not sure how all of the loudness levels relate? Here’s the progression of dynamic markings, from soft to loud:

ppp pianississimo (triple piano) as soft as possible
pp pianissimo (double piano) very soft
p piano soft
mp mezzo-piano half-soft
mf mezzo-forte half-loud
f forte loud
ff fortissimo (double forte) very loud
fff fortississimo (triple forte) as loud as possible

A crescendo is a gradual increase in volume. A decrescendo is a gradual decrease in volume. For example: Bar 1, beat two starts mp (mezzo piano) and increases in volume to the last eighth-note in the bar, which is marked f (forte). The crescendo in bars 5 and 6 is just a slight swell, which emphasizes the high F to E, followed by a slight decrescendo to the note B.

The mf in bar 13 is an abrupt dynamic change from the ff in the previous two bars. In the étude’s final two bars, a decrescendo brings the line to the mp accent on the last eighth-note of the piece. Don’t let the tempo speed up or slow down when you play louder or softer! Note that it’s easier to increase your dynamic range by playing lighter and softer, rather than trying to pull harder and hammer out more volume on the top end of the loudness spectrum.



John’s top bass tips include: Play with three or four left-hand fingers, and never pour water into a pot of boiling oil. Check out John’s new video lesson series, The Upright Bass Handbook, at and

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