The single identifying feature of Lydian chords and the Lydian mode is the augmented 4th interval, also known as the sharp 11 (#11). To be even more specific, a Lydian chord is a major triad with the addition of an augmented 4th.
This article covers all the Lydian chords built on the 4th scale degree (F Lydian mode) of the C major scale. I have 28 closed and 32 open F Lydian guitar chords from C major.
F Lydian chords from C major
If the augmented 4th is the main interval that defines the Lydian mode, then the maj7#11 chord is the main Lydian chord that you see in articles about the Lydian mode. But it’s not the only Lydian chord.
Read my Music Intervals article if you are unfamiliar with intervals so that you can understand how these chords are built.
Two other obvious Lydian chords are the major 7 sharp 11 extensions of the 9th and 13th:
I also include 4 other Lydian chords, or chords with an augmented 4th:
I’ll comment on each of those chords below in the Lydian “add” chords section. Here are all the intervals in the Lydian chords:
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, augmented 4th = R-M3-P5-A4 = 1-3-5-#11
Chord tendency: Every Lydian chord in this article perfectly resolves to the one chord (I) of the key, e.g. F add#11 > C major.
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, major second, augmented 4th = R-M3-P5-M2-A4 = 1-3-5-9-#11
6 add9/#11 chord
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, major sixth, major second, augmented 4th = R-M3-P5-M6-M2-A4 = 1-3-5-6-9-#11
Alternate name: IV and V polychord, e.g. F major and G major triads = F6 add9/#11
Equivalent chord: 9/11 on the 9, e.g. F6 add9/#11 = G9/11 = G9 + the 11th C
Chord intervals: Root, major third, diminished fifth, major seventh = R-M3-D5-M7 = 1-3-♭5-7
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, major seventh, augmented fourth = R-M3-P5-M7-A4 = 1-3-5-7-#11
Alternate names: maj7(#11), Lydian chord
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, major seventh, major second = R-M3-P5-7-M2 = 1-3-5-7-9-#11
Alternate names: maj7(9,#11) or maj7(9/#11)
Chord intervals: Root, major third, perfect fifth, major seventh, major sixth = R-M3-P5-7-M6/13 = 1-3-5-7-13-#11
Alternate names: maj7(13,#11) or maj7(13/#11)
Closed maj7♭5 and open Fmaj7♭5 guitar chords
The major 7 flat 5 chord is just a major 7 sharp 11 without the perfect fifth. It actually is usually notated as a maj7#11 chord on jazz websites.
Jazz tunes often have a chord on each beat of a measure which is a lot of chord changes. As a result, jazz guitar players will often drop the perfect 5th to make it easier to hold each chord and therefore change from chord to chord.
I prefer to notate chords with the actual name so that new players are not confused by the name versus the chord tones. So that’s why I have maj7♭5 chords here and not included with the maj7#11 chords below.
Fmaj7♭5 chord notes: F-A-B-E
Here is a chord diagram of the symbols I use in my chord blocks:
Notes on the chords
* There are alternate fingerings for a lot of the chord voicings in this article so experiment until you find a way to hold the chords that are best for you. I included the fingerings I prefer but I make notes about some of the chords with different finger options.
maj7♭5 chords: #’s 1 and 2 sound good, #’s 3 and 4 are hard to hold, and #8 doesn’t sound that good. #9 is definitely my favorite.
Fmaj7♭5 chords: #1 is the best and I don’t like the open E in the bass of #4 but it’s still a valid voicing. Let me explain the 3 slashes on #2. They are all optional notes and the slashes are my shorthand for alternate voicings. Compare that with #3 and you see the tritone inverting to the tritone. Both #2 and 3 sound better if you can reach the root note on the low E string.
The Lydian Chord: open and closed maj7#11 guitar chords
The major 7 sharp eleven is the quintessential Lydian chord and is the chord you will always see when Lydian chords are discussed. It’s an extended maj7 chord with the augmented 4th added. It’s a nice chord that you should look into using on the IV of any major scale.
Fmaj7#11 chord tones: F-A-C-E-B
Notes on the chords
maj7#11 chords: #8 is one of my favorites but it’s pretty hard to hold. I also like #1, 7 and 9.
Fmaj7#11 chords: #1 is the best but I also like #’s 6 and 7. For #4, you can use your ring finger for the A on the low E string if you find that easier than the pinky.
Closed maj9#11 and open Fmaj9#11 guitar chords
The maj9#11 is the first of three 6-note chords in this article. It’s simply a double extended 7th chord with the major 7 as the base chord and the major 9th and augmented 11th added.
I use the major 7th, but I rarely use this chord or the maj13#11. Too many notes for me and the maj7#11 is all you need for the Lydian sound.
Fmaj9#11 chord tones: F-A-C-E-B-G
Notes on the chords
maj9#11 chords: There are only 2 but they both sound good. For #2, you can use your 2nd or 3rd finger for the single note fretted on the G string. I’m not sure which finger is better for that one.
Fmaj9#11 chords: I like #2 even though it has the open E and A strings. The same goes for #3. #6 is good too, the other voicings are “okay”.
Closed maj13#11 and open Fmaj13#11 guitar chords
This chord and the maj9#11 are strictly used by jazz players. Like the maj9#11, it’s just a major 7#11 with the extension of a major 6/13 added to the chord and the #11.
Fmaj13#11 chord tones: F-A-C-E-B-D
Notes on the chords
maj13#11 chords: Only 2 of these as well and one of them is a rootless voicing. They both sound great, especially #2 without the root note if you can hold it. In finding rootless chords, always look for the notes closest to the root, which in this case would be the major 3rd or the major 7th. I think identifying the major 3rd on the low E string is the easiest, or the 5tgh fret for Fmaj13#11 NR, where NR = No Root.
Fmaj13#11 chords: #’s 1 and 2 sound great but #1 is a little hard to hold. #4 also sounds great if you don’t mind using your thumb. I also like #’s 5 and 7.
F open and closed “add” Lydian chords
If you know how to build chords then you are probably rolling your eyes at the “add#11” chord. You might want to give it a try before you write it off.
I have an old note that Sting uses an add#11 chord in either Synchronicity or Synchronicity II. Let me know if you have sheet music for those songs and whether or not you see it. There is a C add F# chord in the song Friends by Led Zeppelin. C add F# is a Lydian chord from G major.
I built the add9/#11 after I accidentally “found” the add9/11 chord, which is fantastic by the way. And I found the 2 polychords 6 add9/11 and 6 add9/#11 listed on a jazz site. Polychords are two chords played at the same time.
So if you accept these Lydian add chords, then here are the notes in those chords for F followed by open and closed guitar chord voicings:
F add#11 chord tones: F-A-C-B
F add9/#11 chord tones: F-A-C-G-B
F6 add9/#11 chord tones: F-A-C-D-G-B, equals G9/11
Notes on the chords
add#11 chords: I like #1 and 3.
F add#11 chords: I guess I like #1 since it’s the only open voicing. Try going to C major right after playing that chord.
add9/#11 chords: They are both a little hard to hold but they both sound good.
F add9/#11 chords: #1 sounds amazing but 2 and 3 are good as well.
F6 add9/#11 chords: By the ay, there are NO closed voicings for a 6 add9/#11 chord. Fantastic sound for all 3 but #1 stands out as the best.
How to use Lydian chords and a note on Lydian progressions
Use any of the Lydian chords above on the IV chord of a song written in a major key, or the VI chord in a natural minor key.
It’s not easy to base a song on a Lydian chord progression. The root of the chord and the #11 make up the tritone in the major scale, so any true Lydian chord wants to resolve to the tonic (I) chord.
I would suggest ending a Lydian progression on the major triad of the IV. You definitely want to use the major II, which in F Lydian would be a G major triad. If you are going to add a #11 in one of the IV chords, then you’ll either have to go to the I chord of the root scale or figure out how to make to cycle back to the IV chord. I’d suggest some kind of melodic line to do that.
The I and II chords in a Lydian progression got me thinking about the song Fire on the Mountain by the Grateful Dead. That song only has 2 chords: B and A major. So a 2-chord song of major triads separated by a whole step is one approach to writing a Lydian song.
Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Frank Zappa have written songs with a Lydian feel so you may want to do some research on those musicians. Also, Sting uses the maj7#11 chord in a number of his songs so take a look at his songs and songs he wrote with The Police.
Here are other articles you may be interested in:
- Fmaj7 Guitar chords: 51 open and closed guitar chords F major 7
- Comprehensive list of Chords: Tables showing the intervals and notes for the modes and chord types from the most popular scales.
Lydian chords have a definite Spanish or Flamenco sound. If you are only going to try only one of the chords above then try the maj7#11 chord. And try adding one of the Fmaj7#11 chords in any C major chord progressions you have written. You will be surprised by how it can change the overall sound of the IV chord. Take a look at the Wikipedia page Lydian Chord for additional notes on the Lydian sound.