George Russell's 'Lydian Chromatic Concept'

The other day while playing a jam session I noticed that the guitarist had written some key centers on top of all the ii-7/ V7 /ones. Meaning that over the D-7/G7/Cmaj7 he had written C major. Many Jazz improvisation teachers start their students out thinking this way. The students at least play in the correct key, right? Ouch! This is a sure fire way to have a major clam festival. There are not many worse clams than the natural 11 on a dominant or major chord. This is called an 'avoid' note at Berklee.

The great arranger and NEC professor George Russell teaches what he calls the 'Lydian Chromatic Concept for tonal organization ', or just 'the concept' for short. His rationale is that a Major 9th chord with a sharp 11 has more a greater degree of unity a the same chord with a natural 11.
  • Jason Gross explains the reasoning behind the LCCOTO-"For Russell, the Lydian mode (with, in the key of C, its tonic F and dominant C) was a more logical candidate to become the primary scale because it suggests a greater degree of unity between chords and scales. Russell argues that a major scale, for example C, consists of two tetrachords that embody two tonalities, not one. But if you adapt the major scale to Lydian mode (in the key of C that would be a C major scale with F-sharp instead of F), it removes the duality of conflicting tonics, and more fully satisfies the tonality of the major chord. With one tonic used for each respective scale, Russell reasoned that a greater variety of chords could be stacked. This offered a new path for adventurous musicians: Standard chord progressions need not dictate the course of an improvisation, as each note is equidistant from a single tonic center. Notes could flow more freely beyond the strictures of a song's chords." From:'George Russell Goes for the Modes' by Jason Gross, Village Voice, June 4 - 10, 2003

Therefore we should use the Lydian scale as our 'base' scale. Lydian is the new Ionian! For the beginning improviser this is not really such a bad way to think about things. If you always add a sharp 11 to every major and mixolydian scale you avoid the 'avoid' note of the natural 11. You can always add a #11 to these chords without worrying about messing up the harmonic progression. Of course the 'concept' is much, much more involved than this.

George Russell has had a major impact on the course of Jazz evolution with this concept.
Miles said that George was,"the m----------- who taught me how to write." Miles' classic 'Kind of Blue' album was a result of his contact with George Russell. Dolphy was also influenced by the 'concept', along with many other important figures in Jazz.

Here is another way to think of key centers (if you must) using this concept over a
ii-7/ V7/ Imaj/ progression.

Over a:
D-7 / G7 /Cmaj7 /

D melodic-/ /Gmaj /

George teaches how to with navigate outside conventional harmony. He talks about playing 'outward' and inward'. This means moving outside or inside in degrees, not just in or out.

For example- Over a C major chord, outward bound playing would be to start playing a C Lydian, then a go to C mixolydian, then C Phrygian, then C diminished, then D major, then F# Dorian. The general idea is to slowly move to scales that have fewer and fewer notes in common with the chord you are playing over.

It's all about what George calls 'Tonal Gravity'. Every note or scale has it's own particular tonal gravity when played over any particular chord. Conventional Jazz harmony doesn't deal with, say how a G minor pentatonic sounds and where it wants to go to when played over an Eb sus4 b9 chord. This is unmapped territory as of yet.

You really can't go wrong with Lydian. George Russell even goes so far as calling the chromatic scale a 'Lydian Chromatic Scale'. George's book is very difficult to make sense of. Fuze even told me that the concept is hard to figure out even if you have George there to explain it to you.

Here is the foreword to the book by Andy Wasserman:
  • " As you will soon discover for yourself, the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization requires us to think in a new way. While it is inevitable that you will bring what you know to the Concept, you will soon realize the dramatic difference of this musical landscape where tones, scales, chords, and modes resonate within the Principle of Tonal Gravity. In order for this to begin to work within you and within your music, it is strongly suggested that you give these ideas your complete openness and attention, and, even for brief moments, let go of your preconceptions of the theoretical foundations of Western music. The knowledge that appears in the two volumes of the Lydian Chromatic Concept bas been distilled very carefully to allow students of the Concept to adapt their own musical perspectives to this one."

The unified core of ideas at the root of the Concept has the potential to transport music into a realm of deeper meaning. Opening up to those possibilities requires patience, concentrated thought, and dedicated study. Therefore it is important to realize that you cannot assimilate these ideas from too narrow a basis, either intellectually or emotionally. By making the effort to absorb the terminology and structure presented here, your musical foundation can be made stronger and the connections between you and your music more intelligent. Once the unity of the Concept begins to penetrate your practical understanding, everything in it becomes useful. It is then that its message challenges you to inquire musically and psychologically into the things you think and feel. For this reason, it is crucial to embrace the Concept from an emotionally receptive position of seeking something genuine for yourself in a world where most music is far removed from innovation and excellence. To do this requires a willingness to learn that emanates from self-motivation.

The Concept has a unique way of interpreting and translating the things of great value that music can tell us--something about the meaning of organization and gravity. Its purpose is to generate new pathways toward greater freedom in exercising aesthetic judgment and discernment that invoke a more objective fulfillment of musical statement. The focus, attention, and consciousness you put into the study of the Concept will uncover greater meaning and an expansion of your musical understanding, regardless of the stylistic genre of music to which you apply it.

Throughout this course of study you will notice that terms like vertical, horizontal, and the relationship to states of tonal gravity signal an eloquent departure from the major-minor consonant-dissonant system that is commonly taught to students. This specific language, when integrated into your thinking, can bring about personal advancement that will convey insight and innovation to your craft. The ideas are interrelated for a unity like that of a mandala, rather than the compartmentalized, noncontiguous elements that form commonly accepted notions of musical behavior. By its very nature, the Lydian Chromatic Concept will give you a fresh outlook that can aid in bringing life to your musical understanding. This requires you to master a sense of independence and self-awareness. Try to "visualize" the relationships presented in this book by "hearing" its knowledge with an inner ear that is capable of formulating your own singular musical ideas through the experience of an internal focus. This focal point can help you decipher between the superficial, mechanical associations you may be accustomed to making in your compositions or improvisations and the quality of consciousness that allows many levels of subtlety to come into play. Simply to imitate what others have played and composed is not enough. It may be beneficial for you to consider adopting a reciprocal attitude to digesting the Concept whereby the energy you give while implementing its ideas will fuel your passage through unexpected doors of discovery.

Having a specific aim while working with the Concept can he helpful. Whether you are a composer, instrumentalist, improviser, educator, arranger, or theoretician, and even if you come to this book from outside the profession of music, finding an aim as you work will allow you to put this knowledge into action and have it work for you. Use this book as a map to help you aim for that which extends beyond your customary approach. This will require you to examine some basic questions about the meaning behind an organization of musical tones and why you play or write music.

As you absorb this knowledge and become more intimate with its fundamental principles, such as the actuality of a passive "do" which yields to everything in scale that is higher that itself (Chapter II), you can begin to unearth a vision of your innate "response-abilities" within your musical discipline. At its essence, The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization creates a self-organized and infinite range of possibilities for us to master." Andy Wasserman

Here are some answers to some frequently asked questions about the 'concept' from George Russell's web site.

1. What is the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization?
The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is a theory of music and the life work of George Russell. It has existed in a state of continual evolution since the early 1950s. The most recently released Fourth Edition (2001) is entitled “Volume One: The Art and Science of Tonal Gravity.” This new publication presents the work in a highly comprehensive and organized manner, totally surpassing any previous editions. Most people familiar with this body of knowledge refer to it simply as “The Concept.”

2. What is the aim of the Lydian Chromatic Concept?
The principal aim of The Concept is to grasp the behavior of all musical activity (i.e. – melody, harmony, rhythm and form) from the most objective viewpoint possible. It seeks to document observations within music’s “genetic code” by charting the framework of laws that act as guidelines for composition, improvisation and analysis. Its purpose is to provide a road map of the musical universe that tells you where all the roads are, but does not tell you which roads to take.

3. What is the primary difference between the Lydian Chromatic Concept and all other theories of music?
Unlike any other theory of music, Mr. Russell’s Concept establishes gravity as the driving force in music. By seeking what music ITSELF is telling us about its own elemental structure, The Concept supplies the necessary means to conceive that a gravitation field of tones exists as a self-organized order of unity. The Concept does not disprove the discoveries and contributions of other musical theories, but rather explains where their truths rest in the context of tonal gravity.

4. What is Tonal Gravity?
Tonal gravity is the heart of the Lydian Chromatic Concept. Simply put, the basic building block of tonal gravity is the interval of the perfect fifth. Every tone within Western music’s equal tempered tuning relates to every other tone by either being close to - or distant from - the center of gravity, which is the tonic (or “DO”) of the Lydian Scale. There are 3 states of tonal gravity: Vertical, Horizontal, and Supra-Vertical.

5. Why is the Lydian Scale of paramount importance in this Concept?
The Lydian Scale was not chosen as the primary scale for this system of music theory because it sounds nice or has some subjective or historical significance. Since the interval of a fifth is the building block of tonal gravity, a seven-tone scale created by successive fifths establishes the most vertically unified harmonic order whereby the gravity falls down each fifth back to the singular Lydian tonic. When seven ascending consecutive fifths (i.e. – C, G, D, A, E, B, F#) are arranged within one single octave, the result is the Lydian Scale.

6. What is the fundamental difference between the Lydian and Major Scale?
As described in the answer to the previous question, the Lydian Scale has one single tonic, otherwise known as the “DO” of the scale. The Major Scale is known as a diatonic (meaning: two tonic) scale. Therefore, the essential difference between these two scales is that the Lydian (a single tonic scale) is in a state of unity with itself, and the Major Scale, with its two tonics, is in a state of resolving.

7. What is a Lydian Chromatic Scale?
The Lydian Chromatic Scale is the most complete expression of the total self-organized tonal gravity field with which all tones relate on the basis of their close to distant magnetism to a Lydian tonic.

8. Are there any historical and acoustical foundations underlying the Concept?
The recently published edition of the Concept goes into great depth and discussion concerning the historical and acoustical foundations underlying the Concept. These ideas are critical to understanding the significance of this theory, and are too involved and elaborate to post on this website. It should be noted that the current book presents these specific subjects far more extensively than in previous editions.

9. Who can most benefit by studying the Lydian Chromatic Concept?
One of the beauties of The Concept is that it is designed for musicians and non-musicians alike. Its contribution is relevant in all stylistic genres of music and from all time periods. It even extends beyond Western music to some ancient forms of non-Western music. Most students of The Concept tend to be composers, improvisers, and people interested in the analysis of already existing musical compositions. Many people outside of music are drawn to The Concept due to its objective view of tonal gravity. George Russell’s indelible mark as a jazz innovator, composer and band leader (along with his work as a theoretician) has established a platform worldwide for this work that is intrinsically tied to the development of jazz dating back to the early 1950s.

10. Does a student of the Concept have to abandon their already existing knowledge of Western music theory?
Students of this work are able to adapt their own musical perspectives to the ideas presented by the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. For example, analysis of compositions by J.S. Bach and Maurice Ravel are included in the current volume to reinforce the all-inclusive nature of tonal gravity.

11. Is the current revised edition dramatically different from the previous editions?
Yes. Generally speaking, the previous editions of the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization (dating back to 1953) were focused more on the “how-to” aspect of improvising. The more robust, comprehensive and detailed current volume adds never before published depth and dimension through exhaustive examples of analysis, scales, background information and test examples for the student. Volume Two, the completion of the entire work, is currently in development.

12. What are the extra-musical considerations of the Lydian Chromatic Concept?
George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization stretches far beyond the usual parameters of music theory, having deep roots linked to the science of acoustics, physics, world culture and political history. Its framework is applicable in almost any stylistic genre of music – both Western and non-Western – encompassing the European classical tradition as solidly as the lineage of jazz innovators. On the esoteric side, the “Concept” makes connections with psychological disciplines and spiritual pathways, nurturing a balance between both the internal and external extra-musical elements critical to any artistic process.

13. Are there any connections drawn in The Concept between music and psychology?
No art form or theory is complete without some basis in psychology and spirituality. Artists most often describe the process of creativity in transparent and intangible terms. Most - if not all - music theoretical systems have chosen to ignore the inclusion of this key internal element. While Mr. Russell’s system encourages each student of the “Concept” to explore their own ideas and paths, it freely discusses many potent ideas underlying some specific psychological perspectives and ancient wisdom traditions and the relationships between one’s ‘essence’ and ‘personality’. Ancient psychological systems made analogies between the evolution of a person’s mind and being and metaphorical terms such as scale, harmony, vertical and horizontal.

14. Has the Lydian Chromatic Concept been taught at any established educational institutions?
Mr. Russell played a key role in the famous Lenox School of Jazz, and went on to teach The Concept at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston for over 30 years. He has given seminars in this work around the world and has personally guided countless private students. The Lydian Concept is being taught by accredited teachers at the Universities of Massachusetts and Indiana, the Longy School of Music, and the Josef Hauer Konservatoriums in Austria. The previously released versions of the book have been used to teach the LCCOTO at colleges and universities around the world over the last 40 years. There are currently a small number of instructors in the United States, Europe and Japan who are formally certified by George Russell to teach the Concept. To find out more about George Russell, click on this link to www.georgerussell.com.

I have spent time with his book and have talked to a lot of guys who studied with him, but never studied with him myself. I welcome any corrections or comments from anyone who is more familiar with the 'concept' than me. In the TV program that I produced on guitarist David Fiuczynski, David talks about how the 'Concept' changed his playing. You can watch some excerpts here.

If you have ever heard George's compositions for his big band you would know that he is on to something really big........
Russell on eMusic


chicken little said...

If you don't know who George Russell is then you don't know modern jazz. His concept is found in nearly everything that is considered "modern". Even if cats don't know they've checked out George they probably have. Thanks for reminding me how important he and this concept really is.

Rob Scheps said...

I took two years of his classes and toured with him.

"The Concept" made simpler

Some of George's basic ideas:

1. when perfect 5ths are stacked, the #11 occurs before the "Natural 11" ( which he once called"the most unnatural f%*kin' note in the world!!")

2. Ergo , a C Major 13 ( #11) chord, sits in calm repose , while a C Maj. 13 chord w/ a natural 11
has an unresolved clash (a minor 9th)

3.That C major( Ionian) is really a Mode of F Lydian.

Rob Scheps said...

George said," We have only begun to peer up Lydia's dress."

Hucbald said...

Actually, this is a concept related to the scale generated by the natural harmonic overtone series, which stacked in thirds creates a dominant seventh with a major ninth and an augmented eleventh. Since a lot of jazz is blues based, and blues uses dominant seventh chords for the IV, V, and I, augmented elevenths are naturally the coin of the relm in that genera. I always start my students out with blues for just that reason: Theoretically, it is the style most in agreement with the natural harmonic overtone series.

The so-called Ionian mode, on the other hand, is a scale generated by three major triads each a fifth apart, as in a IV, I, V relationship. In other words, it's actually the harmony that generates the scale, and not the scale that generates the harmony (In both jazz and classical music).

I got hints of this while I was at Berklee, but the lightbulb didn't really appear above my head until I started studying trad theory for my masters degree. Kick-ass blog, by the way.

Anast Allomai said...

I recently acquired Russell's book! Thanks for being one of the people that helped turn me on to it!

Anonymous said...

Just a thought on Rob Scheps coment

1. when perfect 5ths are stacked, the #11 occurs before the "Natural 11" ( which he once called"the most unnatural f%*kin' note in the world!!")

This is true, but isn't it also true that if you switch it around the tonic is the perfect fifth of the natural 11th?(did that make sense?)

ie: D to A(A is the tonic) is the natural 11 (or 4 or subdominant), but A to D is a perfect 5th (or Dominant)


2. Ergo , a C Major 13 ( #11) chord, sits in calm repose , while a C Maj. 13 chord w/ a natural 11
has an unresolved clash (a minor 9th)

There is no minor ninth in either of those chords in relation to C being the tonic. But I assume he means the minor ninth harmony in relation to E (the major 3rd in the C scale) F being the minor 9th related to E as well as the 11th related to C.(but think about this E is the major 7th of F) I also beleive that the unresolved clash that is mentioned is only a "clash" if you hear it that way. I played that chord (a chord I have never played before) and I although I heard that strange vibration I thought it sounded, for lack of a better word

Also in response to hucbald
"Actually, this is a concept related to the scale generated by the natural harmonic overtone series, which stacked in thirds creates a dominant seventh with a major ninth and an augmented eleventh."

I like A so we will see what happens

A is the tonic next is C# then F then A
You only have 3 notes if stacked in 3rds and the only weird note in there would be the augmented 5th(flat 6 does that count)the F

Correct me if I'm wrong. I'm no expert on theroy nor do I mean to insult anyone I am just experimenting. wouldlike some feed back even if you dont approve of my comment.

Master Pro webmaster said...

Hi there!
Thanks for the intresting blog, on such an intresting subject. Only in the humblest of moods, and not wishing to say "you are worong" or anything of the sort, I would like to point out that the term diatonic does not come from the latin root di, meaning two, but the greek root dia, meaning through (as in diagonal, diapente, diapason, diatessaron, diaspora, diagram, and countless other words of greek origin with that prefix).
So dia-tonikos means through distances of a tone (in modern practice, what we now call tones and half tones).
Changing subject, you might find it intresting looking at Arnold Schoenberg's theory on the genesis of tonality, where he explains the major scale taking the same principle of perfect fifths as a starting point.
He points out that C is the fifth of F, the third sound appearing in its natural harmonic series (And therefore depeds on it for existance). As is G to C. Thus we have a balanced system where there is a downward force , from C to its subdominant, F, and an upward force by which it relates to it's dominant, G.
To me it's much like the chinese cosmological vision of man held in position by the earth and the heavens. Quite perfect, like the principle of "threeness" it embodies...
Take away the earth and man is left without it's supporting matrix!!! Not such an unnatural f%*kin' note, that bloody F, perhaps?
Anyway, just another intresting view on the same subject. I find them both, and others I've encountered along the way most fascinating.
Happy music making!
Greetings from Mexico!
Alex Cortes

check out www.myspace.com/master_pro

Master Pro webmaster said...

just an other little note... Russell is most definitely NOT the only one talking about gravity!!! And also not the only one not propounding "thou shalls" and "thou shall nots" through his system.

Going back to Schoenberg, his system is an all-encompassing view of harmony, which can account for all harmonic phenomenae stemming from the western tradition (talking about the standard tuning system).
And his mystical connections are quite profound too.
Not that I want to defend this Schoenberg, here: just trying to point out that there are always other ways of looking at things...


Anonymous said...

I found that the different scales that Russell uses in his theory are all modes of the melodic and harmonic minor scales, and the diminished and whole-tone scales. He just makes the tonal center the lydina mode.