3 Fantastic Chromatic Tricks...

If you feel that your solos are getting a little bland, and you want to add a bit more color to your scale phrases why not try adding chromatic passing tones. The effect of these tones will not only help your solos, but they'll also beef up the sound of the harmony contained in your backing chords...

Chromatic notes introduce outside tones, (notes that are not in the key). Some of these "outside" tones would sound dissonant if they were to get stressed in our solo. But, if passed over quickly, they can end up sounding pretty interesting. What makes them sound so good (when applied correctly) is how they can be used to resolve up or down to an inside, (correct diatonic) scale /chord tone.

When we resolve quickly from dissonance to consonance the effect can dramatically impact the listeners ear. However, if we blend the tones smoothly while maintaining the identical rhythmic contour, we can add chromatic elements in an almost seamless way while having the flow of our line still remain very well connected.

Here's a consonant melodic phrase played using the notes of the "A Natural Minor" scale. It is entirely in the key (diatonic) and does not contain any chromatic passing ideas.

Below is the same melodic phrase, except this time the phrase contains passing tones (on the 3rd guitar string) that work to connect sections of the scales diatonic notes.

Since chromatic lines are most commonly used in blues, country and jazz, we can learn the most from them at first buy testing their application within this genre.

The sound of a well designed chromatic passage can offer us more unique ways to better connect our statements. However, before we can learn to create chromatic phrases outside of the most common styles, it is best to study their application in what is probably the most popular style - blues.

In order to have success with adding chromatic ideas it is beneficial to understand how the chromatic process works in a general musical sense. Let's start with what is probably the most recognizable use of chromatic ideas, which is their use in blues licks.

This chromatic lick is a basic Minor Pentatonic scale phrase from the key of "G Blues."

(click above image to enlarge to full-screen)

The next "G Minor" lick is another example of the use of chromatic passing tones applied this time to reflect an even greater inclusion of "outside" melodic phrasing.

The main thing to develop in the application of chromatic tones is to never dwell on the passing tones. The chromatic sound works best when it is applied before a resolution to a more stable tone.

When the chromatic passing tone technique is mastered, the use of these chromatic phrases will produce a great way to spice up your licks. And, it is also common to hear chromatic lines used as a primary part of playing pentatonic licks. The use of the flat 5th (b5) or "blue note", is a chromatic, passing tone and it will tend to resolve quickly, either up to the 5th or down to the 4th.

In our final example, I wanted to introduce the sound of chromatic ideas applied within the basic everyday major scale. As long as the general use chromatic principles we've discussed are upheld, we'll be able to apply chromatic sound anywhere. Even in the most everyday musical sounds like the basic major scale.

This chromatic lick is tied to the harmony surrounding a basic key of, "A Major" scale phrase. Notice how the chromatic effect occurs to pull in the resolution of the line.

(click above image to enlarge to full-screen)

Try your own chromatic phrases based on the scales you know, filling in the interval gaps of the scale along the way. If you're confident with the idea of scale tone resolution and hitting into the safe landing notes, you should be able to make most of your chromatic movements sound fairly natural and effective when you insert them into your solos.

Test several different ways of resolving the chromatic tones up and down. Try including them as part of a quick succession of passing tones before landing on a safe tone from the scale. It won't take long for you to develop inspiration to explore adding in your own chromatic licks to all that you do musically.



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