5 Chromatic Licks – This Is The Way You Use Them In Your Playing

In Jazz Guitar, Chromatic Licks are really a huge part of what we consider the jazz sound. But you can use chromatic passing notes and enclosures as devices to create different kinds of surprises in your solos. This Guitar Lesson is going over 5 different examples of how you can use chromaticism and chromatic approach in your playing. The examples are both in a Modal setting and on a II V I.

The lesson covers

  • Adding color with chromatic passing notes
  • Suspending chord tones with chromatic enclosures
  • Creating forward motion towards the next chord
  • Outside sequences and parallel movement.

#1 Chromatic Passing Notes for Color

In this modal example I am using a passing notes and chromatic enclosures as a way to add some color to the line. They are there as ways of adding a few colorful or surprising notes in the line.

Whenever you are playing over a chord then the ear exoects to hear the notes of the chord and the surrounding scale notes. It does however also hear the remaining notes as tensions that need to resolve.

You can add this to a line to give it some colors and some movement. In this modal A dorian minor example I am first adding a passing note between the 9th and the root from beat 3 to 4 of the first bar.

The passing note is placed on the off beat which makes it a bit more smooth.

The Chromatic enclosure is a 4 notes melody in the beginning of the 2nd bar that creates some movement towards the C on beat 3 of the bar.

The final part of the lick is a Cmaj7(b5) arpeggio which is a great way to really get the Dorian Am13 color out on the chord.

#2 Chromatic Lick = Forward Motion

In this example I am using the chromatic enclosure to create some forward motion and move the chords along.

The Progression is a II V I in G major. The chromaticism used is first a passing note between the 3rd and the 2nd on D7 (in bar2)

From here I continue with a very common way to target the 3rd(B) of Gmaj7 that really drives the lick forward and pushes towards the resolution on the and of 4.

#3 Suspending a Resolution

Instead of using the chromatic phrase to drive the changes you can also use it as a way of delaying a chord. In this example, a II V I in G major again, I am using two chomatic ideas to delay the resolution to the Gmaj7.

The Am7 line is constructed of a spread triad 1st inversion C major triad. This is followed by an Am pentatonic phrase.

In this example the dominant, D7, is an altered dominant. The phrase is a pretty basic altered phrase using an Ab triad and a stock Ebm line.

The D7alt line should resolve to the D on beat 1 of the Gmaj7 but instead

These types of ideas are very common in Pat Metheny’s playing around the Question And Answer era. You will find him making harmonic movement quite unclear by adding long chromatic phrases instead of a clear resolution.

#4 Modal Shifting Example

Another great way to introduce chromatic passages is to shift an interval and in that way move out of the tonality for a bit.

This A Dorian modal example demonstrates this. The first bar starts with an enclosure targeting the A on beat 3.  From there it is a descending 1st inversion Am7 arpeggio.

In bar two the first two notes are a chromtatic enclosure of an E. The E and the C then becomes an interval that shifts down in half steps twice. The line ends with a chromatic passing note added between D and C. 

#5 Chromatic Licks as Outside ideas

Chromaticism can also be used as a way to create some outside material in a solo. This modal example is demonstrating some side slipping which is shifting an arpeggio in half steps to add some outside melodies to the phrase.

The beginning of the phrase is a fairly straight forward 4-note enclosure targeting the root of Am7. This is followed by an Am7 arpeggio. 

In bar 2 the Am7 arpeggio ends on the 9th and this is then the first note in a descending Em triad. This triad is shifted down to Ebm and Dm. From the Dm the line ends on the 13(F#) of Am via a chromatic enclosure.

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