Chromatic Chords – part 1

Chromaticism has been an important part of the jazz language since the 40’s.  In this lesson I want to show how you can add chromatic chords to you comping or chords solos, so that you also have that aspect of the style in you vocabulary.

I already have made 3 lessons on adding chromatic notes to improvisations. These lessons are on my YouTube channel, and the article that accompanies them are published on the fundamental-changes.com website. Since a lot of jazz melodies have chromatic passing notes we need to have a way to deal with them when we are playing that kind of melodies in chord solos or while comping. On guitar this is surprisingly easy (for once..)

I have chosen to work only on dominant chords for this 1st lesson on chromatic chords. Mainly because it is an easy place to start and it is also a little easier to hear in the beginning. I also won’t go too much into the theory of what the chromatic chords are since it is not that important, and easy to use without knowing that.

Exercises

I don’t have an actual system for this approach, and have chosen to make an exercise based on two main positions on the neck. The principle is easy to grasp and will work on any sort of voicing even if we are looking at it in a guitaristic way.

The first example is a few examples of melodies that you can use with voicings based around a standard G7(13) voicing in the 3rd position.

Chromatic Chords - Part 1 - ex 1

As you can see I have chosen to harmonize the chromatic note with a chord voicing that is the same as the one it resolves to, so when the melody resolves down it is an Ab7 chord, and if it is aascending it is a F# voicing. Fairly simple and very easy to execute on guitar without having to think too much about it.

The second example is doing the same but around a G7(9) voicing at the 10th fret.

Chromatic Chords - Part 1 - ex 2

Since the chromatic passing notes are harmonized in a way where we have one chord that just shifts up or down a fret this concept is very nice to use for chord soloing.

Examples

So just to illustrate how this might work in a context I’ve made a few II V I lines. Another good place to practice with these chord runs would be a blues since it has a lot of dom7th chords.

Chromatic Chords - Part 1 - ex 3

Example 1 is first using a drop2 voicing for a Dm7(9), followed by a melody harmoniced with an F amjor triad (or you could view it as the top part of a Dm7 drop2 voicing. On the G7  I first use a chromatic run resolving the 13th(E) to the 5th(D) via the Eb. On the four I use a G7 altered drop2 voicning that then resolves to Cmaj7 that I play with a drop2 Eminor voicing.

The second line is using the higher position of the G7. On the Dm7 I made a short melody using basically the same chord voicing but then with different top notes. Another good way to get some practical and playable melodies for chord soloing. The chord I am using could be seen as the top part of a Drop3, an F major triad or a Drop2 Dm7 voicing. The rhythmical language of chord solos always reminded me of bigband lines, so if you want to work on chord solos and have some good ideas for rhythms to use then big band (Count Basie era) is a great place to listen for some. On the G7 I am infact using a part of the 2nd exercise, the only difference is that I have changed the rhythm a bit. The line then resolves to a Cmaj7 which is played with an Em triad.

Chromatic Chords - Part 1 - ex 4

As you can see it is important to start to see how all the voicings end up overlapping when you use them in lines and comping, even to the point where it can be hard to say what a certain voicng type is in the context.

The last example is again using a bigband like rhythms, especially because of the quarter note phrasing. The Dm7 voicings are first using the F major triad as in Line no 1 and then the one used in line no 2. In this example I chose to use a G7 altered chord instead, just to demonstrate that the same principle works just as well for altered dominants.  The melody is a chromatic movement from the #9 to the b9 and then back before it resolves to the same Cmaj7 voicing as in the previous example.

Chromatic Chords - Part 1 - ex 5

I hope you can use the exercises and the examples I gave here to make some harmonized lines with chromatic passing notes for yourself.

As always you can download a PDF of the examples here:

Chromatic Chords – Part 1

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