Passing chords are a great way to expand the sounds you have available in your comping and chord solos. As you will see in this lesson they are also making it easier to make you comping sound more melodic and musical. In this lesson I am going to discuss 3 types of passing chords and demonstrate how they can be used.
The Diatonic Passing chords
The easiest place to look for chords to use when harmonizing a melodic comping idea is of course to use the diatonic chords of the scale at that point in the song.
If you want to know more about Drop2 chords and other voicings then check out the Jazz Chords Study guide
This is what I am doing in example 1 here below. The example is on a II V I in G major, which is the chord progression that I will use for all the examples.
In the example the diatonic passing chords are used on the Am7 chord. The first part of melody consists of the notes C, D and E. On the Am7 I am harmonizing the melody with the chords Am, Bm7 and Am7. Using the neigboring chord when harmonizing notes is a very common and very useful way to use diatonic passing chords. In this example the Bm7 chord is used to harmonize the D and it voice-leads nicely up to the following Am7(9) voicing that harmonizes the E.
Different versions of Passing chords solutions for an Am7 melody
Of course there are several ways you can take diatonic passing chords. Below you’ll see examples using only Am7 voicings, a Bm7 and a G6 diatonic passing chords.
Diminished Passing chords
This approach to using passing chords is to harmonize melody notes with a dominant diminished chords. On the II chord, Am7, the dominant is E7 and the associated is a G#dim.
This example is also using a G# diminished chord to harmonize some notes on the Am7 chord. The notes that belong to the dominant in the scale are the prime candidates for using the diminished chord. In the example below I am using it to harmonize the D and B notes.
Practicing the Diminished passing chords
One way to work on practicing the this way of alternating a II chord with a diminished chord is to do the exercises here below.
You may recognize this exercise as the Barry Harris 6th diminished scale, which is build on exactly this idea of alternating tonic with a dominant chord.
Chromatic Passing Chords
Chromatic passing chords is a great way to especially harmonize chromatic passing notes in the melody. This means that having this in your vocabulary is going to make it possible to add chromaticism to your comping melodies.
The example below shows how you can use chromatic passing chords on both the Am7 and the D7 chords.
On the Am7 the B, Bb, A melody is harmonized with Am(9), Bbm7 Am7 and in the same way the D,Eb,E melody on the D7 is harmonized with D7,Db7 and D7.
Notice that the voicie-leading is also chromatic, so the way to use this is to look at the note that the chromatic note is resolving to. The chord that is used to harmonize the resolution will also work well to harmonize the chromatic note. On the D7 it is clear that the Db7 is just shifting up a half step to become the D7.
Sometimes you can also reverse this so that the chord moves one way and the melody another which can be a great effect, but that is for another lesson. You can always leave a comment on the YouTube video if you would like a video on this,
Expand you the possibilities with chords
Passing chords is a very powerful tool in comping and chord solos and of course also in chord melody arrangements. Checking out these techniques are really something that is applicable in so many areas of playing and will pay off on a lot of levels besides the direct use.
In-depth examples of Passing Chords
Drop 2 & Chromatic Passing Chords – Take The A-Train
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