Tag Archives: passing chords

Passing Chords And How To Sound Amazing With Them

Passing chords are a great Jazz trick to add some surprising but also beautiful sounds to chords. In this video I will show you 4 types of passing chords and examples of how they sound and how to use them. You can use the examples to get them into your own playing and add amazing new colors to how you play chords.

I am going to go over examples using, diatonic, chromatic, diminished and dominant passing chords and show you how you can make some beautiful embellishments of a simple II V I turnaround in C.

I am going to cover the 4 types of passing chords by giving you some examples of how they sound. For this lesson I am not going to discuss the music theory involved with the chords. I think it is more important that you have some options and that you explore what they sound like.

Ironically the last one is the easiest to play, the one that adds the most color and movement and it would be the hardest to explain.

Basic Progression

I am using a simple turnaround to show you where you can add extra chords, and the basic progression is this one:

The first version is using complete chords with the bass note, but the 2nd one is using drop2 voicings which are a little more flexible. Most of the chords I am using in the lesson will be drop2 chords.

Diatonic Passing Chords

The first type of Passing chord is a diatonic passing chord. You mainly use diatonic passing chords in a step-wise manner where you are walking from one chord in the scale to the next.

The first example shows a descending approach from Fmaj7 to Dm7.

This 2nd Diatonic example is using a single Em7 as a passing chords going up to Em7 and then back down to Dm7(9)

Diminished Passing Chords

The Diminished chord is often a bit mysterious but it is a great very flexible chord to add to a progression. In this example I am using different types of diminished chords, but mainly there is a C#dim pulling us to Dm7 and a Gdim resolving to the G7.

For more information on the theory behind the diminished chords and the different functions they can have you can check out this article: Secret to play over Diminished Chords

This example is using a diminished chord as a type of suspension of the Cmaj7.

Dominant Passing Chords

The way a passing chord works is by having a natural resolution to the chord it is targeting. Using the dominant of that chord is of course a great approach.

Below you can see how the A7 on beat 4 works as a passing chord towards the Dm7.

This is repeated in the next bar with the A7(b13) resolving to the Dm7(9)

Side note: Em7 voicing for Cmaj7

I very often get asked why I write Cmaj7 and then the chord voicing looks like an Em7 (for example beat one of example 6)

The explanation is fairly simple. If you look at bar 1 below then it is clear that it is an Em7 chord.

Em7 is E G B D, but if the bass plays a C then the notes sound like a Cmaj7(9): E(3rd of C), G(5th), B(7th), D(9th)

Another way to look at it is shown in bars 2 and 3 below.

You probably know the Cmaj7(9) in bar2. The rootless version of that is, of course, still a Cmaj7(9), and you could add a high G to that which would give you the voicing in bar 1.

Chromatic Passing Chords

A huge part of the sound of a Jazz solo is the use of chromatic passing notes and enclosures. The chromatic passing chords is a way to harmonize this type of melody, maybe even the harmonic counterpart to this.

The first example has a C#m7 to pull toward the Dm7. You should notice that to get this to work you have to think in melodies, and the top-note melody should be pretty strong. Here is D, D# to E.

the 2nd bar has an Ab7 approaching the G7 with a similar descending melody.

You can also use the chromatic passing chords as suspensions similar to how I used the diminished chord in example 5.

Here there are also chromatic approach chords for the Dm7 and Cmaj7.

Take your comping skills up a level

This collection of lessons will teach you a lot of material with passing chords, top-note melodies and riff comping. Focus is on using this on songs so that you can get it into your own playing.

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Passing Chords – The 3 Types You Need for Comping and Chord Solos

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

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Using Passing chords in Comping

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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.


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.


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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