CHRO­MATIC BLUES

Australian Guitar - - Technique -

It amuses me from time to time that de­spite all of the in­sti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion of mu­sic, at the end of the day, things ei­ther work or they don’t. Mu­sic is essen­tially the re­la­tion­ship be­tween var­i­ous fre­quen­cies, and ul­ti­mately, it’s the re­la­tion­ship in steps from one fre­quency to the next that cre­ates move­ment, tension and res­o­lu­tion.

Chro­matic move­ment utilises notes placed one after the other in the 12 steps we utilise here in the western world of mu­sic. On your gui­tar, mov­ing re­peat­edly from one fret to the next is con­sid­ered chro­matic move­ment. Chro­matic move­ment is sur­pris­ingly use­ful, and adds an in­ter­est­ing flavour to melodies. Have a go at the exercises in this month’s is­sue – I can as­sure you it will open your mind up to what you pre­vi­ously may have con­sid­ered to be notes that were out of bounds. All exercises in this col­umn were recorded at 100 beats per minute.

EX­ER­CISE 1

Ex­er­cise #1 is essen­tially the three main move­ments of a blues form, no­tated one bar at a time with the re­solv­ing root idea in the fourth bar. If you’re not sure what that means, play it through and you will hear the first, fourth and fifth chords in a blues, only com­mu­ni­cated as this funky chro­matic line. You’ll no­tice the se­ries of notes are step­wise (one fret) from each other. Chro­mat­ics are all about know­ing where you’re go­ing, so you’ll note that we land on and re­solve on tones that are of key im­por­tance to each chord.

EX­ER­CISE 2

This lick works in any blues sce­nario, from texas swing to acous­tic blues. We are walk­ing down chro­mat­i­cally, from the flat­tened 7 of a G Scale – a note you’ll find in the first pen­ta­tonic shape of the mi­nor scale – to the fifth de­gree, be­fore re­solv­ing with a typ­i­cal blues tail to re­solve on the ma­jor third. Note the bend at the begin­ning on the sixth fret, fol­lowed by the stan­dard note with­out bend­ing. That is a cool and com­mon de­vice from guys like BB King, Al­bert King and Muddy Wa­ters. It’s worth not­ing that the end lick al­most set­tles any crazy chro­matic dis­so­nance, so make it part of your vo­cab­u­lary.

EX­ER­CISE 3

This lick is a com­mon jazz blues lick. I was in­spired to cre­ate this lick from my mem­o­ries of a Grant Green al­bum where he uses licks like this quite com­monly. He is us­ing the step in a blues scale from the fourth and fifth de­gree to build this re­peated walk up be­fore drop­ping back and as­cend­ing from the flat third to the nat­u­ral third. From here, you whip down a mi­nor pen­ta­tonic idea, then play that lick sim­i­lar to the one at the end of Ex­er­cise #2.

EX­ER­CISE 4

This ex­er­cise takes place over the turn­around in a blues. Work­ing in the case of the ‘five’ chord in G, we would be play­ing against a D7. This is in­flu­enced heav­ily by coun­try-style chro­matic blues ideas. You’ll no­tice that the ma­jor­ity of good chro­matic ideas re­solve on chord tones, which are the stronger tones of the chord. In this case, I re­solve to the root of the D7, then just as the chord shifts from a D7 to a C7, the fi­nal note in the next bar re­solves to the C or root of the C chord. We then fin­ish with a lick rem­i­nis­cent of Ex­er­cise #1 that ties up the phrase nicely, re­solv­ing from the mi­nor third into the nat­u­ral third of G.

EX­ER­CISE 5

With this lick, I wanted to push the bound­aries a lit­tle more and chain to­gether a longer se­ries of chro­matic notes. Again, if you land on the right notes, you can re­ally get away with some re­ally cool stuff. Whilst I like to use this sparingly, some play­ers build their ideas on long pas­sages of chro­mat­ics. I wouldn’t rec­om­mend this un­less you were look­ing for an ex­cuse to play a lot of notes, or un­less you were lost on what to play. This whole lick is played with G in mind, ba­si­cally just play­ing around with chro­mat­ics and chord tones in G. When I say the ‘right’ notes, it’s th­ese chord tones that I’m re­fer­ring to. The B nat­u­ral at the start of the sec­ond bar is the third of G. So the root, third, fifth and sev­enth are all chord tones. Th­ese are the notes you want to work into us­ing chro­mat­ics, un­less you have a spe­cific melody in mind.

SUM­MARY

The gen­eral idea with improvising is to ex­press your­self. Think of notes as colours – the more colours you have, the more de­tailed a pic­ture you can paint. Use chro­mat­ics as a form of colour in them­selves, and amidst some great ideas, you can re­ally mix things up. Chro­mat­ics can pro­vide some intense dis­so­nance, but they can also serve to carry one note to the next in the way a slide does, or in the way a hu­man voice might bend or slide into notes. So, used taste­fully, you can do some great stuff. Al­ter­na­tively, if you’ve still got no idea what you’re do­ing, you could com­pose some alien ro­bot mu­sic. Good luck with that.

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