Spice up your lead!
John Wheatcroft shows how you can use ‘outside’ notes to add extra depth, colour and character to your guitar solos.
The word chromaTic originates from the Greek word khrõmatikos, a derivation of khrõma meaning colour. in western musical culture, the chromatic scale is the series of 12 pitches, each a semitone apart that encompasses all musical ‘colours’ and as far as guitar is concerned, this is a structure that uses each and every available fret location with no omissions.
The chromatic scale can be used as a structure in its own right, such as in the atonal serial compositions of arnold Schoenberg, or the free improvisations of derek Bailey and John Zorn, and it’s impossible to think about the chromatic scale without mentioning Nikolai rimskyKorsakov’s Flight of The Bumblebee. however, for most musical applications its beneficial to use the scale selectively, adding chromatic decoration and embellishments to other scales we know, literally filling the gaps of our conventional scalar, modal, Pentatonic or arpeggio based structures to give us greater options and a wider palette of melodic ‘colours’ when composing or improvising melodies, riffs and solos across all musical styles ranging from folk to bebop, country to metal and more besides.
The purpose of our lesson today is to look at 10 distinct approaches we can use to add ‘chromaticism’ to your playing style. For the sake of clarity i’ve presented all the examples in the key of c major, along with a selection of this key’s associated modes, such as d dorian, G mixolydian and a aeolian. This way, it is immediately clear in the music as to which notes are derived from the diatonic tonality (all the natural notes) and which are chromatic visitors (the sharps or flats). I’ve gone for a moderately overdriven tone throughout, so this alludes to a modern blues and fusion stylistic vibe, although these ideas can work equally well with a completely clean jazz tone, a twangy country snap or a heavily saturated metal distortion. it’s really up to you which way you go.
as is customary with these lessons, we finish with a short cohesive study around a heavily chromatically embellished classic rock vibe 12-bar blues, with both riff and solo sections and more than a passing resemblance to guitar players you might have heard of with names such as clapton, hendrix and Beck.
as usual, these examples are literally the tip of the iceberg, so you should see each as just one practical illustration of a bigger concept at work. To get the most from this lesson i’d suggest you dedicate one practice session on each of the 10 ideas independently and see what ideas you can come up with, both composed and improvised.
while it’s fair to say that all players have their favourite ideas that they like to fall back on - their ‘licks’ if you prefer - the better improvisers deal predominantly in concepts, travelling light to any performance situation safe in the knowledge that they’ll be able to create something appropriate on the spot, free from the shackles of having to memorise a whole gig’s worth of material beforehand with all the pressure and stress that this carries with it. chromatics can be used as a concept in their own right - derek Bailey et al - or employed to embellish what you already do. i hope you enjoy the journey!
Anybody that studies improvising long enough will eventually get to the point where they can find a way to get all 12 notes available all the time. Pat Metheny