Shaun Baxter starts a new series looking at ‘the notes in the cracks’ in order to significantly expand and enhance your melodic options.
Shaun Baxter begins a new series, focusing on chromatic passing notes for sophistication.
In common music parlance, chromatic notes are ‘non-scale’ notes. The word ‘chroma’ is the Greek word for colour and, certainly, chromatic notes are a great way of catching the listener’s ear.
Whether thinking in terms of painting pictures or creating flavours, chromatic notes will add colour and spice to your playing, providing you with nearly twice as many notes to choose from (12 notes in each octave instead of 7) when improvising over each chord. Crucially, they provide us with the opportunity to use tension (dissonance) and then resolve it (consonance), rather than just dwelling on consonant notes all the time.
Technically, each time you use a chromatic note, it could be argued that you are implying a different harmony for that moment. For example, when a G# note is followed by an A note over an A7 chord, one could view the G# as being the major 3rd of an implied E7 chord leading back to the root (A) of the parental A7 chord: in other words, a perfect cadence of E7(V) to A7(I); however, things needn’t get that complicated. For the purposes of this lesson, we are merely going to view each chromatic ‘approach note’ as representing a form of tension that is going to be resolved to a scale note (often a chord tone) either a semitone above or below.
In jazz (a style that often involves chromatic notes), there is a whole science surrounding whether a chromatic note is used on an offbeat (the most palatable option) or a downbeat (the most pungent option) and we will be touching upon this when looking at the various musical examples in this lesson.
Furthermore, it has to be said that speed is also an issue. The longer you linger on a chromatic note, the more it will prolong the agony for the listener; conversely, the quicker you play, the more liberties can be taken as any tensions created are brief.
In this lesson, apart from looking at some common ways of applying chromatic approach notes, we are also getting you started with lines that feature chromatic notes in each of the five CAGED shapes of the Mixolydian mode. For your reference (and a great visual aid memoir), Diagram 1 shows all five CAGED shapes of A Mixolydian).
Each CAGED shape provides unique physical opportunities to execute musical ideas that are more difficult to play in the other four, and it makes sense to have a different lick and line vocabulary in each shape (as opposed to transposing and learning each idea in all five shapes) for quite practical reasons. Basically, if you have 10 lines, it’s much better to spread your vocabulary so that there are two lines assigned to each of the five CAGED shapes. This way, not only do you reduce the amount you have to learn (transposing each line to every shape would result in 50 pieces of information instead of just 10), but you also maximise the chances of using all the lines simply by moving around the guitar (rather than playing the same line everywhere you go). Moving to a new CAGED shape will unlock a whole new vocabulary and so help to keep your playing fresh as you move from one area of the neck to another.
In the transcription of the musical examples, the chromatic notes are shown in brackets, just so that you can visually distinguish them from the ‘correct’ notes (in other words, the ones that belong to A Mixolydian); however, this does not mean that they should be played as a ‘ghost’-notes (no rhythmic value): each chromatic note has a full note-value (usually a 16th-note in these examples) and should be played as loud and proud as any other note within the line.
each caged shape provides opportunites to execute ideas that are more difficult in the other four