Watch the Chromaticism online guitar lesson by Andy Timmons from Electric Expression
Chromaticism. Something that I've been employing for many years in my playing, and I think the first time I heard this type of playing was certainly with some jazz players. Joe Pass and Barney Kessel is who I was exposed to when I was around 16 or so. Then later, Mike Stern, Larry Carlton, and Steve Lukather were some guys early on that I heard playing some lines that I just couldn't understand. Man, there's some really cool things happening, but I couldn't recognize what it was. My ear wasn't as advanced back then, but what I later found out it was some chromatic ideas and some of these things came from the jazz world, but a lot of rock guys are employing them now, as well. I just want to discuss some basic ideas about chromaticism and what it is and how you can immediately use it. It's a pretty simple idea, and it's basically connecting two diatonic notes with the note in between them. I'm going to give these examples in the key of B minor by the way, so equate yourself. That B minor pentatonic because that's what we're going to be using to demonstrate some of these ideas. The first little idea, we're just going to take the note E to D, and add the note in between it. You can consider it E flat or D#. I've just made a little riff out of, chromatically down from E to D and then chromatically up from A, the seventh, the flat seventh, natural seventh because the two, the regular, there's the scale or notes and we're just adding the notes in between.
So again, a pretty simple little idea, but very effective in just creating a little bit more tension because within that space there's a note that's really out of the key. You're playing the major third over a minor chord, but it's a passing tone. It's going chromatically because you're not emphasizing it, it just creates this momentary tension and it adds a nice direction to the line. There's a nice little addition to that. So I'm playing chromatically down from E down to that ninth. Now you start to recognize what I did. I just went down to the fifth. The old joke is you can almost get away with playing almost any note as long as you resolve it properly. So that's what this is. It's getting away with notes out of the key, but giving direction to the line, because it's just a momentary fleeting note and there's that leading tone. There's that natural seventh that we used earlier over a harmony that's just really B minor. That's one way of adding chromaticism to your playing, you could do a minor third as well. Just taking that A, that flat seventh, and going chromatically down to the fifth and I put a note in between before resolving that last or I could've gone chromatically from underneath it. But I'm using what's called a target tone. Let's just take the B minor triad. There's that B, D, and F#. F# is the chord tone we're targeting and there's the target tone. I'm resolving all these really random notes right into the chord tones. Actually, that's a lick straight out a tune from the Ear X-tacy CD many years ago called "Carpe Diem". That's one of the first solo statements I make that is based on this exact idea. So it's a nice little exercise and it's taking those B minor chord tones as the target tones. It's an interesting thing to repeat because it's groups of five notes and that's a slightly more elaborate version of what I heard Joe Pass do early on, and something he did quite a bit actually where he was just outlining each chord tone using a diatonic note from above and a chromatic note from below. So if we take the B minor triad up from B the next diatonic note is C#, and then chromatic from below is the A# or B flat, that's outlining that B. Then above the D is that E natural. The chromatic from below is C#, and if we're thinking with a flat sixth we've got the G, F, and then F# for the fifth. These are called approach tones or neighbor tones of the chord tones and that's part of the chromatic idea. I hope that gives you a little bit of inspiration and some ideas into where some of these seemingly complex ideas come from that are actually fairly simple and straight ahead. Once you understand the concept behind them, you can start to apply it to things that you already know.