Improvising with Chromatics

Learn how to improvise adding chromatic notes to your solos! Chromatic guitar scales add color and tension to your improvisations.

Chromatic notes are the in between notes – notes that do not belong to the basic harmony, employed to enrich the palette you are drawing from as an improviser. Introducing an outside note, as a passing note, is the more subtle approach to chromatics, but there are numerous ways to using outside notes, from careful systematization to reckless abandon. As always it pays off to take the words of John Coltrane to heart: there are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions.

The first concept we present is note targeting.  You target certain notes in the scales/arpeggio that you want to emphasize as you weave in and out of the diatonic harmony to add some tension and color to the sequence.

Chromatics Example 1 illustrates how to introduce passing notes to a scale (A minor pentatonic) by adding the #7 and the #4 (the blue note) – notes that do not belong to the scale. The large interval skips and the use of the major 7th interval makes the sequence sound quite jazzy.


Example 2 is a sequence in the style of Coltrane, and the concept is straight forward: take any arpeggio (here; the diatonic arpeggios of the C Major scale) and add the b5th  to each arpeggio. The sequence starts on the D Major triad and continues: E minor, F Major, G Major, A min and C Major.


Example 3 illustrates the targeting method, targeting notes in the A minor pentatonic scales ending up with a symmetrical sequence adding chromatics to the original minor pentatonic box.


Example 4 is another targeting sequence, this time applied to the E minor pentatonic scale.


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