Chromatic Approach Notes

This lesson teaches you the concept of Chromatic Approach Notes in Jazz, and how to apply them on a Jazz Blues.

In other lessons we have examined the Mixolydian bebop scale, and saw that it is formed by adding an extra chromatic passing note between the b7 and root of the scale. This eight-note scale functions well in jazz, because any 1/8th note line beginning from a chord tone, will always ‘automatically’ keep a chord tone on the beat.

However, as we also saw in the previous chapter, this useful feature can sometimes fall apart when we solo over a chord change. This can be seen in example 7a:

Descending the Eb Bebop scale from the 3rd as shown in this example leads us to a situation where the final note of the Eb bar is a chord tone of the Bb7 in the following bar. While this is by no means incorrect, we can create a much smoother and ‘jazzier’ line by adding a chromatic approach note between beat four and beat one. A chromatic approach note is any note that does not lie in the current scale.

Examine how I change the previous line in example 7b:

The new note (A), is a chromatic passing note between the Bb on beat four and the Ab on beat one. As it falls on an offbeat (between the beats), it is not felt as a strong dissonance. In fact, it makes for a much smoother melodic transition between the two chords.

A chromatic passing note can be added any time you are a tone away from a target note when on beat four.

Example 7c shows another example that moves from Bb7 to Eb7.

Example 7c:

Again, study what happens in beat four. In this example, I pass from the 5th of the Bb7 chord (F), to the 3rd of the Eb7 chord via a chromatic approach note. Again, the chromatic approach note falls on the offbeat of beat four.

In the following example, I move chromatically from the 5th of the Bb7 chord, to the root of the Eb7 chord before continuing the line with a bebop scale and arpeggio idea.

Example 7d:

These chromatic passing notes are used all the time in jazz. Anytime you find that you are a tone away from your target note, you can ‘fill in the gap’ with a chromatic passing note.

Another very useful way to use chromatic notes is when we find ourselves a semitone away from our desired target note on beat four. For example, let’s imagine I want my melodic solo to move from the b7 on beat four of the Bb7 chord to the 3rd of the Eb7 chord on beat one.

I am already one semitone away from the note I wish to target, so I cannot insert a chromatic approach note on the offbeat of beat four. Instead, I can use an enclosure and play a chromatic note the other side of my target note. This is shown in example 7e:

This enclosure is just one of many common approach note patterns that are used constantly in jazz music. Here is a bebop line that incorporates the previous concept:

Example 7f:

Can you hear how using a chromatic approach note to immediately precede the chord tone in Eb7 adds real strength and interest to the line?

Enclosures don’t necessarily have to use a chromatic note however. Sometimes we may use an enclosure that actually just uses notes from the original scale. For example:

Example 7g:

Chromatic approach notes crop up all the time in jazz, blues and rock music. Look for opportunities to use them in your own guitar playing to add interest and colour to your music.

This lesson is adapted from my book Jazz Blues Soloing for Guitar