In this lesson I am going to discuss how to add chromatic passing notes to your solo lines. I am going to approach it using major scales so I’ll give a few exercises to let you add passing notes to major scales and talk a bit about the techniques and phrasing involved.

The second part of the lesson consists of a few examples of II V I lines using chromatic passing notes, to show how it can be applied.

The Exercises

The examples are built around this common C major scale position, but works in all positions of course.

Let’s first look at how we can add passing notes between all notes in the scale. In most places there is a whole step between the notes of the scale and we can simply add the note that is between the two as a passing note. In two places we can’t add a note because the distance is a half step. The way we deal with that is to use the diatonic note above one so in this case, we add a D between B and C as in the example here below:

This might seem a bit strange, but for the melodies to make sense it is practical to have a system where the chromatic passing notes are on the off beat and the scale notes on the beat, and that can be done like this.

Chromatic Passing Note Techniques

The techniques I use to play this are mostly (but not always) as described in example 2. I try to resolve the chromatic note with a legato move (hammer on/pull of or slide). The reason for this is that it makes it easier to accent the chromatic passing note which often sounds good. This is also why I tend to keep the passing note on the same string as the scale note it resolves to.

Having said that I am aware that it is not always possible or practical to do this when playing, but since it helps the phrasing I thought I might as well mention it.

Now that we have a way to add passing notes everywhere in the scale we can make this exercise from the ascending C major scale:

And in the same way we can make a descending C major scale like this:

I don’t think that this is an exercise to be drilled extensively for speed, but besides being a good exercise for passing notes it is also good for strengthening your overview of the C major scale since you sort of play that scale at the center of a chromatic scale

Examples of lines with Chromatic passing notes

Here are three examples demonstrating how to put chromatic passing notes to work on a II V I in C major.

In the first example I first descend from the 9th(E) to the root on the Dm7 chord. Then it moves down the arpeggio and on to the 3rd of G7(B). From the B it moves up a Bm7b5 arpeggio where the A is resolved down to a G and down the scale before approaching the E on C major chromatically from D. The 2nd half of the G7 bar is a bebop cliché used to approach the 3rd of a major chord and is therefore a useful thing to know.

You could note that I often use the chromatic passing notes as a tension to resolve when I move from one chord to the next. That is also the case in the following example:

The first part of the Dm7 line is another tried and true line from the bebop library. After that it descends down an Aminor triad and from the root it uses a chromatic passing note to land on the 3rd of G7(B). The first part of the G7 line is a B dim triad arpeggio followed by a small scale fragment resolving chromatically to the 5th(G) of C.

In the 3rd example I am actually stringing 2 chromatic approaches after each other. One is adding the G between the F and E. After that it chromatically descends to the D on the 3rd beat of the bar. The next part is an ascending Dm7 arpeggio, where the C is resolved to the 3rd(B) of G7 on the one. From the B it descends using a part of the exercise in example 4 to finally resolve on the 3rd(E) of C major.