In the first scale
phrasing lesson, we learned how to create simple but
musical lead passages through our scales. We navigated the scale from a
safe starting note
to a safe destination
note which helped put our
phrases into context. These safe/resting tones were based around the
major or minor triads, depending on which scale we were using.
Now we're going to look at how to add a bit more colour to our scale
phrases by adding in chromatic
phrases and passing
In a nutshell, these are tones that lie both inside and outside the
using in the solo and the backing chord.
As a result, some of these "outside" tones would sound dissonant if
held) in our solo. What makes them sound good is when they're used to
resolve up or down to a safer, scale/chord tone. So we resolve quickly
dissonance to harmony.
For example, take the Mixolydian scale over a dominant 7th chord (e.g.
C Mixolydian over C7). Basically, the intervals in the right hand
column are naturally part of the scale. The intervals in the left hand
column are "outside" the scale and would therefore create dissonance
against the Mixolydian chord.
"Outside" Tones (dissonance)
Scale/Chord Tones (resolution)
2 3 4 5 6
An example of this dissonance > resolution concept would be the
resolving down to the 5th (5)
or up to the major 6th (6)
scale. If included as part of a larger scale phrase, the b6 would
be considered a passing tone because holding on to or
it too much would create dissonance against the dominant 7th backing
chord - Mixolydian's natural chord type.
The b6 passing tone could also be used in a chromatic phrase
Or the major 7th in the following:
5 b7 7
Building chromatic guitar scale phrases
Chromatics are most commonly used in blues and jazz, but it's
beneficial to understand how it works in a general musical sense.
Let's start with what is probably the most recognisable use of
chromatics in major key blues licks - resolving the minor 3rd to the
major 3rd over the tonic (I/1) chord (that's the first chord in a
typical blues progression).
So if we had a blues progression in A major, the safe starting and
destination notes for our phrases on that root A major chord would be
based on the major triad (1
3 5 / A C# E). But in blues it's common to mix minor and major
Here we have a major 3rd added to minor pentatonic which we can use as
an effective destination note in our major key blues phrasing. The
minor 3rd (b3) therefore becomes an "outside" or passing tone
which we can use to quickly resolve to the major 3rd. Remember we're in
the key of A major for these examples...
So the key thing
here is not to dwell on these passing tones, but using them
before a quick resolution to a more stable tone is a very nice way of
spicing up your licks.
Also common as part of pentatonic licks is the use of the flat 5th (b5)
or "blue note", which is also a chromatic, passing tone that tends to
be resolved quickly, either up to the 5th or down to the 4th...
Remember, we can resolve to either the root, 3rd or 5th as
safe triad tones. We could also resolve to the flat 7th as this is a
natural extension of the major triad used in blues.
It also works as part of an extended, unresolved sequence of tones
like below, but because we have those stable starting and destination
notes, the chromatic
tones blur into the context of the larger phrase...
There you can see a sequence of 4 chromatic tones broken up by the root
(1) and resolving to the major 3rd (3).
So what would otherwise be quite jarring, dissonant tones over our
major backing chord, suddenly become a natural part of the flow of our
phrase. This is why it was so crucial for you to learn about starting
and destination notes in part 1!
More chromatic scale phrases
Let's look at another example, this time using the Dorian scale as our
Technically, we could fill any of the interval gaps with chromatic,
passing tones, but there are a couple that work particularly well. You
should experiment to find what sounds good as I can't cover every
The first example is to add a chromatic #5/b6 between the 5 and 6 tones as follows...
Using this, we can try and work it in to some Dorian based phrases over
a minor 7th chord (in this example Am7). Remember, these chromatic
tones work well as long as you embed them in a larger phrase between
two safe tones, e.g. the minor triad (1 3 5)...
Try your own chromatic phrases based on the scales you know, filling in
those interval gaps. If you're confident with the concept of resolution
and safe landing notes, you should be able to make most chromatic
movements sound natural and effective as part of your solos.
Try resolving the chromatic tones up and down. Try including them as
part of a quick succession of passing tones before landing on a safe
tone from the scale. I hope this lesson gave you some inspiration to
explore your own chromatic licks!