7 Tips to Think and Play Chromatically

7 Tips to Think and Play Chromatically

Understanding of chromaticism is one of the core parts of making your playing sound more sophisticated and deliberate. It's what will help you move away from playing with bland-sounding scales and add spicy accidentals. We'll tackle different scale exercises, take a look at the bebop scale, the Banacos approach, and more! 


There are many ways that you can add chromaticism to your playing. Today I'll cover 7 of my best tips for getting chromaticism into your brain and under your fingers.

First, we have to understand what the chromatic scale is. For this, we can explore a few ways to practice the chromatic scale at the guitar (note: to get to each tip in the video quickly, click the red timestamps).

Tip #1: 4 Notes per String Chromatic Scale (1:14)

One way to approach the chromatic scale is to play it with 4 notes per string, as here: 


In essence, you play each fret in sequence and when you run out of fingers, you move onto the next string. Simple! The very first step is to get this under your fingers.

Once you've done that, you can move on to...

Tip #2: 6 Notes per String Chromatic Scale (2:10)

That's right, it's just a different way of playing the same scale. This time, you'll play two notes with your index and two notes with your pinky on the same string, as below:


For more on these particular scales, you can see this blog post on the Chromatic Scale where you can also download relevant full PDFs for practicing them.


Tip #3: Forward Motion (4:54)

This one is about rhythm. You want to get that jazz cadence and sound in your lines. In essence, when you practice the chromatic scale, start on a 3-note pickup on the e+a of 4 - then, each accent is on the beat. This avoids having that "rock guy" 16th-note sound.


Easier to hear than to have explained! Check out the YouTube video for this one. And be sure to read the Forward Motion book here.

Tip #4: Try Different Accents (7:14)

When you practice the 4 note and 6 note per string scales, try accenting different notes. You can practice putting the accent on the first, second, third, or fourth note for the 4-note scale, and for any of the first to sixth notes in the 6-note scale.


If you want to challenge yourself, try accenting every 5th note. This is good practice because it will help you be able to place chromatic tones on unusual beats or subdivisions in your playing.

Tip #5: Practice the Bebop Scale (9:54)

The bebop scale is an extension of chromaticism because it is one of the most basic scales that incorporates it. Make sure this one is under your fingers! A lot more on this one in the vlog itself.


A good place to start: 4 Effective Bebop Scale Fingerings here ... 

effective bebop scale fingerings - image

Additionally, you can check out the diagonal bebop modes video on the jazzguitarlessons.net YouTube channel to explore the concept more. 


Tip #6: Root-to-Root Drill (10:55)

For this one, just play the root of the scale, the next note in the chromatic scale, and then the root again one octave higher. Then, repeat until you've exhausted all the notes in the chromatic scale. Afterwards, you can go backwards.


You might get a little mixed up when you first try this, but it's a great exercise for hearing and learning to recognize the color of each scale degree and accidental. 

Tip #7: Charlie Banacos Approach (12:41)

This one is all about approach notes and enclosures. You can practice approaching a target a half-step from below, a half-step from above, both, add an extra half-step in one direction, and so on...

The result is that there are 12 different ways that you can approach a chromatic tone. 

You can take the idea further by changing on which beat the target note falls, and even further by targeting different chord tones or scale degrees. 

There is a full course available on this topic on the website called Improv and Chromaticism. A great one to check out if you like this!


That just about wraps it up for this quick exploration of chromaticism. If you can get all of this down, you'll definitely notice it showing up in your playing next time you're at a jam session or performing.

There is so much more to learn about chromaticism than just this, though! Stay tuned for the next venture on the blog about Garzone chromaticism, which is extensive enough to require its own post.

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See you then!