** As featured in issue 5 **
Many aspects of fusion and jazz guitar playing can seem very daunting at first and have an element of the dark arts about them. The mysterious and often over-complicated nature of concepts such as ‘playing outside’ and ‘chromatic approach notes’ used by all jazz and fusion musicians, can seem like rocket science for the uninitiated. However, there are ways to develop your chromaticism that don’t involve a membership with MENSA and a four-year degree programme.
Let’s define what we mean by chromaticism and why it’s important. Playing chromatically doesn’t mean that we will simply be playing a chromatic scale (a scale containing all 12 notes available in western music). The idea is to connect scale tones by adding in some of the notes in between any scale notes a tone apart. Let me emphasise that this is a simplified concept and that chromaticism can become a complex art form – the point is that it needn’t be in order to get started. Chromatic playing is important because it has become part of the vocabulary of Jazz/fusion playing and as such is required in order to sound authentic within the genre. I often hear many players who know countless scales and arpeggios and can play them over complex chord changes but still sound like something is missing from their playing. Often it is the chromaticism that is missing and the effect is easy to hear.
For the purpose of this tutorial let’s take a simple three note scale that most of you will already know – the G major scale. This scale is constructed from tones and semitones (two fret and one fret gaps respectively). Whenever we find a tone or two fret gap we can play the note in between to create a chromatic effect. We call these extra notes ‘chromatic additions’ to the scale. Some chromatic additions sound better or smoother than others. On the low E and A strings try adding in the 6th fret with your third finger to create the pattern, 3,5,6,7 on each string. In this case the 6th fret is our ‘chromatic addition’. Notice how smooth this sounds. On the D and G strings simply fill in the gap between the 5th and 7th frets giving you 4,5,6 and 7th frets. On the B and high E strings do the same process filling in the 6th fret this time giving us 5,6,7 and 8th frets. Now you have a chromatic addition on every string simply by filling in the gaps. Try playing right through the scale and resolve or finish back to the 7th fret on the high E string (the note B). Notice that you can still hear the sound of a G major scale even though you’ve added in all of these chromatic notes. I have given you some examples of how you can utilise this idea in the video and improvised a solo using chromatic additions in A Dorian (the same notes as G major).
Once you are used to the sound and technique required to play this new scale, feel free to add in these chromatic notes as you and your ear see fit. Try this technique with any other scales you know simply filling in gaps between any notes a tone apart to create a more authentic fusion sound. See if you cam spot this kind of technique in solos by players such as Greg Howe, Brett Garsed and T.J. Helmerich.
Bear in mind that this is just the beginning of your chromatic journey, so keep searching for new sounds and I’ll see you next time.