Descending Chromatic Lines

Many guitar teachers spend the time to teach their students how to play the chromatic scale, but very few are able to demonstrate or teach how to use the scale in a live playing situation. This article should get you started.

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Many guitar teachers spend the time to teach their students how to play the chromatic scale for finger exercises and warming-up, but very few actually are able to demonstrate or teach how to use the scale in a live playing situation. I incorporate the chromatic scale into almost everything I do, which is why I decided to write this. This article will show you how to easily incorporate chromatic tones into scales that hopefully you already know. I will be focusing on descending lines because: a) they sound great b) they're easy to start off with. I am assuming that you: -Have an understanding of the major scale and how it is built. -Know what the chromatic scale is, and how to play it (refer to my article on this topic if you don't.) It is also very beneficial if you know different positions/modes of the major scale so that you can incorporate this into your own playing and style, and understand what I am talking about for some of the examples. I am going to be using the G major scale for this example, in 7th position with the root on the 5th string Here it is ascending in quarter notes:
E |----------------|----------------|-----7--8--10---||
B |----------------|--------7--8----|--10------------||
G |----------------|--7--9----------|----------------||
D |-----7--9--10---|----------------|----------------||
A |--10------------|----------------|----------------||
E |----------------|----------------|----------------||
Here is the same scale descending in quarter notes :
E |--10-8--7-------|----------------|----------------||
B |-----------10---|--8--7----------|----------------||
G |----------------|--------9--7----|----------------||
D |----------------|----------------|--10-9--7-------||
A |----------------|----------------|-----------10---||
E |----------------|----------------|----------------||
Now we are going to add chromatic tones to the descending scale to spice things up a bit. The concept is to add a chromatic tone in BETWEEN each scale tone, so we will end up with eighth notes. If no scale tone exists, subsitute the closest higher scale tone instead. It's important to note that these lines will sound best with a swing feel - otherwise it will sound boring and robotic. Here is the concept applied to just the first string:
E |--10-9--8--10-7----||
B |-------------------||
G |-------------------||
D |-------------------||
A |-------------------||
E |-------------------||
As you can see, it seems easy when looking at one string, but sometimes it can be tricky going between strings because of fingerings and positions shifts. Here is the entire G major scale with this concept. I will note the fingerings underneath the tabs, as well as mark above the tab with 'S' for each scale tone. You should notice that every second note is a scale tone, which means they are all on the downbeat.
     S     S     S     S          S     S     S     S          S     S     S     S 
E |--10-9--8--10-7-------------|----------------------------|-------------------------||
B |-----------------11-10-9----|--8--10-7-------------------|-------------------------||
G |----------------------------|-----------10-9--8--7-------|-----7-------------------||
D |----------------------------|-----------------------11---|--10----9--8--7----------||
A |----------------------------|----------------------------|-----------------11-10---||
E |----------------------------|----------------------------|-------------------------||
     4  3  2  4  1  4  3  2       1  3  1  4  3  2  1  4       3  1  3  2  1  4  3
Memorize this until you can play it slowly to a metronome. Make it as smooth as possible, and make sure to experiment with the swing feel to see what you like best. Here is a run that uses this concept over the G major chord. Note which chord tones I am emphasizing, so that you can transfer this concept to other chords and scales.
E |--10-9--8--10-7-------------|----------||
B |-----------------8----------|-----8----||
G |--------------------7-------|----------||
D |-----------------------11---|--10------||
A |----------------------------|----------||
E |----------------------------|----------||
Here is a similar run, but over a B minor chord. Take note of how I applied the same chromatics, but emphasize different chord tones. This run implies the mode of B Phyrgian.
E |--10-9--8--10-7-------------|----------||
B |-----------------7----------|----------||
G |--------------------7-------|-----7----||
D |-----------------------10---|--9-------||
A |----------------------------|----------||
E |----------------------------|----------||
Here I apply the chromatics over B minor (Phrygian again), but focus on just using notes from the blues scale once I hit the second string.
E |--10-9--8--10-7-------------|-------------------||
B |-----------------10-7-------|-------------------||
G |-----------------------10---|--9--7-------------||
D |----------------------------|--------9--7--9----||
A |----------------------------|-------------------||
E |----------------------------|-------------------||
This next example is based off of an E minor chord (Aeolian). It also sounds really nice over Em9 since I am emphasizing the F# here (9th tone of the E Aeolian scale.)
E |----------------------------|----------------|----------------------------|----------||
B |--10-9--8--10-7-------------|--7-------------|--10-9--8--10-7-------------|--7--8--7-||
G |-----------------9--7--9----|-----9--7-------|-----------------9--7--9----|----------||
D |----------------------------|-----------9----|----------------------------|----------||
A |----------------------------|----------------|----------------------------|----------||
E |----------------------------|----------------|----------------------------|----------||
Try transfering this concept to other modes/positions of the major scale, and make up your own runs over different types of chords. I only scratched the surface here, but sometimes that's best because you will hopefully be able to be more creative and make up your own cool sounding chromatic licks, instead of playing them verbatim. Enjoy! Jason Wilford ------------------------------------------------------------------- Jason is a guitar teacher and musician from Mississauga, ON, Canada. More information can be found here.

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    krypticguitar87
    nice lesson and some useful info, but I would suggest not using the word "mode" since this really has nothing to do with modes, and new guitarists may become confused....
    jasonwilford
    Krypticguitar87: I get where to confusion lies in this issue, and there is definitely a lack of proper information on this subject on the web. To put it simply, a G major scale over a B minor chord is in fact B Phrygian, the same scale over E minor is considered E Aeolian etc. Chords and modes in the G major scale: G Major (Ionian) A Min (Dorian) B Min (Phrygian) C Major (Lydian) D Major (Mixolydian) E Minor (Aeolian) F# Diminished (Locrian) The concept of a mode doesn't depend on what position you're playing, rather what you consider to be the root note of the scale. If we construct a scale using the notes of G major starting on B (as the root note), we get: B C D E F# G A The intervals being 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7, this ends up being B Phrygian. The chord built on this scale is B Minor. The examples I included above are all in the same position, with a different key center in mind. Try recording the chords listed and play along with the runs. All I was saying above is that with a proper understanding of the modal concept, these ideas can be expanded into much more than just thinking of it as the 'Gmajor' scale. But of course, you can make some cool sounding riffs without thinking of modes at all. I will write a comprehensive article on the subject of modes soon as it's definitely a tough topic for a lot of people to get a grip on. Happy holidays! Jason
    krypticguitar87
    jasonwilford wrote: krypticguitar87: Glad you found the information useful. In response to your concerns: a) This isn't aimed at beginners (I will be doing some beginner lessons in the future.) To properly apply this information, good knowledge of modes/positions of the major scale is necessary. b)In my examples, I use 3 modes of G major. G Ionian, B Phrygian, and E Aeolian. This has to do with the underlying chord / scale tones, and if you play the runs over the chords mentioned you will hear what I mean.
    you don't use modes you are using the G major scale, there is a difference which is why you shouldn't use the word mode... and I get that it isn't for beginners but if you are using the word "mode" to signify using a scale and ending on a chord tone then you will confuse people who don't know what modes are... your using positions not modes, and no to add chromatic flares to a solo you do not need an understanding of modes... if you believe that one does, please point out how modes are used in relation to the chromatic pieces...
    jasonwilford
    krypticguitar87: Glad you found the information useful. In response to your concerns: a) This isn't aimed at beginners (I will be doing some beginner lessons in the future.) To properly apply this information, good knowledge of modes/positions of the major scale is necessary. b)In my examples, I use 3 modes of G major. G Ionian, B Phrygian, and E Aeolian. This has to do with the underlying chord / scale tones, and if you play the runs over the chords mentioned you will hear what I mean.
    shadowmaster036
    Alright lesson. Never really was into using chromatic tones, I think I caught myself throwing them in just from thinking they sound cool. But I'll try it. Thanks.