Fun With Chromatics!

Well, I find myself again apologizing. I have a real good excuse this time — I’ve been in Hawaii on vacation. Yes, it’s a tough job, but I find that I’m qualified to do it. Had a great time, now I’m getting my head back in the game of playing, working, etc.

We’ve been talking a little bit about ear training and we’re going to divert from that topic for just a little bit. In an earlier post, I talked about Victor Wooten and his materials (The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music and Victor Wooten: Groove Workshop). If you haven’t checked them out yet, please do so. I’d give it three thumbs up, if I had three to give! :-)

In the post, I listed his ten elements of music. One of the things that he talked about was that the one of the most important scales that no one really practices is the chromatic scale. Lots of folks practice major scales, pentatonics, etc., but few practice the chromatic for the purpose of actually playing it. Most of the time (and why I first learned it) was to focus on guitarmanship. In fact, there are a few variations on how to play it. For the purposes of this post, I’ll assume that you know a good one to use to get started. If you don’t, either look one up OR post a reply to this and I’ll provide one.

Anyhow, lets say for the sake of practice that we want to play over a series of ii-V-I progressions that cycle through all keys. What are your options for addressing the changes? Without getting too complicated (or complete, as there are lots of options), you could:

  • Try to identify the tonal center and find the proper scale to play over each ii-V;
  • Choose to play arpeggios over each of the individual chords;
  • Use the chromatic scale.

Why don’t we try to use the chromatic scale? Glad you and I are thinking the same way.

The key points that make this work:

  • There are twelve keys (excluding enharmonic equivalent naming);
  • For each of the keys, there are seven “right” notes;
  • In major scales, there are no notes that are more than a whole step (2 frets) away from each other.

What does this mean? For any given note you may play, a “right note” is only 1 fret away from a “wrong note”. The thing that will actually make this work is trying to use fundamental elements 2-10 (see previous post). It’s not just playing the notes, it’s how you use the other elements that have it all come together.

Here’s the exercise:

  • Setup
    • Use your favorite method of getting a bunch of ii-V’s playing that cycle through all the keys (doesn’t matter what interval you choose) and let it loose.
    • Choose a tempo that you’re comfortable you can use to hear the changes through (say ~120?)
  • Execution
    • Choose any string/fret and start creating simple phrases using your chromatic scale!
    • Shift a half or whole step if the phrase sounds awkward
    • Continue playing

The key thing is that this is not a speed exercise — it’s a listening exercise. In trying to build simple phrases, you’re going to have to start trusting what your ears tell you about them. Now we’ve made another connection to ear training, eh? 😛

I wouldn’t suggest that you play everything with chromatics, but the key point here is that doing this exercise can “free your mind” (like in The Matrix) to consider things that you hadn’t before. When it comes to improvisation, isn’t that the point?

Try it out and let me know what you think? Like it or hate it, it can open up new territory if you’re willing to let it.

November 11, 2009 · kengon · No Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,  · Posted in: Music

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