You are at the point where you know your scales and arpeggios across the guitar neck well enough to play the right notes over each chord, but something about your improvisation still doesn’t sound jazzy.

I faced this problem myself, and it’s something that many of my student’s ask me about. Although there are many reasons why your improvisation you might not sound jazzy, one cool technique that is sure to add some more harmonic flavour to your solos and make you a better jazz guitarist is chromatic approach notes.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to show you how to apply chromatic passing notes to a dominant 7th arpeggio, but you can apply this technique to almost any arpeggio or scale. Chromatic approach notes can be used either a half step below or above the note you want to target.

The two examples below show how chromatic approach notes can be applied to a C dominant 7th arpeggio. In the first example each note of the arpeggio is approached from a semi-tone below, and in the second example each note of the arpeggio notes is approached from a semi-tone above.


Chromatic Aprroach Notes


One reason why chromatic approach notes sound so crunchy is because they sometimes include notes not found diatonically within the related scale or arpeggio. For example the D# and F# in the first example are not from a C7 or Mixolydian scale, but the D# offers a bluesy sound, and the F# gives a Lydian flavour.


Practicing Chromatic Approach Notes


When practicing chromatic approach notes, focus on applying one chromatic approach tone at a time rather than trying to play them all at once so that you get the sound of each one in your ears. It is also important that you practice the chromatic approach notes with a backing track so that you can hear they are working.

As mentioned earlier, some of the chromatic approach notes are not found within the chord scale so it’s a good idea to practice playing them on off beats too. The jazz blues lick below demonstrates how you can chromatically approach the third of the off beat of the bar which is in this case on the and of beat 2.


Chromatic Aprroach Notes Lick


Click here for a full video and article write up of this lick. Django Reindart’s infamous composition ‘Appel Direct’ uses chromatic approach notes to a Major 6th arpeggio. Interestingly, all the chromatic approach notes are on the strong beats of the bar in this example but the fast tempo, repetition, and quirky nature of the theme make them work.


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Besides applying chromatic approach notes to arpeggios, jazz musicians also apply them to triads. Check out this Charlie Parker jazz lick video lesson that applies chromatic passing notes to a root position triad.


ii-V-I Lick Using Chromatic Approach Notes


To finish off this lesson I have included a ii-V-I lick that uses chromatic approach notes every chord to give you an idea of how they sound in a full progression. This lick uses chromatic approach notes from a semi-tone below the third of each of the chords. This simple, but effective trick brings a stronger sense of tension and resolution to the chord, because you have a note not found within the chord scale on the and of 4 in each bar.

Chromatic Approach Note ii V I Lick



I hope that this chromatic approach notes technique brings a jazz flavour to your improvisation. It’s one of my favorite soloing techniques that are used exclusively in jazz. For the next lesson, we’ll be looking at how to use two approach notes together to form an enclosure. Do you like to practice chromatic approach notes? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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