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  1. #1

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    I've been playing guitar for almost two years and when I try to improvise I just keep abusing chromatic approach notes which feels like a crutch and stops me from having any real melody in my lines.

    I do outline the chord changes but it just sounds like a jumbled mess of chromaticism. Has anybody else felt like this/done this and how should I go about correcting it?


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  3. #2

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    Stop playing chromatic approach notes for a while.

  4. #3

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    I notice a lot of that in many guitarists... excessive approach notes and way too much encapsulation, other idiomatic and automatic habits. It does potentially impair the melodic aspect of lines. But the thing is, some make it sound melodic anyway and others less so; so it is not just about the "extra notes".

    A lot of the support for melodic playing comes from emphasis on phrasing and articulation - which notes timed to which beats, which notes placed dynamically more "forward", etc...

    I would suggest you either try stripping out the extra notes for a while and then adding them back in under more control of expression, or proceeding with the extra notes but maybe more slowly to work on catching up the same kind of control. The important thing is that you know something is not quite right but you know what you want to sound like, so keep trusting your ear to help your hands figure it out.
    Last edited by pauln; 07-14-2020 at 09:11 AM.

  5. #4
    Practice creating meaningful phrases. Create an inventory of ornaments and embellishments, stepwise and chromatic; cambiata, appoggiatura, neighbors, stepwise and chromatic approaches from above, below and both.... When you practice, do so in a way where you take your simple phrase (two or three notes is a good place) and use rhythm and individual ornaments one at a time so you can understand the significance of each note and embellishment. Practice slower until it's not something that's done gratuitously but so it actually embellishes an idea instead of obfuscates it. Become a player that knows the bone structure of a phrase before you go sticking rhinestones all over it.
    Slow down. Have good essential ideas. Practice all permutations of embellishment over an idea. Understand WHY you're doing it.

  6. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcjazz
    Stop playing chromatic approach notes for a while.
    This is a serious suggestion. If you haven't yet, check out a video by Jimmy Bruno who proves that good sounding musical lines can be created with nothing more than diatonic notes. As I recall, at his workshop he doesn't "permit" a student to use "outside notes" until they are able to create music with do-re-mi... etc.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simatosa
    I've been playing guitar for almost two years and when I try to improvise I just keep abusing chromatic approach notes which feels like a crutch and stops me from having any real melody in my lines.

    I do outline the chord changes but it just sounds like a jumbled mess of chromaticism. Has anybody else felt like this/done this and how should I go about correcting it?
    Improvise some chorus' where you only play chord tones. Nothing else allowed.

    Then allow yourself to add a few scale tones in to form a more linear chord outline.

    Finally, bring some approaches back in - minimally. Like maybe once every 2-4 measures.

  8. #7

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    Record it. Crunch the numbers. What percentage of chromatic notes are there? Maybe you are overdoing it, but I don't think there are any hard and fast rules, just what sounds good.

  9. #8

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    If you search on YouTube, Jen Larsen has a lot of great short jazz lessons, and just searching now I saw several about chromatic passing notes.

  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by pcjazz
    Stop playing chromatic approach notes for a while.

    "Hey, Doc, it hurts when I go like this ..."

    Some great ideas already!
    OP: whose playing do you enjoy, and how (much) does he/she use chromatic lines?

  11. #10

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    Are we talking about chromatic approach notes* or more general/extensive chromaticism?

    * like 1/2 step below chord tones for example

  12. #11

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    Hmm, when I was playing guitar for less then two years I didn't even know what Jazz was let alone chromatic approach notes! I think a lot of us Jazzers get caught up in using devices and overdoing them. At a certain point one realizes they're doing this.

    Some great advice everyone here. Slow down, and play melodies that you hear in your head. Listen to Jazz guitarists that don't use approach notes so much? Maybe even work on Country riffs for a while?

    What tunes are you doing?

  13. #12

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    Stop playing the guitar and sing . If you can't sing it , you shouldn't be playing it .
    Or , in other words , concentrate for a bit on your musical imagination , your ' innner ear ' and let that lead you rather than applying techniques that you've learnt .

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Simatosa
    I just keep abusing chromatic approach notes
    Then don't!

    how should I go about correcting it?
    That's a lazy question. By not doing it.

    Tell you what, send me $500 and I'll show you my secret, esoteric technique which which will help you get over this awful habit. Disclaimer: Requires will power.

  15. #14

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    Another suggestion is to take a break from improvising and learn a bunch of melodies: heads from jazz standards, transcribed solos, or even non-jazz melodies (e.g., classical or pop). Get those melodies under your skin, take them apart and find ways to use chunks of them as phrases. You could also get analytical about it by considering how the notes relate to the chords, and which notes of melodies you like are diatonic vs. chromatic. But the most important thing is to internalize a bunch of good melodies.

  16. #15

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    How many 'real melodies' can you play when you aren't trying to improvise? Happy Birthday, Christmas carols, folk songs, pop tunes. See how easy (or difficult) it is to pick out a melody you already know, and that might shed some light on the challenges you're having being melodic when improvising. Best wishes for your music!


  17. #16

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  18. #17

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    Work on melodies and arpeggios. Do some transcriptions of players whose use of Harmony you like. Jazz improvisation involves playing a lot of chords over a single chord, in the form of arpeggios and lines, so focus a bit on that.

    Really transcription is always my preferred solution. Players like Wes, Benson, Martino are masters on using and clearly outlining Harmony. Even better, horn players from the classic Bebop era like Sony Stitt, Dexter Gordon, etc. A combination of transcription and some theory help if needed to explain how it works would be a great way to improve on hearing chord changes and generally the jazz language.

  19. #18

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    Well, chromaticism is the sound of Bop, which is (still) the heart of Jazz improvisation. I'm noticing a lot of modern players seem to eschew the old chromatic approaches (pardon the pun), and I seem to be liking them less for it. As mentioned, it gets down to what players / style you're into. Some styles coming out of bebop are heavily chromatic, but that's not to say they're unmelodic! Accenting chord tones in amongst chromatic lines will still bring out a melodic relationship to the underlying harmony, there is no rule that says "Thou shalt not play chromatically for more than 30% of one's solo". Infact, if you played 100% that way, not only could you get very good at it, you may even find that you've developed a strong point of difference given that it's not such a popular modern sound, perhaps...

    Regardless, what I find helps myself in this regard is to practice incorporating chord tones, arps or pentatonic sounds into my lines, so that if, say, coming from a heavily based chromatic idea descending, then follow that up with some arps or chord tones ascending to reset the tensional flux (or something...). Easy to say but hard to do - you need to actively practice swapping from a chromatic mindset to a chord tone based one, and even write out your own lines that mix the 2. Off you go then, hop to it!

  20. #19

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    To me 'chromatic approach' makes sense in context of 'diatonic approach' (maybe because I come form classical background)... in that setup diatonic is and essence and chromtisim is a flavour (adding 'colour' - 'chroma' where the term comes from..)
    In that setup 'chromatics' is always something 'in between' of the main thing...
    If you know what the main thing is yu probably can handle it all...
    Possible disadvantage of it is that the player may consider all the choromatics as sort of embelishment with nmore or less the same musical meaning (whatever he plays except diatonic may sound the same to him)..
    In my opinion it requires very sensitive player to use that approach without abuse.. to make choices about chromatic notes too.

    Chromadic melodicism may become our guide in this approach... if we look carefully most of chromatic notes resolve to diatonic.. how we use those resolutions? do we hear them?

    It is good to focus on simple diatonic motives like 2 of 3 notes (a triad for example) and play just one approach chromatic note one of the diatonic notes... try like C-D#- E-G with different rythms, harmonic placements, inversions etc. then C-E-F#G.. then C-E-Ab-G... what if we use it on C major 7? and if on G maj7? or Fmaj7? or Dm7? and so on... and what if we put chromatic note on beat and off beat... and what if we go up or down after that?
    What will change?

    Hear the Value of a single chromatic note.

    But in jazz there is also possibility to apply 'chromatic notes' as derived from other quite essential sources as modes, subs, superimpositions, blues, combination of triads and so on and so on... and often it is more attractive becasue in that case -- 'chromatics' are not just 'anything you play between diatonic' but they are stipulated by some harmonic/melodic conceptions you have behind...

    Actuall at the end of it... you can mix both...

  21. #20

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    The guidance has always been something like:
    Let the melody be your guide
    Phrase lines as arpeggio up, scale down
    Favor chromaticism vs two-five
    Blend these three in diminishing proportion

    The tricky part is that there are a slew of tactics to make manifest a slew of chromatic strategies, so much less clear guidance compared to arp'ing up scale down and melody guide. How much one invokes different types of chromaticism is one of those "fine tuning" of little things that makes a huge difference in the way one's distinctive sound of playing comes across.

    To me the size of the band determines my main judgement for melodic chromaticism; in a larger band with less time to solo it may make sense to engage the "wow factor" of a little more chromaticism. In my trio the last few years (drums, bass, guitar) I have tended to not press direct chromatic note movement in solo phrasing, making solo changes diatonically but relating their harmonies chromatically with tritone subs, implied voice leading, and other means of expressing or imposing chromaticism within the harmony movements, not so much between the individual notes I play.

  22. #21

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    Allan Holdsworth once described overly chromatic playing as "dusting the keys"

  23. #22

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    I would send you to the woodshed with Barry Harris descending scale outlines (then reverse 7 and 6, next reverse 2 and 1);
    next scale outline by melodic 3rds; next scale outline by melodic triads; next scale outline by the 7th chords, then scale outline with 5 4 3 2 phrases... and trying to keep in mind playing to something...

    Example: Coltrane's Giant Steps solo is nearly all diatonic.

  24. #23

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    I’m sure someone has said this, but try simplifying the harmony (for instance playing in Bb on the A of a rhythm changes tune) and play melodies centred around one key/mode/scale.

    That way you have a contrasting sound to your more harmonically detailed chromatic playing.

    TBH I think this is pretty much how Metheny does it from what little of his I’ve transcribed - he can be very diatonic and very chromatic depending on the vibe.