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The Woodshed: Chromatic Coloring #1

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JJ Rocks Article # 62:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue #12, September, 2007
One sure way to improve your improvisation is by adding chromatic coloring to your lines. And of course chromatics basically means moving in half steps. And if you think of it as a spice that you are blending into your own personal musical recipe, then common sense tells you to add just enough to acquire the taste that you are looking for. If its too little then it will go unnoticed and if its too much it will spoil the meal. So with that in mind lets discuss a few ways to approach this very basic concept.

First play one of your favorite short licks or phrases on your instrument. Then play it a second time but add a half step pickup to the first note in the phrase. You might want to try an eighth or quarter note pick up to start. You will automatically notice a bit of a jazzy feel to your phrase. Then try the same phrase again but this time use the pickup on the second note of the phrase but not on the first. Continue this method until your half step pickup reaches the last note. When you have completed this exercise play your riffs back to back while adding your chromatic note to each note every time you repeat your phrase. But dont forget, the first time around there should be only one pickup note every time you play your line. After some practice you should be able to randomly choose any note in any riff that you know and add a chromatic pickup to enhance your phrase. But thats just the beginning.

You can also give new life to any simple arpeggio by choosing one note and approaching it from a half step below or above. Lets say that you are playing a simple straight up the stairs arpeggio with root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th. You can start by adding a half step pickup to the root, and then change it to the 3rd and so on. Then use two pickups like the 3rd and the 7th. But dont forget, too much makes it unpleasant to the ear.

Also try using a half step pickup on the root from below and then another on the 3rd but from above. This simple concept will give your phrase a slightly more intellectual sound and individual style. Now this is only the beginning of using chromatics in your phrases. Stay tuned in to our magazine for more advanced concepts in the future!

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