This guitar lesson is all about taking the simple idea of chromatic harmony and applying it to a simple chord progression to make it sound beautiful – it’s cheating!
The simple idea is a chromatic line walking down the G string, or the 3rd string. The line is moving through the harmony of the chord progression D – G – D, or I – IV – I. Chromatic harmony creates a wonderful flow of tension and release. That’s all music is: tension and release.
Here is a basic tab of this chromatic harmony walkdown at work:
I purposely did not include the melody lines or the finger picking in the tab. By just giving you the basic form of each chord, I’m creating more room for you to take creative liberties. It’s about the line, what you do with it is up to you. To me, this is playing.
The Chromatic Harmony in Action
Let’s look at the first chord, D. On the 3rd string we have the note D which is the root of the chord.
In bar 2, the chromatic harmony starts and we walk the root down a half-step to the C#. The C# is the natural 7th of the D chord creating a Dmaj7 chord.
If we continue this while still on the D chord, we end up with the chromatic line on the C. Having a C in the D chord creates a D7 chord, the C being the dominant or flat 7th. This 7th chord creates quite a bit of tension! This is an interesting part of the progression because the C does not really belong in the key of D. The C should be a C# if we were going to stay true to the D major scale. However, if we pretend that the G chord is the tonic (I), then the D chord becomes the dominant chord (V). We can always make a (V) chord more tense by playing it as a 7th chord. So really, a I – IV progression is the same as a V – I progression! Chew on that for a minute. The tension in the D7 chord gets resolved by the G major chord.
Following the chromatic line down, the C goes to a B. We are also now in a G chord (IV). The B in the G chord is acting as the 3rd. The main players at work inside of a V – I progression are the 7th in the (V) creating tension that resolves to the 3rd in the (I). That is exactly what is happening in this progression. I’ve left the D string ringing throughout the G chords to create a droning flow. The D note still belongs to the G chords, it’s the 5th.
Flatting the B gives us a Bb, which turns the G chord into a Gm chord. A very popular trick when going from a IV – I is to minor the (IV) to create tension that the tonic (I) can resolve.
The Bb moving another half-step down turns into an A, which is the 5th of the D chord. We made it back to the (I)!
I added an A7 and another D at the end just for shits and giggles.
So, this chromatic harmony walkdown is particularity nifty because every note in the line is a substantial chord tone. Every point of the line is either a root, 3rd, 5th, or type of 7th. These are the most important pieces of any chord. Playing with these notes and finding lines that use them will create super nice movements within your playing.
I hope you all enjoyed this lesson. Try applying this concept to your own chord progression. Let me know if you have any questions!
Keep on cheating!