• Are You Using Chromatic Chords Yet?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,General Music,Piano,Playing By Ear,Theory

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    Our focus in this lesson is on the application of chromatic chords.

    But before we delve into that, let’s get started by refreshing our minds on what chromatic chords are.

    A Quick Review On Chromatic Chords

    A musical idea (be it a note, interval, chord, or scale) is considered to be chromatic when it is foreign to the prevalent key.

    In the key of C major:

    …the following scale-tone chords are obtainable:

    The C major triad:

    The D minor triad:

    The E minor triad:

    The F major triad:

    The G major triad:

    The A minor triad:

    The B diminished triad:

    Any other chord that one, some, or all of its tones are foreign to the prevalent key (which is C major in this case) is a chromatic chord.

    An example is the D major triad:

    …with the F# note:

    …that is foreign to the key of C major.

    Also, the D augmented triad:

    …where 66% of the chord composition is foreign to the prevalent key.

    Then the Eb minor triad:

    …where all the notes are foreign to the key of C major.

    In a nutshell, a chord is only considered chromatic when one, some, or all of its note are foreign to the prevalent key.

    In the key of F major:

    …any chord that consists of one or more notes that are foreign to the key of C major is considered as a chromatic chord.

    Alright, now that we’ve refreshed our minds on chromatic chords, let’s proceed to learning how they can be applied.

    Application Of Chromatic Chords

    Although chromatic chords are foreign to the key, they can be applied in any given key. We’ll look at two out of the several ways chromatic chords can be applied.

    The Application Of Chromatic Chords As “Leading Note Chords”

    Chromatic chords can be applied as leading note chords.

    Leading note chords are diminished chords that are a half-step below any given chord.

    Every chord (whether major or minor) has its corresponding leading note chord which is a half-step below its root. For example, the leading note in the key of F major:

    …is E:

    …therefore, E diminished chords are leading note chords to F chords.

    E diminished chords include the following:

    • The E diminished triad
    • The E diminished seventh chord
    • The E half-diminished seventh chord

    “Check Them Out…”

    The E diminished triad:

    The E diminished seventh chord:

    The E half-diminished seventh chord:

    In the key of C major:

    …where F is the fourth tone:

    The chord of the fourth tone which include any of the following:

    • The F major triad
    • The F major seventh
    • The F major ninth

    …can be approached using any of the leading note chords (which are chromatic chords):

    • The E diminished triad
    • The E half-diminished seventh chord
    • The E diminished seventh chord

    “Here’s How It Works…”

    The E diminished triad:

    …is a chromatic chord that can be applied as a passing chord to the F major triad:

    The E half-diminished seventh chord:

    …is a chromatic chord that can be applied as a passing chord to the F major seventh:

    …or F major ninth chord:

    The E diminished seventh chord:

    …is a chromatic chord that can be applied as a passing chord to the F major seventh:

    …or F major ninth chord:

    Leading note chords can also be applied as a passing chords to minor chords and it follows the same procedure like that of the major chord.

    The Application Of Chromatic Chords As “Secondary Dominant Chords”

    Chromatic chords can also be applied as secondary dominant chords and this is easier than it sounds.

    The term dominant in music is synonymous with fifths or the number five.

    A secondary dominant chord is a dominant chord that is a fifth above the root of a given scale-tone chord (whether it’s major or minor). In the key of C major:

    …where the E minor seventh chord:

    …is the chord of the third tone (aka – “chord 3”), it’s secondary dominant chord is a fifth above the root of the E minor seventh chord:

    …which is E:

    Attention: A fifth above E is B

    Due to the fact that a fifth above E:

    …is B:

    All B dominant chords would function as secondary dominant chords to the E minor seventh chord. Check out a few of them:

    B dominant triad:

    B dominant seventh chord:

    B dominant seventh (flat ninth) chord:

    All these B dominant chords would resolve to the E minor seventh chord:

    Final Words

    Spice up your playing by incorporating chromatic chords into chord progressions either as leading note chords or as secondary dominant chords.

    The term chromatic literally means colorful and really can add a lot of color to your chord progressions when used rightly. Always remember that to know a chromatic chord is one thing and to apply it rightly is another thing.

    See you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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