A Lesson On Chromatic Chords For All Scale Degrees

This lesson is for you if you’re interested in learning about chromatic chords.

One of the key factors that set advanced and intermediate players apart from beginners is their ability to incorporate some spicy chords in their playing.

You can see an advanced player use the A dominant thirteenth [sharp eleven] chord):

…to approach the D minor eleventh chord:

…in the  key of C major:

…and you’re probably wondering what Bb, C#, D#, and F#:

…are doing in the key of C major.

The answer is right here. As you learn about chromatic chords and a few examples in this lesson, you too can spice up your playing!

Chromatic Chords – Explained

Preliminaries

The term chromatic literally means colorful and is used by music scholars to describe a musical idea (be it a note, scale, interval, chord, progression, etc.) that is foreign to a prevalent key.

For example, in the key of C major:

…the following notes:

C#

F#

Bb

…are chromatic because they don’t belong to the prevalent key (which is C major.)

“What Is A Chromatic Chord?”

A chromatic chord is a chord that is foreign to the prevalent key. In the key of C major:

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

The C major seventh chord:

…and the C dominant seventh chord:

…share the same root note – C (which is the first tone of the scale):

…however, the C dominant seventh chord:

…is a chromatic chord because it consists of a Bb note:

…which is foreign to the key of C major:

“In A Nutshell…”

When one or more chord tones of a given chord are foreign to the prevalent key, such a chord is said to be chromatic.

Chromatic Chords For All Scale Degrees

There are eight degrees in every key (be it a major or minor key). We’ll explore chromatic chords for every degree in the key – apart from the eighth degree (which is a duplicate of the first degree.)

Attention: All examples will be given in the key of C major.

Chromatic Chords For The First Tone

The first tone in the key of C major:

…is C:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the dominant thirteenth chord.

So, we’re playing the C dominant thirteenth chord:

…and omitting the eleventh tone (which is F):

You can voice the C dominant thirteenth chord in two ways:

#1:

#2:

The C dominant thirteenth chord can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the fourth degree (aka – “chord 4”.)

Chromatic Chords For The Second Tone

The second tone in the key of C major:

…is D:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the dominant ninth chord.

So, we’re playing the D dominant ninth chord:

…which can be voiced in two ways:

#1:

#2:

The D dominant ninth chord can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the fifth degree (aka – “chord 5”.)

Chromatic Chords For The Third Tone

The third tone in the key of C major:

…is E:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the altered chord.

So, we’re playing the E dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] chord:

…and there are two ways it can be played:

#1:

#2:

The E dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the sixth degree (aka – “chord 6”.)

Chromatic Chords For The Fourth Tone


The fourth tone in the key of C major:

…is F:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the dominant thirteenth chord.

So, we’re playing the F dominant thirteenth chord:

…and omitting the eleventh tone (which is Bb):

You can voice the F dominant thirteenth chord in two ways:

#1:

#2:

The F dominant thirteenth chord can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the third degree (aka – “chord 3”.)

Chromatic Chords For The Fifth Tone

The fifth tone in the key of C major:

…is G:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the minor ninth chord.

So, we’re playing the G minor ninth chord:

Feel free to voice the G minor ninth chord in two ways:

#1:

#2:

The G minor ninth chord can be applied as a passing chord to the chromatic chord of the first degree that we learned earlier –  the C dominant thirteenth chord:

Chromatic Chords For The Sixth Tone

The sixth tone in the key of C major:

…is A:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the altered chord.

So, we’re playing the A dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] chord:

…and there’s another way it can be played:

The A dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the second degree (aka – “chord 2”.)

Chromatic Chords For The Seventh Tone

The seventh tone in the key of C major:

…is B:

Although there are several options for chromatic chords on this tone, we’ll be focusing on the altered chord.

So, we’re playing the B dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] chord:

…and there’s another way to approach it:

The B dominant seventh [sharp nine, sharp five] can be applied as a passing chord to the chord of the third degree (aka – “chord 3”.)

Final Words

The chromatic chords you’ve learned in this lesson are designed to function as passing chords to the regular scale-degree chords.

I am doubly sure that your chordal arsenal will explode if you apply these chords in the key of C and transpose them to other major keys.

See you in the next lesson!

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Chuku Onyemachi

Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. I started teaching musicians in my neighbourhood in April 2005. Today, I'm humbled to work as a music consultant with HearandPlay Music Group for musicians in Africa and beyond.