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Basics of Chromatic Passing Chords on the Guitar

When you move a chord shape up or down by one half step as you move to another chord on the guitar, you’re using a chromatic passing chord. For example, when a progression moves from V to IV, which are a whole step apart, you can add a chromatic passing chord between them to smooth out the transition.

Here is an example in the key of F. In measure 3, B is a chromatic passing chord connecting the C and Bf chords, V and IV.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

There is an example at Chromatic Passing Chords.

“The Wind Cries Mary” by Jimi Hendrix uses a chromatic passing chord like the one shown here. The verse features the chord changes C-B-Bf-F. The song also features a chromatic movement in the introduction with the chords Ef-E-F.

Hendrix uses chromatic passing chords in other songs, too. For instance, “Bold as Love” places a Gs chord between G and A, fVII and I, at the end of measure 8 just before the beginning of the chorus. If you’re craving another Hendrix song with this type of passing chord, check out “Little Wing,” which features a chromatic passing chord between Bm and Am in measure 5.

Here is another example that uses chromatic passing chords.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Here, the key is E minor. The progression starts with a G major chord and moves downward by semitones to Em through Fs and F. While the G chord belongs to E minor, Fs and F are simply serving as passing chords as the progression moves to Em. To hear this type of progression in a song, listen to “I’m a Man” by the Spencer Davis Group.

“Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan connects the relative major and minor chords in a similar way, except that it does so in the key of A with the chords A-Gs-G-Fsm. Throughout the song, these chords also appear in an ascending fashion as Fsm-G-Gs-A. You also hear chromatic chord movement from I up to a major III chord and from IV down to a major II chord.

Here is an example of chromatic passing chords in the key of G. This progression uses all major chords with chromatic passing chords between G-A and A-B.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

“Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce features the same type of progression. It uses the progression I-II-III-IV-V in the key of G, all major chords with chromatic passing chords between I-II and II-III.

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