Gluing Together Your Piano Phrases With Chromaticism

Jay Oliver  /  Improvisation  /  UPDATED Jan 12, 2023

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We had jazz pianist Jay Oliver in the studio to talk about his philosophies in jazz improv and one of his tips struck me as really versatile for players of ANY skill level. He talked about using the chromatic scale as a tool to glue together his piano phrases, creating jazz lines that are both cohesive and diverse. It sounds super cool and technical to listen to, but it’s actually quite simple in its approach.

If you’re confused by the term ‘chromatic scale’, all it means is a scale or phrase moving up or down the keyboard that plays EVERY note. Played on its own it sounds super slinky and creepy-crawly, but played in the context of a blues or minor scale lick it sounds really cool, especially if you use it to swap what key or mode you’re playing in.  

All this is really a technical way to say that the chromatic scale is really a way to FOOL your audience (and maybe even yourself) into hearing some seemingly complex jazz lines while actually playing some relatively simple scales.

Once Jay explained this idea to me, it all became so clear and I began to hear this technique used everywhere! Try it in your own playing, even if you have to take it slow.

Try starting a little melody of your choosing in one key and, using the chromatic scale, transition into a melody using a completely different key. You’ll surprise yourself in how cool this is going to sound!

Best of luck and happy playing!


Jordan Leibel is passionate about songwriting, improvisation, and helping you become a creative musician! He’s worked as a composer for film, commercial, and theatre projects as well as a session musician and producer for recording work.

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