Lets say im in c major and i play a standard 1-6-4-5-1 progression. But on the second time around i play 1-6-4-#5-5-1. The #5 chord is obviously an Ab flat major/ G# major, and i know many scales can be played on top of it. My question is, if i were to use the diatonic c major scale over this chord, either with or without hitting its chord tones, what would be the name of that technique? Thank you.


More "academic" music theorists often refer to this more broadly as stratification (or layering).

This occurs when a piece is composed in "layers" that are stacked vertically on top of each other. (Think of different geological strata.) The outcome is that simultaneous musical elements (scales, chords, etc.) can seem to have little or no relationship between each other, as in your example of a diatonic scale occurring simultaneously with a non-diatonic harmony.

  • Is this a generalization of polytonality? – ex nihilo May 25 '17 at 13:24
  • They're similar, but not always exact. Stratification could mean polytonality, but it doesn't have to. – Richard May 25 '17 at 13:25

It's just called a chromaticism or chromatic harmony.

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism (the major and minor scales). Chromatic elements are considered "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members".

A quick note that the use of chromaticism does not mean you are tonally shifting away from diatonic harmony or changing keys and in fact in most classical cases (like secondary dominants, Augmented 6ths, ect) you are reinforcing your tonic in a different flavor.

For example, in the progression you list, the I - vi - IV - VI♭ - V - I, the VI♭ pulls you to V which pulls you to I and this extra tension and resolution helps typical tonal ideas. Specifically this will most likely be referred to as modal borrowing since the VI♭ chord can be found in other modes of C (specifically Aeolian or Phrygian) , however it's still chromatic in nature which is the more prevailing effect.

  • C Phrygian works really well - but it would - it exactly matches the VIb key notes. – Tim May 25 '17 at 11:17

I have heard this called side-slipping. In The Jazz Theory Book, Mark Levine observes on p. 187 that:

Many of the best players weave outside material into tonal ("inside") material by playing a half step or whole step away, achieving very graceful "side stepping", another term used for outside playing.

Playing scales more distantly related to the underlying chords is often simply called playing outside the changes.

In your example, if you have V7 and ♯V7 chords, the ♯V7 chord is a tritone substitution for the secondary dominant. This reharmonization achieves some chromaticism, but by playing essentially the Mixolydian mode from the diatonic key over this chord, it would seem that the comping is more adventurous, while the soloing remains in key. A more outside sound would be achieved by playing a G♯ Mixolydian scale over the G7 chord diatonic to C Major.

  • Would the V# (or bVI) still be a tts if it was only the triad? Wouldn't it need to be VIb7 to be tts? – Tim May 25 '17 at 6:23
  • @Tim-- good point. The usual sense of tritone substitution requires seventh chords so that both chords share two notes. I would suppose that this could still be called a tritone substitution for triads given the root relationships, under the "any chord can substitute for any other chord so long as the melody is supported" rule. In any case, I will emend. – ex nihilo May 25 '17 at 10:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.