I'm wondering if there's certain chromatic passing tones that are used more than others. Especially in classical or pop improvisation/composition. For example in the key of C, each of the five black keys on a piano could potentially be chromatic passing tones. But are there ones that are used more than others, and do you usually land on a chord tone from a higher or lower chromatic note?

  • Passing tones, by definition, are in between chord tones. Do you want me or us to poll what the most common chord tones in music are and return the results, therefore implying which chromatic passing tones would be the most common? – Dekkadeci Feb 23 '19 at 6:51
  • @Dekkadeci no not poll, I was wondering if there's a "rule" for this. If there's not then that's an answer as well. – foreyez Feb 23 '19 at 6:53
  • To some extent this depends on the musical style being played. In bebop it was very common to use the nat7 as a passing tone (e.g., the bebop dominant scale). – ex nihilo Feb 23 '19 at 14:22

The two most common chromatics in key C will be F♯ (to modulate to key G), and B♭ (to modulate or even get to F). However, neither is used here as a passing tone.

Some ideas: C♯ would lead either to D from C - almost like a leading note getting to Dm, or, it could be part of a tts going back to C - in which case it's more likely to be D♭.

E♭ will usually slide to E, especially in C major - a blues feel. Not so likely called D♯.

F♯/G♭ is the tritone of C, and is used both in jazz (F♯) and blues (G♭).

G♯ comes along as the leading note to A, whereas A♭ can be seen as the m3 of F, sliding in blues form to the M3, A.

A♯ can work as m3 of G, again as in blues, but if it was B♭, it could be the passing note from a descending chromatic line - C>B>B♭>A.

So, they all get used, given their own circumstances. I'm not going to count which is their order in a list, it's pointless, but given enough experience playing, it's apparent they all get used - a lot. It's sort of - in a key, the diatonic notes get used, but there's no reason not to bring the chromatics along to the party - after all, they're the colourful ones.


Generally speaking, in ascending passages, one uses a raised chromatic passing tone. In descending passages, one uses a lowered tone. In either case, the voice leading would be the most important criteria.

For example, (in C major) a scale passage G-A-B-C would use G# or A# (or both) if passing tones were inserted. A descending scale passage like F-E-D-C would use Eb or Db (or both).

As to which scale step is most often altered, that would be hard to say. Based on what I remember from playing and listening (note that the plural of anecdote is not data) is the raised 4th and raised second steps are most common in ascending passages; the raised fourth goes up to the dominant. The lowered seventh and lowered third I'd would guess for lowered passing tone. The lowered seventh helps make the tonic seventh or V/IV chord; the lowered third makes a temporary minor chord; both are common.

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