Harmonic extensions often require the use of accidentals in music. However, accidentals occur through other means too, namely through chromatic passing tones. You will hear chromaticism, sometimes reflected in the use of passing tones, employed more extensively from about 1820 onward. In fact, one telltale sign of romantic period music is a shift toward chromaticism. For example, the middle sequence of young Frederic Chopin's Etude No. 3 in E Major, Opus 10, composed in 1832, features chromatic dissonance that falls like a torrent. Nevertheless, you should avoid excessive, cascading chromatics if you're a beginning composer. If not used properly, they can clutter and even obscure your work.
FIGURE 8-8: Progression using chromatic passing tones
FIGURE 8-9: Atonal use of chromatics
Start by using occasional chromatics as passing tones on offbeats or weak beats. This often means implementing them on “ands,” “e's,” and “ah's”; see Chapter 4. You may use chromatics in an ascending or descending fashion, but for now, keep chord tones and other diatonic pitches on strong beats.
Figure 8-8 shows an elegant, jazzy musical example that features chromatics. Remember, like other passing tones, chromatics ultimately serve as a bridge between more consonant, stable pitches. They are a vital element in most contemporary composition, whether it's tonal or atonal music.
Figure 8-9 shows a brief passage that features chromatics in an atonal setting. The severe dissonance found in atonal styles encourages the use of snaky chromatic musings and you will hear them implemented by dozens of twentieth and twenty-first century composers.