Back to Basics: The Chromatic Scale

The Back to Basics series will profile fundamental concepts and patterns, in order to provide “building block” ideas for players of all levels.

The chromatic scale encompasses all 12 notes of the octave. (For guitarists especially, the term is also used to refer to exercises which are not based on any particular tonal or scalar root, and incorporate patterns of some or all of the fret-hand fingers.)

Since all of the fingers come into play, the chromatic scale is ideal for warm-up patterns. Musically, since by definition all possible combinations are included, short chromatic patterns can also be useful for connecting scalar or modal ideas to one another.

There are two common ways to play the full chromatic scale:  in open position, from the open low E (6th string) to A on the 1st string (2 octaves + perfect 4th), or in any position, with a small shift on most strings, ascending and descending. (See corresponding diagrams and tabs.)

ChromOpenChromOpenTab

Chrom5 Chrom5Tab

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Saturday Shredder

One of the simplest and most effective things to help my soloing came from something I read in an interview years ago with Primus guitarist Larry Lalonde. The idea is that, since music is organized into arrangements of whole and half steps, if you hit a “wrong” note in your solo, then that automatically means that there are “right” notes on either side of that “wrong” note. And then the “wrong” note becomes a “passing tone”.

Here’s Primus with their classic Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.

Guitar Notes

Just a quick thank you to everyone who’s dropped by and checked out the site, I hope it’s been useful and helpful to your playing. Please feel free to send me your questions and comments, and any suggestions you may have. I want PTG to be a resource to help you get your playing to where you want it to go, one lesson at a time.

Please also be sure to check out our Free Resources page, we’ll be adding more downloadable resource documents in the weeks to come. We’ll also be doing some “back to basics” posts in the near future, so that players of all levels and experience have content available here. Thanks again!

Warm-up Stretching

Just like an athlete does some light stretching to get their muscles limbered up for practice or performance, you should take a couple minutes to loosen up your hands before beginning any intensive playing.

Here’s a simple and effective stretching exercise to warm-up and synchronize both hands in a short amount of time. It uses just the 1st and 4th fingers, and takes place at the 7th position. Check out the tab below:

Warm-up stretch

If the stretch across that span at the 7th position is too much, just move up the neck until it feels more comfortable. Your fretting hand should stretch a little bit, but no exercise should cause acute soreness or pain. Work on groups of 4 as well as groups of 6 separately, before combinng them. As usual, start with strict down-up alternate picking, then try starting with an upstroke.

Guitar Scale Mastery

Hey, if you’re looking for a comprehensive system that can take your playing to the next level, and give you a handle on how to really use scales effectively, check out Guitar Scale Mastery. For less than the price of a couple of lessons, you can have a complete method at your fingertips, that you can use over and over again. The great thing about this system is that players of all levels can benefit from it; whether you’re a rank beginner or an experienced shredder, you’ll find ideas and concepts in here that will enhance your playing skill and musicality.

Check out Guitar Scale Mastery today!