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

Another way to play a full chromatic scale is to play four notes per string, and descend one position for each string change (except between G and B strings, where the position is the same). This requires starting at the fifth position at least. (See diagram and tab below.) Try both examples, straight (four notes per beat) 16ths and sextuplets (or triplets at half-speed):

Chrom5(2) Chrom5Tab(2)

The next segment in this series will show various chromatic fingering patterns and exercises.

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