Lesson 30: Chromatic Scales

Category: Lessons, Music Theory

Now that you have learned about major scales, lets take a small step back and digest. Ahhh.. feels good, doesn’t it? Now for something light.. for the entrée, we have a lovely little tidbit called the chromatic scale. It is a Greek dish, originating from the Greek word “chroma”, meaning “color”.

A chromatic scale is quite simple, as it consists entirely of semitones. No magic formula to follow here. It is a 12 note scale, and contains each and every note between the starting note and its octave. There are several ways to write a chromatic scale, I will show you a few of these in this lesson.

You can write a chromatic scale using accidentals. Just remember that no letter name should occur more than twice in a row. For example, do not use A flat, A natural, and A sharp.  Instead, you could use A flat, A natural, and B flat. You see? Same notes, different notation. Another thing to remember is that the chromatic scale must begin and end on the same letter name.

When using accidentals to write a chromatic scale, if the starting note is a natural or a sharp, use sharps ascending and flats descending. The only caveat to this rule is that the first note and the final note must be the same, so if the first note is a sharp, the last note must be a sharp as well. See the images below for an example of a chromatic scale starting on a natural note and on a sharp note.

Chromatic scale starting on a sharp and a natural

If the starting note is a flat, you must use flats and naturals until you can switch without breaking the “two-letter-name” rule. See the scale below.

OK, so I thought I was going to show you the other way to write a chromatic scale, and I will write about it briefly, but to be honest, I don’t like it.  The other way to write a chromatic scale is to use the key signature of the major scale, and add in notes with accidentals, keeping in mind that the interval between the mediant (3) and subdominant (4) of the major scale is already a semitone, as well as the interval between the leading note (7) and the tonic (8). If anyone REALLY wants a demonstration of this technique, please leave a comment, otherwise I will leave this topic well enough alone. It’s for the best, trust me. And honestly, who really needs to know 2 different ways to write chromatic scales? It’s kindof like math, you’ll never use it in real life.

Posted on October 15th, 2011 by sharlene

1 Comment

  1. Scott Evans Says:

    Hey I need to know how to write chromatic scales using the key signature of all the major scales. To my understanding this is pretty much an exercise in accidentals and I am really struggling with it. Please help. Thanks

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