Published On: Tue, Aug 19th, 2014

Guitar Techniques: Chromatic Scales

Hum along and hear your musicianship improve with every step. Douglas Noble reveals all

In this part of our journey through various guitar techniques we are solely concerned with the chromatic scale. This will test your ability to pitch notes even further, since the chromatic scale has, in a sense, a less distinct sound than the major scale, blues scale and phrygian mode.

The chromatic scale is unique in that it includes all the notes, moving up a semitone at a time. The chromatic scale is great for technique practise – although its usage in actual music in its entirety is more limited. Dramatic descending chromatic runs can be heard in Bruce Springsteen’s song Born To Run and in Rush’s prog rock instrumental La Villa Strangiato from Hemispheres.

Purely as an arbitrary starting point, the following exercises are all based on the one-octave C chromatic scale, starting on the fifth string, third fret. Once you’re familiar with the exercises, try practising them in all keys and extending the exercise out to two or three octaves. The only limitation is the range of your voice, so perhaps three octaves (heck, or even just two octaves) may be a little ambitious. The best way is to first test out the range of your voice, then practise the following exercises going from the lowest note that you can comfortably sing and then work up to the highest.

All these exercises are in 4/4 Time.

1: C Chromatic Scale




The formula for this scale is root/1st, flattened 2nd, natural 2nd, flattened 3rd, natural 3rd, fourth, flattened 5th, natural 5th, flattened 6th, natural 6th, flattened 7th, natural 7th, perfect octave, then the same on the way down. First, play the scale on guitar; then do it again and sing along. Quality of voice is immaterial, but try to pitch accurately, and hold the note steady. Note the ‘feel’ of each note: the ‘unsteady’, unresolved Gb/diminished 5th, say, then the ‘reassuring’ perfect 5th, G. Thirdly, play just the first note – C on the fifth string, third fret – as a drone, and use it to prevent you straying off pitch as you sing the ascending and descending scale.

2: C Chromatic Scale Pattern




This exercise consists of jumping from the root note to a note of the scale in gradually ascending then descending fashion, returning to the root note after each scale note has been sung. As in Ex 1, first of all just play the exercise on the guitar (the ‘etc’ at the end of the fourth bar means continue in a similar manner all the way up and down the scale), then play the exercise and sing along. Finally, only play the root note, then sing all the other notes.

3: C Chromatic Scale, Random Pattern




This exercise is similar to Ex 2, but instead of singing the intervals in a gradually ascending then descending scale order, sing them in a random order. Again, there are three stages to the exercise: playing only, playing and singing, then playing only the C root note and singing all the other notes. So, think of an interval, then play or play/sing or sing it, depending on which stage you’re at, then do the same with another interval… for as long as you can stand it!

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