Giving Life to the Chromatic Scale

What is the Chromatic Scale?

Basically the chromatic scale is a scale which include all 12 notes. Other scales are based on this and many other combinations derive from it as well. The definition of a chromatic movement means a movement from a tone to another tone which are a semitone apart(from A to Ab or E to F in layman's terms). A piece of music defined as being chromatic means using all 12 notes and not having a fixed base on a particular scale.

To put it another way...

Because the chromatic scale has twelve notes and each fret on the guitar moves up one half-step, every note appears on all six strings somewhere before the twelfth fret. In other words, there is an 'E' on every string, an 'A' on every string, a 'Gb' on every string, etc.

Giving life to the chromatic scale....
Definitely the most boring exercise ever invented!

A lot of players tend to skip this exercise, missing out on the wonderful things that it can do for your technique.

Granted technique in the world at the moment is not very popular due largely to the fact that many players abused it and made the musical world completely sick of it. I stand by it, however, because when used correctly and sparingly it can add tension, anger or complete and total chaos to a song, which leaves the listener wanting more.

The chromatic scale when viewed on the guitar is basically taking your left hand and going 1st fret, 2nd fret, 3rd fret, 4th fret, on one string or to take the lower E string as an example f, f#, g, g# etc.

How is something so completely simple and not very exiting beneficial to your playing you may ask? Well if practised for an hour a day it will definitely help strengthen both your hands. So how do we make this interesting? With a little imagination and experimentation! I will now tell you two out of the thousands of variations on this exercise that I use and that have worked for me:

  1. First for all you distortion freaks set your amp to clean, distortion is very cool but it covers up a lot of mistakes.

    The more distorted your sound the more freedom you have to mess up without people noticing! Setting your amp to clean will force you to clean up your act. So now that we are all ready take your first finger and hammer on the f note. With your first finger still on the F hammer on f#. Your 1st finger remains anchored to the 1st fret. Do not barre the first fret as this will hamper speed (moving only to drop down to the next string) while you hammer on up to g#, then move on to the next string.

    When you reach the high e string your pinky should be on g#

    Now slide up one fret and descend chromatically using pull offs. You should now be on the note A. This time instead of the hammering on motion you used in the first part, we will be pulling the strings downwards. A good practice here is to have all four fingers on the fret board and remove each one by one, like peeling a banana. When you reach the last string your first finger should be on f#. Simply slide up one fret and repeat the first part.

    Keep doing this until you reach the 12th fret and then descend back down to the first fret. Note only the first note is picked on each string.

  2. Chromatics using two strings.

    The same basic sort of thing as the first exercise, except this time we will pick every single note using alternate picking. This is a basic down-up down-up movement. This exercise also uses very basic sliding techniques.

    Begin by placing your first finger on f. The first picking motion is down. Place the second finger on f# the picking motion is up. Again place the next finger on g, pick motion down. You should finish with an up stroke on G#. Drop the first finger down onto the first fret of the a string and repeat what you just played again.

    Starting with a down stroke when you reach c#, then with an up stroke slide up to the next fret. The note is d and descend starting with a down stroke from d to b.

    The last note is an up stroke. Now from here we want to go to the note A. Simply fret the fifth fret and start with a down stroke until you reach f#. The last note is an up stroke. Slide up to the third fret, starting with a down stroke and repeat......

You should continue this up to the 12th fret. Do this on every string. When you have this down pat, you can experiment with string skipping, ascending to the twelfth fret (all on the first string) and descending on the second. The principles are basically the same. Another handy tip is always use a metronome. Start slowly and when you have mastered that speed, knock it up a few notches. If you find the metronome boring, try playing along to a drum machine.

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