The Chromatic scale in music theory is the only scale that uses all twelve pitches/tones available. A Chromatic scale does not follow an interval pattern like we have in major and minor scales. Major and Minor scales are referred to as diatonic scales and have seven different notes in total. In this post we will explore what the chromatic scale is and how we notate it properly on the stave.
What is a Chromatic Scale?
When is a Chromatic Scale used?
Understanding the Chromatic Scale
Writing the Chromatic Scale
A chromatic scale is different to other scales in that there is no set way of writing it. Look at the two sets of notes below:
When writing an ascending chromatic scale it is most usual to write your semitones (half steps) using sharps, this is because when you raise a note by a semitone you are sharpening it. Look at the below example - Let's write out an ascending chromatic scale with the first note C.
When writing a descending chromatic scale it is most usual to write your semitones (half steps) using flats, this is because when you lower a note by a semitone you are flattening it. Look at the example below - Let's write out a descending example chromatic scale with the first note C.
The easiest way to write out your chromatic scale is to first write in your first and last note, remember these will be the exact same.
Next, the chromatic scale going down will use flats. So again, write in your first and last note:
And then simply fill in the notes in between using flats!
Remember you should never have more than three of the same later. For example:
Although the above three notes technically form part of a chromatic scale, it would be more appropriate to write either:
Common Questions you may be asked about Chromatic Scales
- Remember that it is impossible to write out more than four notes of a chromatic scale without using accidentals - so make sure to look out for these!
- Draw out a piano so you can check your findings.
We call it the chromatic scale because the word chromatic comes from the Greek language meaning Colour! A chromatic scale allows you to add color to music without changing the tonal centre.
The chromatic scale is not just limited to western music, you will find it in almost every genre of music you can think of!