The Chromatic Scale - Only 12 Notes!

Our basic "musical alphabet" explained.

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Hello fellow music enthusiast, and welcome to my first Lesson here on Ultimate-Guitar!

Since we are beginning with The Basics, let's start with the "chromatic scale."

If you don't know already there are only 12 notes that make up our musical alphabet, this is referred to as the "chromatic scale." "Chroma" means color so it's pretty much all the 12 colors of music!

To keep it simple you only need to remember two things:

1) Notes go from A to G#, before they repeat.
2) There is a sharp (#) between all the letters except between B and C, or between E and F.

So, we get:

A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A
no sharp no sharp
between between OCTAVE
B and C E and F

When you've gone the distance from a note all the way to the same note again (12 half-steps) higher up, that distance is called an "octave." 

Some info about Sharp and Flats: sharp = #flat = b

A sharp (A#) is the same pitch as B flat (Bb). Some people prefer to use sharps, other people prefer to use flats so decide for yourself which you prefer but just understand that the notes in between the letters have two different names. So, the note that is just higher than A is called A#, or it could be referred to as B flat.

This is called "enharmonic" (not to be confused with harmonics!), for example: C# is enharmonic to Db meaning that C sharp is the same pitch as D flat.

Here's the Chromatic Scale again, this time with both "enharmonic" note names:

A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A

The order of the notes will never change! It is the same for ALL instruments so it's essential to understand this concept to be able to communicate with other musicians, or to find your way around your instrument's fretboard!

For just a moment visualize a piano in your mind... all the white keys are A B C D E F and G (before starting over), and the black keys are the sharps/flats.

If you are a guitar or bass guitar player you can get the hang of this by using your A string (second largest string). Start by playing the open A string and move up one fret at a time while saying the name of each note. When you reach the 12th fret you should be back at A again (the octave); if not then you either forgot a note, or added an extra one. Just remember: there's NO sharp between B and C, or between E and F.
  • Open A string = A
  • first fret = A#/Bb
  • second fret = B
  • third fret = C
  • fourth fret = C#/Db
  • fifth fret = D
  • sixth fret = D#/Eb
  • seventh fret = E
  • eighth fret = F
  • ninth fret = F#/Gb
  • tenth fret = G
  • eleventh fret = G#/Ab
  • twelfth fret = A (the octave of our first note A)
Okay, below is the same concept written out as TAB for easy viewing!

Ex. 1. Chromatic Scale on your A string

e---------------------------------------------------------------------
b---------------------------------------------------------------------
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
D---------------------------------------------------------------------
A--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12---
E---------------------------------------------------------------------
A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Say each note name as you play it!

Now, that you've got the order of your notes you can easily apply this to all your other guitar strings. The only thing that changes is the name of the note you begin on!

Ex. 2. Chromatic Scale on your low E string

e---------------------------------------------------------------------
b---------------------------------------------------------------------
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
D---------------------------------------------------------------------
A---------------------------------------------------------------------
E--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12---
E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Ex. 3. Chromatic Scale on your D string

e---------------------------------------------------------------------
b---------------------------------------------------------------------
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
D--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12---
A---------------------------------------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------
D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Ex. 4. Chromatic Scale on your G string

e---------------------------------------------------------------------
b---------------------------------------------------------------------
G--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12---
D---------------------------------------------------------------------
A---------------------------------------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------
G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Ex. 5. Chromatic Scale on your B string

e---------------------------------------------------------------------
b--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12-
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
D---------------------------------------------------------------------
A---------------------------------------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------
B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Ex. 6. Chromatic Scale on your High E string

e--0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12--
b---------------------------------------------------------------------
G---------------------------------------------------------------------
D---------------------------------------------------------------------
A---------------------------------------------------------------------
E---------------------------------------------------------------------
E F F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E
\no/ \no/ (Octave)
sharp sharp

Now, practice finding a note (any note) by choosing a string and then counting up until you find that note. If in doubt, go back to your two memory tools:

1) Notes go from A to G#, then repeat.
2) There's a # between all the notes, except between B and C; or between E and F

This exercise is also really helpful for navigating the guitar neck, finding alternate places to play the same notes, and generally "unlocking" the fretboard so you can find your way around quickly and accurately!

Thanks for checking out my first lesson here for Ultimate-Guitar! I will will be adding more so I welcome any comments or requests! If you found this helpful, please SHARE this or RATE this Lesson. Thanks, and happy jamming!

11 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Not_my_username
    What did we learn from this article? That guitar has 12 notes that repeat at the 12th fret? Nothing about the usage of chromatic movement is shown here
    guitar/bass95
    Well explained, it makes it pretty clear what a chromatic scale is. However, some other examples could have been useful, like how to play it on three or four strings. That could also help people with learning the fretboard.
    Abacus11
    Really? Your presentation is nice and very clear and explain the chromatic scale pretty well but you never got into any practical use. The whole idea of a "chromatic scale" is kinda funny anyway but it can be a great jumping-off point to talk about intervals and using chromatic passages to connect mode or key changes or passing tones or "borrowing" from different scales to make interesting chord progressions. Great presentation but this lesson sorta just stops right before it could have gotten interesting.