All About Scales. Part 1 - The Chromatic Scale

author: sqrrloncrack date: 04/02/2012 category: guitar scales and modes
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Hello and welcome to my first multi-part lesson! This series is going to go in depth with scales. I will cover many common scales, how to build them, how to build chords from scales, and I will also go in depth with the theory behind scales and their modes. In this lesson, I am going to talk about the Chromatic Scale. Before we get any further, we need to talk about a few things. First, what exactly is a scale? A scale is simply a sequence of musical notes arranged in a specific order, both ascending and descending (up and down in pitch, if you will). The notes of each type of scale are arranged in a very specific way. For example, the notes of the Major scale are arranged differently than the notes of a Harmonic Minor scale which are arranged differently than the notes of the Chromatic scale. This is very important, and we will discuss it more in just a moment. Next, we need to know that a scale starts and ends on the same note. For example C Major is C D E F G A B C, and as you can see it starts on C and ends on C. Finally, we need to know about something called a half step. On a piano, a half step is one key to the next key directly beside it in either direction. On a guitar, it's from one fret to the next, also in either direction. Using the guitar as an example, from the first fret to the 2nd fret is a half step. From the 6th fret to the 5th fret is also a half step. Pretty simple, right? This works for all the frets on the guitar. Okay, now we can get down to business. So what is this Chromatic Scale? The chromatic scale consists of all 12 notes within an octave; all of them one half step apart. Let's dive right in with your guitar. Start on the low E string and play the open string plus each individual fret up to the 12th fret. You just played the E Chromatic Scale. Here it is as notes: E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E And here it is as tablature:
The chromatic scale is essentially the same no matter what note starts it. For example, as we have seen, the E Chromatic scale starts on E and increases by half steps until you get to E again. This idea holds true for all the other Chromatic Scales. Let's check it out: E Chromatic Scale - E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F Chromatic Scale - F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F G Chromatic Scale - G G#/Ab A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G Each scale here increases by one half step until we get to the same note we started on but an octave higher. You are probably wondering now what all the #'s and b's are. These are known as sharps and flats. A sharp in notated by the # sign, and a flat is notated as a b. So when we see A#, we say A sharp and when we see Ab we say A flat. To help you visualize what sharps and flats are, think of a piano keyboard. All the black keys are the sharps and flats. Notices how there are no sharps or flats between B and C or E and F? They are the white keys that don't have black keys between them. However, they are still half steps because they are still right next to each other. Now is a good time to discuss something known as enharmonic notes. The notes separated by the / symbol sound the same but as we can see have different names based on how they are used. They are like homonyms, which are words that sound alike but mean different things (meet and meat, for example). We will learn more about enharmonics later on in this series, for now all you need to know is that the notes with the / in them are the same note whether they are sharps or flats (A# and Bb are the same note, C# and Db are the same note, etc.). So, why all this fuss about the Chromatic scale and all these sharps and flats? What makes this scale so important is that it pretty much defines the boundaries of Western Music. It gives us all of the notes we use to create songs. It is from this scale that every other scale and chord is derived from. Without the Chromatic Scale, our musical system would be totally different. With that, I will conclude the first installment in my lesson series on scales. Please feel free to ask any questions! Thank you so much for your time, and keep on the look-out for my next installment: All About Scales 2: The Major Scale
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