The chromatic scale is one of the scales that every guitarist has heard of, but that many are unsure how to apply to their playing.
This scale is an effective tool for learning the fretboard while building technique at the same time.
Building chops and fretboard knowledge are the two main reasons why you study this scale, though you can find ways to add it to your solos if you’re creative.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how to build the chromatic scale, how to play chromatic scale shapes, and explore two common chromatic practice patterns for guitar.
What is the Chromatic Scale?
The chromatic scale is a 12-note scale that contains all the possible notes between octaves.
As well, it divides the octave into 12 equal parts, called half-steps or semitones, leaving no space between each note along the way.
For example, if you started C and moved up in half steps until you reach the next C, you would find these notes, which is the chromatic scale.
As you can see, these are all of the possible notes between C and C, filling in the octave completely with no intervals larger than a semitone.
While other scales are applied to your solos, the chromatic scale is used for building technique and learning the fretboard, as it doesn’t have a chord associated with its construction.
Because of this, you use the material in this lesson to build neck knowledge and expand your technique, but you probably won’t use the chromatic scale much in your solos.
One Octave Chromatic Scale Shapes
Now that you know how to build chromatic scales, take this scale to the fretboard as you apply these shapes to your technical studies.
To begin, here are four, one-octave chromatic shapes that you can memorize, work in a variety of keys and tempos with a metronome as you get started with this scale on the guitar. When you can comfortably play these four shapes at a variety of tempos, you can move on to learning larger, two-octave chromatic shapes in your studies.
Two Octave Chromatic Scale Shapes
As well as the one-octave shapes that you just learned, you can also learn two-octave shapes for this scale.
Because of the large number of notes, there are only two common two-octave shapes that you can play comfortably, with others that require shifts and slightly awkward fingerings.
Work these two-octave chromatic scales with a metronome, in as many positions as you can, to feel the technical benefit of working on these longer scales. Once you have these two-octave scales down, apply practice patterns to these shapes, such as the ones in the next section of this lesson.
Chromatic Scale Exercises
Here are two practice patterns that you can apply to any chromatic scales in your practice routine.
When working on these patterns, use a metronome and go slow at first, building up speed when you can play any pattern confidently and smoothly at a slow tempo.
To begin, here’s an ascending pattern shown through a C scale, which you can then take to other fingerings and keys in the your practice routine.
Click to hear chromatic scales 1
As well, here’s a descending version of that pattern to get a full look into how to practice chromatic scales on the fretboard.
Click to hear chromatic scales 2
After you’ve worked out these chromatic patterns, build your own exercises and finger patterns as you expand upon this essential scale in the practice room.