Chromatic Scale Explained

Care to Share
Chromatic Scale Explained

Welcome to this Guitar Lesson on Understanding the Chromatic Scale.

1. Let’s begin by memorizing the notes of our musical alphabet: A  B  C  D  E  F G

2. Each of these notes also has a relative sharp note, except for notes B & E: A   A#   B   C   C#   D   D#   E   F  F#   G   G#. Remember, notes B & E do not have relative sharp notes.

3. And there we have our 12-note musical alphabet, upon which the music we listen to (in the Western world) is based. Memorizing this musical alphabet will benefit you greatly going forward!

What is a Sharp?

4. A Sharp (#) is simply one note, or fret, higher in pitch on your fretboard.

5. A Chromatic Scale can begin on any note on the fretboard. It simply means playing one note after another, in consecutive order, one fret at a time. For example: let’s begin with the note F#  G   G#   A   A#   B   C   C#   D  D#   E   F

6. Here’s a Chromatic Scale beginning with the open E string: E  F  F#  G   G#   A   A#   B   C   C#   D   D#. Remember, there are no relative sharps for notes B & E. In other words, there’s no such thing as a B# or E#. Having played our 12-note chromatic scale, if we were to continue where we left off, we’d begin again with notes E  F  F#  G  G#  A etc. Starting on any note, in this case E, and moving up 12 notes in pitch, is what we call an octave.

7. Now let’s play a chromatic scale beginning with the random note D: D   D#   E   F  F#  G   G#   A   A#   B   C  and C#. And there we have another one-octave chromatic scale played in the key of D.

What is a Flat?

8. The opposite of sharp is flat. Sharp is one note, or fret, higher in pitch, and Flat is one note, or fret, lower in pitch.

9. A Chromatic Scale can move up in pitch… or down in pitch. To illustrate this, let’s start with the random note A and work our way down (in pitch) along the fretboard. For example, this is A  Ab  G  Gb  F  E  Eb  D  Db  C  B  Bb  and the open A string. So remember: down in pitch is flat, up in pitch is sharp.

10. Now let’s work our way UP in pitch along the fretboard beginning with the Open 5th string, A: A   A#   B  C  C# D  D#  E   F  F#  G  G#. And there we have one octave. Once again, moving up in pitch is sharp and moving down in pitch is flat. 

11. Of the many benefits of knowing the Chromatic Scale, one is being able to identify the name of any note on your fretboard. For example, say you want to know the name of this note played on the 3rd string, 4th fret? What you would do is: starting with your 3rd string played open, G, the next note is G#, then A, A# and the note we’re looking for is B.

Bar Chord Names

12. Understanding the Chromatic Scale will also help you learn names of bar chords played up & down your fretboard. Let’s begin with an F major bar chord beginning on the first fret: F  F#  G  G# A   A#   B  C  C# D  D#   E. Once again you’ll notice there is no B#. Now we’ll repeat the same bar chords, but we’ll only play the 6th string. Using our chromatic scale again, you’ll notice the name of each note shares the same name as each corresponding chord. F  F#  G  G# A   A#  B  C  C# D  D#  and E… our 12th note.

13. Music theory is generally taught on a keyboard because the layout makes it easier to understand. Here’s how a Chromatic Scale is played on a keyboard when beginning with the note A: A   A#  B  C  C# D  D#  E  F  F#  G  and  G#.

14. Having played an ascending Chromatic Scale with Sharps, now we’ll play a descending scale with Flats:  A  Ab  G  Gb  F  E  Eb  D  Db  C  B  Bb. 

15. As you can see, the black keys on a keyboard are the Sharps & Flats. And yes, each black key has two possible names, depending on whether you are moving up in pitch or down. Notice there are no black keys (Sharps or Flats) between notes B & C and E & F. You can also think of each piano key as a fret on a guitar.


16. And there we have it again; our 12-note musical alphabet. Our 12-note chromatic scale is repeated a number of times along the piano keyboard. Each one is called an octave.

17. Understanding the Chromatic Scale will help you in many ways including being able to: (a) Name any note on your fretboard, (b) Remember the names of bar chords and (c) Boost your overall confidence as a musician and more!