The Chromatic Scale

Playing all 12 semitones between any two octaves makes up a chromatic scale. The chromatic scale is named for the note which starts and ends it. For example, a "C" chromatic scale is all the notes (all the frets on a guitar or all the white and black keys on a piano) between any two C's.

Chromatic Scale

As you can see in the C Chromatic Scale, 5 of the 12 semitones have sharps next to them. These are called accidentals. Accidentals are notes that are sharper or flatter (higher or lower) than the note next to them.

The accidentals in the C chromatic are C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#.

These "sharp" accidentals can also be called by their "flat" names: Db, Eb, Gb, Ab, and Bb. That is to say, C# and Db are enharmonic. They are the same note with different names:
C# = Db
D# = Eb
F# = Gb
G# = Ab
A# = Bb

Chromatic Scale with Flats


The chromatic scale can start on any note. For example, if we started on F# and go up to the next F#, playing all the notes in between, we have the "F# chromatic scale."

F# Chromatic Scale

A lot of times, musicians will talk about scales with their interval numbers (or scale numbers) rather than their notes. So they will talk about the C Chromatic as
1-m2-2-m3-3-4-m5-5-m6-6-m7-7-8
Instead of
C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B-C.

The reason is that the numbers will be the same no matter which note you start on. So F# chromatic is still comprised of these interval numbers: 1-m2-2-m3-3-4-m5-5-m6-6-m7-7-8. It's just that 1 is F# instead of C in this case. Likewise, a chromatic scale starting on G or Bb or any other note will result in the same interval numbers.

There will be more info on this later.

Playing the Chromatic

There are four different ways to play any scale on the pedal steel guitar, including the chromatic.

These are:
1. Horizontally (across the neck from left to right)
2. Vertically without pedals (across the neck from a low string to a high string)
3. Vertically with pedals
4. Moving in Phrases (Tetrachords)

Horizontal Movement

Example of the horizontal movement:

Chromatic Horizontal Diagram

Here is the sheet music for the horizontal chromatic. Remember, the big boxed number tells you the fret your bar is at. The little numbers tell you what string and pedal/lever to use. ( CLICK HERE for the SPECIAL MARKINGS I use to write sheet music for the steel guitar. And CLICK HERE to see the COPEDENT. )

Chromatic Scale Notation 1

Vertical Movement Without Pedals

Example of the vertical movement in two different positions:

Chromatic Vertical Diagram

These are the same notes just played at two different locations on the neck. The first pattern is centered around bar Position 3. The second pattern is centered around Position 8.

Play these patterns without pedals or levers first.

Here is the notation near Position 3:

Chromatic Horizontal Scale Notation 1

And here is the notation near Position 8

Chromatic Horizontal Scale Notation 2

Remember, the 2nd string is struck before the 4th string at each position.

Notice that there is an aweful lot of bar movement required to make the chromatic scale vertically without pedals. In the the days before pedals were added to the steel guitar, this is the way scales like this had to be played.

Vertical Movement With Pedals

Because we have pedals on the steel guitar now, the pedals can be used instead of bar movement. This allows for faster and more accurate scale movement.

So let's try them with pedals. Here is Position 3 next to the bar copedent to help you find the right pedals to use:

Chromatic Vertical Diagram at 3

Here is the notation at Position 3:

Chromatic Vertical Scale Notation 1


Here are the diagrams of the notes and pedals of the chromatic at fret 8:

Chromatic Vertical Diagram at 8

And here is the notation at Position 8:

Chromatic Vertical Scale Notation at 8

You'll see that the bar does not have to move at all during the entire scale. Obviously, if you are playing on a student model, you will have to move the bar to acquire some notes. But for the most part, using any pedals/levers at all will simplify vertical scale playing.

These two patterns are movable. They work at any bar position. Once you memorize these patterns, you can play the chromatic scale from any note.

Moving in Phrases

You may notice that the chromatic scale is not very easy to play because of all the pedal movement. There is another, quicker, way to play scales, which I call "moving in phrases." This topic is addressed in a separate lesson called "tetrachords" at the end of the section on scales. But for now we are going to focus on our 2 primary positions.

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