The Chromatic Scale – The Underlying Key to Western Music

The chromatic scale is important due to its very nature. Western music generally has only 12 different pitches. Other music such as Northern Indian Classical and some Middle Eastern music have more. We only need to deal with the 12. A chromatic scale does that. Starting start on any single note, you go up in ½ steps until you reach the octave above where you started. That’s a one octave chromatic scale.

A chromatic scale can be difficult on a bass guitar. The exercises here will lead you up to the point where a chromatic scale isn’t difficult any longer.

Exercise 1 is a standard 1-finger-per-fret exercise. I shy away from non-musical exercises as much as possible, but this one is helpful in getting the finger movement efficient and moving in the basic range needed to play a chromatic scale. Finger movement on this is simple but precise. Step one is to get comfortable with the notes. Do this slowly. Step two is efficient finger movement. Note the fingering is always 1 2 3 4 going up and 4 3 2 1 down. As you begin, place the left hand over the 4 notes on the E string shown. Place the 1st finger down. Leave it down and place the second finger. Once the second finger is down on the 4th fret, move the 1st finger to the 3rd fret of the A string. Once the 3rd finger is down, move the 2nd to the next string, etc. Follow this pattern up and down. Start practicing very slowly, emphasizing efficient finger movement and the proper curl in the fingers to make the movements.

Exercise No. 1

Basic finger movement in the chromatic scale

Exercise 2 is a Chromatic scale in G. This exercise takes the above and puts into a musical example. This is G chromatic scale. There is more finger movement as the chromatic scale is one of the more difficult scales for bass guitar. The 1st four notes on the E string are played 1234. As you place the 4th finger, begin to stretch your other fingers backward in anticipation of the 1st finger being on the 2nd fret of the A string for its first note. Same for the D string but you will shift up for the G note to the 5th fret of the D string. Coming down works essentially backwards – play the G, Gb, F, E sequence, stretching up with the 4th finger to catch the Eb on the A string. Continue the pattern on down. Start this one extremely slowly and work up by 2 beats per minute only when the stretches and finger movements are comfortable.

Exercise No. 2

Exercise 3 is the full version of a Chromatic Scale, up and down the fingerboard by half-steps. This is one of the best dexterity exercises you can do on a bass guitar. It is vitally important to play through these slowly and carefully. Strive for smooth stretches and shifts. Make sure the notes are even. Once you have the exercise up about 90 bpm, start practicing it as a straight connected group of 8th notes. In other words, let the C in measure 19 be an 8th note and continue right on through to Db.  Once the 8th notes are comfortable and clean, go back and do the continuous exercise in 16ths. Once again, very slowly at first, then work up in bpm. It is even more important in the 16ths that the notes be clean and even. Take your time and do it well. This is an exercise that should be practiced every day.

You can download complete pdf of the file here.

This a YouTube video of the three exercises.


About Dwight Mabe

I've playing music since the age of 5...a really, really long time. I've been teaching bass guitar and double bass for over 30 years, writing about music and bass guitar for nearly as long.
This entry was posted in Intermediate, Music Theory, Practice example, Scales, Video and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Chromatic Scale – The Underlying Key to Western Music

  1. Pingback: The Chromatic Scale – The Underlying Key to Western Music | Bass Guitar Instruction Studio

  2. Pingback: What You Wanted To Know About Jazz Guitar Licks | Guitar Lessons and Tips

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