Chromatic Scale and Chromaticism

The chromatic scale is a scale formed by the sequence: semitone-semitone-semitone-semitone. etc. That’s right, all notes have a range of one semitone. Therefore, we can conclude that this scale has 12 notes (all 12 notes available for Western music!). Check out the C chromatic scale below:

C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B

Shape of the C chromatic scale:

the chromatic scale


Due to this peculiar characteristic, it has become common to use the term “chromaticism” to refer to notes separated by a semitone. For example, if a particular solo has the D, D# and E notes played in sequence, it is said that this section has chromaticism.

Chromatic scale application

In practice, in musical contexts, the chromatic scale is not usually used to its full extent. What is usually used are small sections of chromaticism.

The chromatic effect is very interesting and explored by musicians of different styles. The sound result produced creates a sensation of passing notes. Even though some notes are outside the key of the song, when played quickly within a chromaticism these notes are “forgiven” by our ears, after all we feel as if they were passing notes, steps of a ladder that is going somewhere.

For now, we will be left with this introductory concept of chromaticism, because explaining the applications in detail would be exhaustive. Instead, we chose to present the use of chromaticism within each specific context. You will see chromaticism here on Simplifying Theory within the studies of Diminished Chords, Target Notes, SubV7, Bebop Jazz, among others. From now on, chromaticism will become part of your musical baggage. Its importance will become more evident with each new application.

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