• Who Else Wants To Learn About Chromatic Notes And Scales?

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    You arrived at this page because you want to learn about chromatic notes and scales.

    This is sequel to the previous lesson where we began our discussion on what the term chromatic means. In today’s lesson, we’re going deeper in our study of the term chromatic by exploring the following ideas…

    • Chromatic notes
    • Chromatic scales

    If you’ve always wanted to learn more about any or both of the above mentioned, then this lesson is for you. Without further ado, let’s get started with the first item on the list – chromatic notes.

    Chromatic Notes

    A very good way to start is by defining the term note.

    A note [according to Jermaine Griggs] is a musical sound of a precise pitch.

    There are twelve musical notes (aka – “pitch-classes“):

    A collection of seven notes can either form a natural major or minor key while the remaining five notes…

    If you do the math, 12 musical notes – 7 notes in a key = 5 notes

    ….are considered foreign to the key.

    A collection of seven white notes on the piano from C to B:

    …can imply the key of C major. Alternatively, a collection of white notes from A to A:

    …implies the key of A minor.

    Music scholars classify the notes in the key as diatonic notes and notes that are foreign to the key as chromatic notes.

    Due to the fact that the black notes:

    …(which are C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab, A#/Bb) are foreign to the keys of C major:

    …and A minor:

    …they are to be considered as chromatic notes.

    “Pay Attention To This…”

    There are no fixed chromatic notes. A note can only be considered to be chromatic if it is foreign to a given key.

    The note C:

    …is a diatonic note in the keys of C:

    …F:

    …Bb:

    …Eb:

    …Ab:

    …etc.

    However, in the key of D:

    …where the seventh scale tone is C#:

    …the C note:

    …is considered to be chromatic because it is foreign to the key of D major.

    Chromatic Notes As Variants Of Diatonic Notes

    In a nutshell, chromatic notes are variants of any given diatonic note. Let me use the key of Eb to illustrate this…

    Ab:

    …which is the fourth tone of the Eb major scale:

    …is a diatonic note. Hence, every other variant of “A” would be foreign to the key of Eb major, and would be considered as chromatic notes. Chromatic variants of Ab include A:

    …and A#:

    …and any other variant of A (like A## and Abb.)

    “Here’s A Chromatic Note Quiz?”

    Quiz: Given the note D in the key of G major, what are the possible chromatic notes?

    Answer: D#, Db, D##, and Dbb.

    Proof: In the key of G major:

    …D:

    …is the fifth scale tone, therefore, any other variant of “D” is chromatic and that includes (but is not limited to) Db:

    …and D#:

    I’m sure that was quite clear enough for you to understand. We shall now proceed to chromatic scales.

    Chromatic Scales

    Before talking about what chromatic scales are, let’s look closely at the term¬†chromatic scale. The term chromatic scale refers to a scale formed by the regular succession of notes in half steps.

    Starting from C:

    …and ascending in half steps to C#:

    …D:

    …D#:

    …E:

    …F:

    …F#:

    …until C is reached:

    …produces the chromatic scale.

    There’s just one chromatic scale and it is foreign to all twenty-four keys (12 major keys and 12 minor keys add up to 24 keys in all.)

    Due to the fact that the chromatic scale is built entirely of half steps and also because all twelve notes are scale tones, it’s NOT proper to say “the chromatic scale in the key of C”, one should rather say “the C chromatic scale.”

    Starting the chromatic scale from C to C:

    …does not make it a chromatic scale in the key of C, because the C chromatic scale has several notes that are foreign to the keys of C major:

    …and C minor:

    It’s possible to start the chromatic scale on any of the twelve notes on the piano. However,¬† it is important to note that it’s still the same scale. For example, the C chromatic scale:

    …is identical with the C# chromatic scale:

    …and any other chromatic scale on the piano.

    Chromatic Scales – The Harmonic And Melodic Minor Scales

    Beyond the long-established chromatic scale:

    …there’s another perspective to what a chromatic scale is.

    There are two key types (aka – “tonalities“) – the major and minor key and every key type has its traditional scale. The traditional scale of the major key is the natural major scale, while that of the minor key is the natural minor scale.

    The natural minor scale (of the minor key) has two chromatic variants – the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

    The harmonic minor scale is formed by replacing the seventh degree of the natural minor scale with its chromatic variant. For example, replacing the seventh tone of the A natural minor scale:

    …which is G:

    …with its chromatic variant (which is G#):

    …produces the A harmonic minor scale:

    The melodic minor scale is formed by replacing the sixth and seventh degrees of the natural minor scale with their chromatic variants. For example, replacing the sixth and seventh tone of the A natural minor scale:

    …which are F and G:

    …with their chromatic variants (which are F# and G# respectively):

    …produces the A melodic minor scale:

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Although the melodic and harmonic minor scales are not to be called the chromatic scale, they can be classified as chromatic scales because they have notes that are foreign to the key.

    Other scales like the blues scale, whole-tone scale, octatonic scale, and so on can all be classified as chromatic scales because of the foreign notes in their design.

    Final Words

    Getting to this point in this lesson has made me to know that you’re interested in learning more about chromatic concepts. We’ve succeeded in expounding on chromatic notes and scales in this lesson. Hopefully, in the next lesson we’ll be exploring chromatic intervals, chords, and chord progressions.

    “One More Thing…”

    It’s either diatonic or chromatic – it can’t be both.

    Thanks for your time and I’ll see you in the next lesson.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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