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How Are Scales Useful for Guitarists?

By Joseph, published on 30/01/2019 Blog > Music > Guitar > The Guitarists’ Guide to Chromatic Scales

“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” – George Eliot

Almost everyone in the UK enjoys music in one way or another. If you want to become a guitarist, it’s important that you stay up-to-date with the news.

Learning to play guitar is a long process but it’s definitely worth it once you’ve learnt how to play. You’ll soon know everything you need to know about pentatonic scales, riffs, the fretboard, strings, etc. You just need to explore every aspect of the guitar and music theory. There’s no way better than playing the chromatic scale.

What Is a Chromatic Scale?

A chromatic scale is a useful part of learning music theory. While it’s not very melodic, it’s a good one to learn about for when you’re working on your technique and doing various exercises.

How do you play the chromatic scale on guitar? Scales are great for warming up your fingers. (Source: jameslee)

It consists of every note, each separated by a semitone. The notes are all separated by the same interval and it’s impossible to work out the scale’s key. A chromatic scale is, therefore, atonal because it doesn’t matter which key it is in.

A chromatic scale is basically every note until you reach the next octave. The chromatic scale for C is C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C.

Remember that between E and F and B and C there is no semitone. In fact, there is no such thing as E sharp or B sharp. There’s no need to alter any of the notes in this case. There are 12 different notes between each tonic. In reality. You could alter certain notes. For example, instead of a C#, you could have a Db. However, the two are actually exactly the same note.

Find out more about major scales!

What’s the Difference Between a Chromatic Scale and a Diatonic Scale?

The diatonic scale isn’t very often used on the guitar but it is useful for helping you understand music theory.

How do you play scales? Natural notes on a piano are usually white. (Source: b1-foto)

Diatonic comes from the Greek and means “across the tonics”. The diatonic scale includes the 7 natural notes in music: C D E F G A B C.

There is no tonality. You can only play it in one given way. C D E F G A B C. The diatonic scale is also known as C major, which can also be played in other keys. While it’s useful for understanding harmonics, you may quickly forget its name.

The diatonic scale is a part of the chromatic scale. The latter is made of both chromatic and diatonic semitones all at once.

  • A semitone interval between two notes is a chromatic semitone (between D and D#, for example).
  • A semitone interval between two different notes is a diatonic semitone (between G# and A, for example).

Don’t forget that guitarists should also learn about minor scales!

How Do You Play the Chromatic Scale on the Guitar?

The chromatic scale has 12 possible positions. It can be played on an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, or even an electro-acoustic guitar.

How should you practise scales? Play with a metronome and a pick when you practise your scales. (Source: Pexels)

The first thing you should do is play four consecutive notes on the same string. The goal is to repeat this exercise all over the neck. For example:

  • D string: index finger on the 5th fret, middle finger on the 6th fret, ring finger on the 7th fret, pinky on the 8th fret.
  • G string: index finger on the 5th fret, middle finger on the 6th fret, ring finger on the 7th fret, pinky on the 8th fret.
  • B string: index finger on the 5th fret, middle finger on the 6th fret, ring finger on the 7th fret, pinky on the 8th fret.
  • B string: index finger on the 5th fret, middle finger on the 6th fret, ring finger on the 7th fret, pinky on the 8th fret.

You can also do the same exercise on higher frets. Start on the low E string with your index finger on the 4th fret and then work your way up to the high E string. Shift your fingers to a new fret and do it again. Do this until you’re up to the eleventh or twelfth frets. Start off slowly at first and then get faster as you progress.

You’ll soon see that by doing this exercise every day, you’ll make steady progress. Make sure that you don’t start off too far up the fretboard. Practise doing a back and forth motion with the plectrum as well. Each note should last the same amount of time, even when you change strings. You can play with a metronome, too.

Furthermore, each note needs to be played cleanly and correctly. Take your time! It’s better to start off slow rather than make a lot of mistakes by trying to go too quickly.

This exercise allows you to work on your fingering on your left hand and loosening up your fingers as you do. You’ll work on your dexterity, coordination, flexibility, and precision.

The Position of Your Left Hand

While your right-hand positions itself almost naturally by the strings, you need to work on how to position your left hand. You’ll need to bend your wrist and curl your fingers towards the neck. Make sure you press cleanly onto the strings of the guitar with the tips of your finger and not with the entire finger. You should make sure that your nails are cut short.

Keep your fingers as close to the frets as possible, too. If you’re playing the seventh fret, your finger should be closer to the seventh than the sixth. This is the best place to put your finger without directly pressing on the fret itself. Furthermore, you need to make sure that you don’t move your hand back and forth but rather leave it in the same position. It’s your fingers that should move more than your hand. Your hand should stay in position.

It’s a great way to improve your coordination and learn how to play more quickly. Pay particular attention to your left hand.

Finally, keep your fingers pressed down. When you’ve played a note with your index finger, don’t lift off until you’ve played a note with your middle finger. The goal is to improve the strength with which you press down on the frets, especially the pinky, and making the most of the strength in your hand and wrist.

Starting to play the guitar takes a lot of time and effort. This is why it’s recommended that you take at least a few guitar lessons or tutorials before you start teaching yourself. This can help you to avoid picking up bad habits.

Why Use the Chromatic Scale

When you play the guitar, you have to apply all your knowledge and play a variety of different chords. Whether you want to play blues, rock, jazz, or improvise solos, the chromatic scale will help you get to grips with your instrument.

How long does it take to learn guitar? Take care of your hands and your guitar playing will take care of itself. (Source: MichaelGaida)

Warming Up with the Chromatic Scale

Your hand is full of small precise muscles. When you play the guitar, you have to focus on your hands. Like a sportsman, an accomplished guitarist is in complete control of their gestures. Thus, like with all training, you should warm up before you do anything.

Start by stretching your fingers and your wrists:

  • Hold your arm horizontally with your fingers pointing upwards. Gently stretch your fingers back towards your wrist with the other hand for 5 seconds. Don’t force it and breathe softly while you do. Do this warmup three times for each hand.
  • Do the same exercise as before but with your fingers pointing downwards. Do this three times for 5 seconds on each hand.
  • Link your fingers with both hands held together and do around a dozen circles.
  • Finally, stretch your fingers bu placing your thumb in the palm of your hand, close your fingers over your thumb, and stretch gently downwards. Do this exercises three times for five seconds on each hand.

You can now start playing your chromatic scales in groups of three or four notes while paying particular attention to your fingers. The goal isn’t to go as quickly as possible but rather to do it correctly.

The Chromatic Scale as a Technical Exercise

As we saw before, working on chromatic scales is a good technique for learning to play the guitar. Chromatic scales can help you to loosen up your fingers, strengthen them, improve their agility, dexterity, and timing.

If you find the previous exercise too easy, you can always work on your chromatic scales on the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th frets.

Using a Chromatic Scale for Transitions

Since the chromatic scale is atonal, you can use it for transitioning between two scales. Two notes that don’t go together can be transitioned to by using the chromatic scale. This technique is particularly useful when improvising.

Don’t forget to study other scales, too!

Adding More Nuance when Improvising

Beginner guitarists will tend to stick to the scales they know when they’re improvising. Adding a few chromatic and diatonic semitones could vary your playing. Make sure that you play the notes quickly enough to ensure that your improvising still feels harmonious and interesting.

So are you ready to start working on the chromatic scale to enrich your guitar playing?

If you want to learn how to play guitar, you should consider getting a private guitar teacher or tutor. On Superprof, a lot of the tutors offer a free guitar lesson for the first hour so you can see how you get along, discuss your goals as a guitar player, and talk about the various techniques that you’d like to learn.

If you want to focus on fingerpicking, learning to read tablature, playing licks from your favourite songs, or go through the basics such as tuning your guitar, strumming a basic guitar chord, or working on your rhythm, you just need to tell them. Private tutors are there to tailor your lessons to you!


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