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Chromatic scale
Number of pitch classes 12
Chromatic scale drawn as a circle: each note is equidistant from its neighbors, separated by a semitone of the same size.

The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone above or below another. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the semitones are the same size (100 cents). In other words, the notes of an equal-tempered chromatic scale are equally spaced. An equal-tempered chromatic scale is a nondiatonic scale having no tonic because of the symmetry of its equally spaced notes.[1]

Chromatic scale on C: full octave ascending and descending About this sound Play in equal temperament  or About this sound Play in Pythagorean tuning .

The most common conception of the chromatic scale before the 13th century was the Pythagorean chromatic scale. Due to a different tuning technique, the twelve semitones in this scale have two slightly different sizes. Thus, the scale is not perfectly symmetric. Many other tuning systems, developed in the ensuing centuries, share a similar asymmetry. Equally spaced pitches are provided only by equal temperament tuning systems, which are widely used in contemporary music.

The term chromatic derives from the Greek word chroma, meaning color. Chromatic notes are traditionally understood as harmonically inessential embellishments, shadings, or inflections of diatonic notes.


The chromatic scale may be notated in a variety of ways.

Ascending and descending:[1]

Chromatic scale ascending, notated only with sharps.
Chromatic scale descending, notated only with flats.
The harmonic chromatic scale starting on C.
The melodic chromatic scale starting on C.

The chromatic scale has no set spelling agreed upon by all. Its spelling is, however, often dependent upon major or minor key signatures and whether the scale is ascending or descending. The images above, therefore, are only examples of chromatic scale notations. As an abstract theoretical entity (that is, outside a particular musical context), the chromatic scale is usually notated such that no scale degree is used more than twice in succession (for instance G flat - G natural - G sharp).

Non-Western cultures[edit]

  • The ancient Chinese chromatic scale is called Shí-èr-lǜ. However, "it should not be imagined that this gamut ever functioned as a scale, and it is erroneous to refer to the 'Chinese chromatic scale', as some Western writers have done. The series of twelve notes known as the twelve were simply a series of fundamental notes from which scales could be constructed."[2]
  • The Indian solfège, i.e. sargam, makes up the twelve notes of the chromatic scale with respective sharps and flats.

Total chromatic[edit]

The total chromatic (or aggregate[3]) is the set of all twelve pitch classes. An array is a succession of aggregates.[3] See also: Tone row.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p.47. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  2. ^ Needham, Joseph (1962/2004). Science and Civilization in China, Vol. IV: Physics and Physical Technology, p.170-171. ISBN 978-0-521-05802-5.
  3. ^ a b Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism, p.271. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-68200-8 (pbk).

External links[edit]

Recommended Reading[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatic_scale — Please support Wikipedia.
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13 news items

Chicago Tribune
Sat, 12 Apr 2014 07:40:47 -0700

In Freeman's "The Drummer," penned for Purdie, the guitarist's rhythmic surge and dramatically ascending chromatic scale set the stage for Purdie's big-and-brawny solo. Here were two seasoned musicians reminding listeners that hard-hitting, visceral ...
Financial Times
Tue, 08 Apr 2014 06:56:57 -0700

... words, for a 25-minute piece rooted in Greek Orthodoxy and obsessed with the number 12. Referencing both the Christian apostles and the tones of the chromatic scale, it also calls for 12 performers, equally divided between singers and instrumentalists.
Island Gazette
Sun, 06 Apr 2014 20:32:06 -0700

For the auditions, the students were required to learn numerous scales, the chromatic scale for their instrument, and a full solo selected by the state of North Carolina. Each student was then asked to perform for a set of judges for ranking against ...
Meridian Magazine
Tue, 25 Mar 2014 20:51:30 -0700

Likewise, dots on and between lines that are stemmed and flagged could be combined in the chromatic scale to render countless harmonies, rhythms, songs and symphonies. I never cease to be amazed at the endless potential that is contained within the few ...
Lovely County Citizen
Fri, 21 Mar 2014 08:56:15 -0700

The modes relate to 12 meridians, each of which has a specific pitch on the chromatic scale that also correspond to the chakras and organs in the human body. Mayer is a Tama Do practitioner who uses sound, color and essences to facilitate healing. (Photo).
Thu, 27 Mar 2014 12:18:45 -0700

Basically, the fact that I can play a chromatic scale without having two consecutive notes on the same pan coupled with its great range are key reasons why I love the instrument, and why I think it is the best in the family. “Recently, I have taken a ...
Keokuk Gate City Daily
Thu, 27 Mar 2014 09:41:15 -0700

Keokuk High School's Jazz I ensemble warmed up by playing a snazzy sequence of 12 major scales and the chromatic scale. The high school group's set list included “Moanin'” by Charles Mingus; “Isfahan” by Billy Strayhorn, featuring soloist Eric Westby; ...


Thu, 20 Mar 2014 12:55:34 -0700

For the verses, I expanded the pre-existing chromatic scale patterns. Together with Scott's piano and horn arrangement, we managed to create an Eastern tone that was reminiscent of the "exotic orientalism" that was all the rage in the 1920s. To kick up ...

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