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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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Fri, 30 Jan 2015 10:33:45 -0800

It began the program on a sustained pianissimo E in double-bass harmonics, interrupted by quiet bursts of upper-register percussion jingles and woodwind birdcalls, and then a sudden fff chromatic-scale downslide (I thought of the full-orchestra horse ...


Mon, 26 Jan 2015 09:29:11 -0800

RM: You can always find someone who can trill or play a chromatic scale or some passage faster. It doesn't necessarily mean it's better because it's faster. So many different elements, sound, phrasing the tempo relationship all of those kinds of things ...

Port City Daily

Port City Daily
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 04:45:00 -0800

Students were required to learn numerous scales, multiple octaves, the chromatic scale for their instrument and a full solo selected. Students then performed for a set of judges for ranking against their peers in order to determine who would qualify ...

Blair Enterprise Publishing

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Wed, 21 Jan 2015 09:26:15 -0800

Each student was required to play the chromatic scale and an etude during the audition process. The festival will take place on Saturday, Jan. 31, with a concert presented at 4:30 p.m. on the Wayne State College campus in Wayne, Neb. Besides the junior ...
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Sun, 11 Jan 2015 06:55:20 -0800

Given close attention—if, for example, while listening to detect what improvisation might be occurring—it discloses a subtle and canny skill in the intertwining of voices (note the handling the six-note descending chromatic scale in the second ...

The Kalona News

The Kalona News
Wed, 21 Jan 2015 08:30:00 -0800

All students who auditioned needed to be prepared to play all major scales, chromatic scale, two required etudes, and a solo of their choice. All 500+ students who auditioned hold top chairs in their own bands, and only 100 of them were chosen for SEIBA.


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