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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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Music Theory Made Easy: Why is the Chromatic Scale so Important?

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13 news items

The Times, Trenton - NJ.com
Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:18:45 -0700

Instead, they establish a chromatic scale of timbres that range from dry and tart over clean and zesty all the way to lustrous and singing.” Watkins told Duke University's The Thread that his decision to join the quartet was due to “the extraordinary ...
Fri, 12 Sep 2014 09:29:16 -0700

The generative musical material of such works is known as a tone row—a distinct iteration, painstakingly chosen by the composer, of a succession of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale, no pitch to be repeated before the series has been completely ...
The Straits Times
Thu, 11 Sep 2014 21:01:06 -0700

These were transcriptions of piano pieces from Musica Ricercata, each movement based on a fixed number of notes in a chromatic scale. Rapid reflexes were called for in the first piece, contrasted with the slickness of articulation in the third piece ...

New York Times

New York Times
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 14:24:43 -0700

The tanbur is rare among Eastern instruments (which are usually microtonal) in its use of a chromatic scale. Some of Elahi's instruments, as well as other stringed and wind instruments, are displayed alongside his calligraphic manuscripts, musical ...
Montgomery Advertiser
Sat, 30 Aug 2014 21:30:00 -0700

Audition requirements include participation in the 9:45 a.m. rehearsal, playing two-octave scales with arpeggio (winds and brass will also play a chromatic scale, two octaves), sight-reading and performing a prepared piece. The MYO is sponsored by the ...
Daily Press
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 20:27:21 -0700

Hornsby describes it as an intricate method of composition that uses the dozen notes of the chromatic scale (the white and black notes of the piano, or every fret of the guitar) in a non-repetitive order, while eschewing a consistent "key center" for ...
Santa Fe New Mexican.com
Fri, 22 Aug 2014 03:52:30 -0700

The 12 principal pitches are the notes of the ascending chromatic scale, and the movements are organized in precisely that order, respectively focusing on C, C-sharp, D, and so on up to B. This reflects the chromatic concerns of dozens of 18th- and ...
Sonic State
Thu, 04 Sep 2014 23:22:30 -0700

Korg has introduced the newest of the Rimpitch family: Rimpitch-C. Much like its predecessor Rimpitch, it attaches directly to the sound hole and now features a new chromatic scale. Used for a broad range of tuning, the Rimpitch-C discretely detects ...

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