Simple Theory At Your Fingertips: The Chromatic Scale

This week I’d like to introduce my favorite scale – the chromatic scale.  This is a very unique yet simple scale.  There is no ‘key’, as the chromatic scale is EVERY NOTE!  Whoa!!! This scale is a great way to add new sounds to your arsenal as well as a great warm up.  Although there is no ‘key’ per say, we will be playing with it in the 5th position (starting on the 5th fret).

Warm Up Those Fingers







I recommend using the ‘one finger per fret’ approach, we will use the first finger on the 5th fret, the second finger on the 6th, third finger on the 7th, and pinky on the 8th.  This will improve our ‘economy of motion’ so we work smarter not harder.  As a warm up exercise, play the above scale with alternate picking (up down up down).  There are two ways to alternate pick, starting with an UP-STROKE, and starting with a DOWN-STROKE.  Practice both.  You can also practice using all UP-STROKES and all DOWN-STROKES.

When you get to the end of this scale, play your way back down to the beginning.  As with all practice, we are looking for precision over speed – play at a tempo where you can CLEANLY and smoothly play all the notes, THEN slowly increase your tempo.  Some may prefer to practice to a metronome, click track or drum machine.  Keep a journal of what BPM/tempo you are working on.

Ok, now that we’ve warmed up, let’s pop this bad boy into a scale!  Here is the ‘A’ Minor Pentatonic Scale:

A Minor Pentatonic Scale







A Minor Pentatonic Scale with Chromatics







Using the same fingering (one finger per fret) and alternate picking, play this against your favorite ‘Blues in A’ to hear how these chromatic notes (now used as PASSING NOTES) fill in the spaces and give a sense of movement to the scale.

You can also play this scale with lots of HAMMER-ONs.  Try plucking each string only one time, and HAMMERING-ON the rest of the notes to give it a smoother feel.  When coming down the scale from the ‘high E’ string, we use PULL-OFFs, the same technique as HAMER-ONs, just in reverse.  For fun/practice you can try using HAMMER-ON’s every other string, alterate picking in between, and coming down the scale, alternate between PULL-OFFs and picking every other string.  The idea is to make your fingers do NEW things – breaking out of old patterns as well as learning new sounds and places to play!  Next week we will incorporate a few of these techniques into single riff examples.  Until then, play hard!!!

Andy Bukstein is a staff writer for SMG. A consistent exception to all the rules, Andy is living proof that not every great guitarist gets paid and laid. Alongside a passion for music, Andy moved to LA in April 2010 to pursue a career in writing sketch comedy, allowing his failures to become grist for the comedy mill. Email

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