Chromatic scale

Chromatic scale
Chromatic scale
Number of pitch classes 12

The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the half steps are the same size. An equal tempered chromatic scale is a nondiatonic scale having no tonic because of the symmetry of its equally spaced tones.[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
A 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).

Nonwestern cultures

  • The ancient Chinese chromatic scale is called Shi Er Lü. 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.

See also


  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 9780521058025.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Chromatic scale — Chromatic Chro*mat ic, a. [L. chromaticus, Gr. ?, suited for color, fr. ?, ?, color; akin to ? color, ? skin, color of the skin.] 1. Relating to color, or to colors. [1913 Webster] 2. (Mus.) Proceeding by the smaller intervals (half steps or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • chromatic scale — n. a musical scale made up of thirteen tones succeeding by half steps …   English World dictionary

  • chromatic scale — noun a 12 note scale including all the semitones of the octave • Hypernyms: ↑scale, ↑musical scale * * * noun : any musical sequence of half steps : all the notes, in series, possible to a keyboard or wind instrument with fixed tempered intervals …   Useful english dictionary

  • chromatic scale — chromat′ic scale′ n. mad a musical scale progressing by semitones …   From formal English to slang

  • chromatic scale — noun Date: circa 1789 a musical scale consisting entirely of half steps …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • chromatic scale — Music. a scale progressing entirely by semitones. [1780 90] * * * …   Universalium

  • chromatic scale — noun A scale including all twelve semitones in an octave …   Wiktionary

  • chromatic scale — musical scale made up of half steps …   English contemporary dictionary

  • chromatic scale — /krəˌmætɪk ˈskeɪl/ (say kruh.matik skayl) noun Music a scale progressing entirely by semitones …  

  • Von Luschan's chromatic scale — is a method of classifying skin color. It is also called the von Luschan scale or von Luschan s scale. It is named after its inventor, Felix von Luschan. The equipment consists of 36 opaque glass tiles which were compared to the subject s skin,… …   Wikipedia

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