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Chromatic scale
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Chromatic scale

The chromatic scale is a musical scale that contains all twelve pitches of the Western tempered scale. All of the other scales in traditional Western music are currently subsets of this scale. Each pitch is separated from its upper and lower neighbors by the interval of one half step, or semitone. In tonal and other music this scale finds little use outside of decorative runs up or down as it has no harmonic direction and is considered cliche.

Gyorgy Ligeti has written a piano etude, Book 1, No. 3: "Touches bloquées" ("Blocked Keys"), which comprises entirely of chromatic eighth note runs, notes, and rhythms, being emphasized over others simply by holding only certain keys while depressing others.

to the chromatic scale, starting on B.

Table of contents
1 Keyboard fingering
2 Terminology and History
3 Chromaticism
4 Source

Keyboard fingering

Here is the standard keyboard fingering for a chromatic scale:

Terminology and History

The Greeks analzyed genera or genus using various terms, including diatonic, enharmonic, and chromatic, the latter being the color between the two other types of modes which were seen as being black and white. The chromatic genus contained a minor third on top and two semitones at the bottom filling in the perfect fourth of the fixed outer strings. However, the closest term used by the Greeks to our modern usage of chromatic is pyknon or the density ("condensation") of chromatic or enharmonic genera.


David Cope (1997) describes three forms of chromaticism: modulation, borrowed chords from secondary keys, and chromatic chords such as sixth chords.

List of chromatic chords:

Other chromatic things: As tonality began to expand during the last half of the nineteenth century, with new combinations of chords, keys and harmonies being tried, the chromatic scale and chromaticism became more widely used, especially in the works of Richard Wagner, such as the opera 'Tristan und Isolde'. Increased chromaticism is often cited as one of the main causes or signs of the "break down" of tonality, in the form of increased importance or use of: As tonal harmony continued to widen and even break down, the chromatic scale became the basis of modern music written using the twelve tone technique, a tone row being a specific ordering or series of the chromatic scale, and later serialism. Though these styles/methods continue to (re)incorporate tonality or tonal elements, often the trends which led to these methods were abandonded, such as modulation.

Susan McClary (1991) argues that chromaticism in operatic and sonata form narratives can often be understood as the "Other", racial, sexual, class or otherwise, to diatonicism's "male" self. Whether through modulation, as to the secondary key area, or other means. For instance, Clement calls the chromaticism in Wagner's Isolde "feminine stink" (Opera, 55-58, from McClary p.185n). However, McClary also points out that the same techniques used in opera to represent madness in women were historically the avante-garde in instrumental music, "In the nineteenth-century symphony, Salome's chromatic daring is what distinguishes truley serious composition of the vanguard from mere cliche-ridden hack work." (p.101)