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Music Theory Course on Chromatic Scale

This Music Theory Course page is part 26 and 27 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory. We will be discussing the chromatic scale, but before we do that we need to understand something called accidentals.

Accidentals are sharps and flats attached to letter names. The three symbols displayed below are the sharp, the flat and the natural.

How does each symbol change the note on that line in order?

Assuming this is a treble staff, the note on the third line is a B. So, in this case the first note is a B sharp. This is a half step above B. The second is a B flat. This is a half step below B. The last note is B natural. There is no change to the note. You use a natural when it is previously thought to be sharp or flat and a natural returns it to natural.


Music Theory Course on Chromatic Scale

There are 8 notes in most scales, however the chromatic scale has all 12 tones, called "semitones" in it. Yes, there are only 12 total notes in western music including the black keys. You go up the chromatic scale by half steps. When you get to the top, they repeat.

The notes in the chromatic scale come from something called the harmonic series or the overtone series. Every note is actually a cluster of frequencies or partials that actually sound above or "over" the tone.

*For more on this see the Overtone Series

If you look at the piano below you see that the black keys have two names. The black note half a step above F is F#(sharp). The note half a step below G is Gb(flat). They are the same note. The term for the same note with different names is ENHARMONIC.

The reason we have enharmonic names is that depending on the key you are in you are dealing with either flats or sharps. They don't mix. This will make sense once we understand something called the Circle of Fifths later in the course.

NOTE: Above you will count 13 notes, but the 13th note here is just C starting over again.

Below are the solfege syllables attached to the chromatic scale as it ascends and descends. I have bolded the notes of a C Major Scale and the corresponding solfege syllables. Notice the other notes in the chromatic scale.

These other syllables are used to make all of the other music scales.

ASCENDING(going up):

DESCENDING(going down):
C---B--Bb-A---Ab-G---Gb-F-- E--Eb--D--Db-(C)


As you learn about keys beyond the key of C in this music theory course, they will begin to have sharps or flats in them because of the WWHWWWH pattern. Let's take a look at the G Major Scale. This will give us our first sharp.

Continue to Part 28, G Major Scale

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