One-Octave Chromatic Scale

What is the Chromatic Scale?

The chromatic scale consists of all 12 notes of the musical alphabet. A one-octave chromatic scale is all 12 notes within a one-octave range.

Chromatic means from one note to the very next, or in half-steps. The chromatic scale is constructed entirely of half-steps — no notes are skipped.

Why Learn the Chromatic Scale?

You probably won’t play this scale a lot outright, but all the other scales and patterns you will learn and play will fit within it. It is much like learning the periodic table of the elements in chemistry or the color wheel in art. You don’t use all of it at once, but in a sense you use it all the time.

Most importantly, learning the chromatic scale will help you understand the way notes are arranged on the fretboard. That is the main reason I am beginning with this scale.

A Note on Finger Positions

Position refers to where on the fretboard your first finger (index finger) is located. Your other fingers should follow one-finger-per-fret from there. (See fretting technique for bass.)

If you are in 1st position your first finger is on the 1st fret, 2nd finger on the 2nd fret, 3rd on the 3rd fret, and 4th on 4th fret.

In third position your first finger plays notes on fret 3, 2nd finger on fret 4, 3rd finger on fret 5, and 4th finger on fret 6.

One-Octave Chromatic Scale Fingering in First Position

Using open strings while in first position makes the chromatic scale easy to play. You play the open string, 1st fret, 2nd fret, 3rd fret, 4th fret, next open string, 1st fret, 2nd fret, and so on…

Play the E chromatic scale as shown in the diagram. Make sure you finger it one-finger-per-fret. Don’t just use one finger!

Ascending the scale, you should play it in this order:
Open E, F, F#, G, G#,
Open A, A#, B, C, C#,
Open D, D#, E,
and then play it in reverse descending the E chromatic scale...


One-Octave Chromatic Scale Fingering in Other Positions

If you're not in first position using open strings, playing the entire chromatic scale in one position requires some shifting. Without open strings, the chromatic scale covers a span of 5 frets. Since you only have 4 fingers to use, you will have to shift one fret up or down at some point. Don’t stretch your fingers — shift your whole hand one fret over and then shift back to your original position. You could hurt your hand stretching beyond four frets.

Play the G chromatic scale as shown in the diagram. Click the play button on the diagrams to see my suggested fingering.

Ascending the scale, you should play it in this order:
G, G#, A, A#, (shift to next string and into 2nd position)
B, (shift back to 3rd position) C, C#, D, D#, (shift to next string and one fret over to 2nd fret)
E, F, F#, G
Play it the same way backwards going back down to G.

You can use this fingering for any chromatic scale starting on any fret. You can even move it up to the next string. (See the C chromatic scale example.)

You should practice it all over the fretboard using this fingering. Don’t concern yourself with playing it fast. Focus on accuracy, a good, clear tone, and smooth shifting.

Why the Chromatic Scale is Important

The main thing I want you to get from learning the chromatic scale is visually seeing the notes of the musical alphabet and how they flow across the strings of the bass. This will aid you in learning all other patterns on the fretboard. The chromatic scale is your entire note palette.

Chromatic Scale Details
Whole-step/half-step construction: H H H H H H H H H H H H
Intervallic construction: Root, m2, M2, m3, M3, P4, A4, P5, m6, M6, m7, M7, P8
C chromatic scale spelling: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C