An Introduction to the Chromatic Scale Piano

How do you climb to the top of a super tall piano?

You scale it!

A piano scale is a lot like a set of directions telling you how to find a location. Scales are collections of notes that are grouped together through music theory [1]. When you learn a scale you build a foundation for how to navigate the piano.

In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about the chromatic scale piano and how to play it. And if you missed our explanation about the pentatonic scale take a pick on it.

What Is a Chromatic Scale Piano?

You’ll be happy to know chromatic musical scales are considered to be the easiest to master.

Chromaticism refers to the distance you are moving from key to key. Instead of whole steps, you are talking half steps, the distance of a semitone. Normally a song will only have parts of chromaticism to give the music a particular feel.

Popular songs like, “Flight of the Bumblebee” or Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” use a chromatic approach [2]. The notes slowly creep up as you play every key without skipping any.

As you listen to a chromatic piece of a song, every passing note is like a small step up a musical flight of stairs.

What’s an Octave?

Every scale is a set of musical notes arranged in ascending or descending order. The majority of classical western music has scales built around octaves. Octaves are 8 different notes like, “Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do”.

You can start an octave on any note of the piano. Whatever note you start on creates the name of the scale. If you place your finger on an A and play 8 complete notes to reach the next A, you’ve played an A scale.

Now in music theory, different scales will have different sharps and flats. A chromatic scale is unique because it incorporates every single note, even the half steps.

You will have the “Do, Re, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do” and every interval in between.

Why Use a Chromatic Scale?

Atonal music is created when you use a chromatic scale. Meaning listeners will notice the tones aren’t musically perfect or harmonious. The strange tonality of chromaticism is most appealing in fast parts of the song.

Other than creating unique sounds, the chromatic scale will help you practice your technique. When you play the piano you move a lot of body parts [3]. Playing the piano is a real workout because you move your:

  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Wrists
  • Fingers

Building up your finger muscles will help you more smoothly and elegantly. The weird finger placement used in a chromatic scale goes great with a fast tempo. You’ll be strengthening your muscles while also teaching yourself music theory.

How to Practice

The twelve tones in the C chromatic scale piano are:

  • C
  • C#
  • D
  • D#
  • E
  • F
  • F#
  • G
  • G#
  • A
  • A#

To practice place your finger on middle c on the piano. Move up in half-step intervals until you’ve gone reached B. Say the names of the notes out loud while you play them on the piano.

You just played the entire C chromatic scale, good job! When you can play the scale smoothly forward, try to play it backward. Continue to verbalize each note name when you play it on your piano or keyboard.

Once you’re really comfortable with C you can move to any other white key. Try starting on A and name every key until you’ve reached G #. Now you’ve learned 2 different chromatic scales.

Finger Numbers

Next, you’ll want to start to only practice using the correct fingering. But before you can you have to know your finger numbers. When you play the piano each of your fingers has a specific number.

Every finger is either a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. On your left hand the finger numbers are:

  • 5 Pinky
  • 4 Ring
  • 3 Middle
  • 2 Pointer
  • 1 Thumb

On your right hand, the finger numbers are the same. While it may sound easy it’s easy to get finger numbers all mixed up. You can avoid confusion with a little bit of practice.

Take a few minutes to move each finger on your left hand individually. While you move each finger say the correct finger number allowed. Next, do the same thing with your right hand and go backward and forwards.

Combine both hands counting each finger out loud forward and backward. It should sound like, ” LH 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 RH 1, 2, 3, 4, 5″ and then do it in reverse.

Learn the Finger Placements

Memorizing how to play any chromatic scale is easy when you understand the theory. You just keep playing every note sequentially until you’ve completed the octave.

However, fingering can be a little bit more tricky. Here are 3 different tips for understanding where you’re fingers should be.

Tip #1

Only play black notes with the #3 finger

Tip #2

Use your thumb on every other white note

Tip #3

Only use your 2nd finger if there are two white keys right next to each other.

Practice Finger Placement

If you’re right-handed first practice with your right hand. First locating the middle c and then place your # 1 finger on it. Now you can begin to practice your finger placement on the C chromatic scale.

You already know the next note will be the closest one up from C. Follow the three tips to determine what finger will play the very next note (C#). For the C chromatic scale, you will use the right-hand fingering of 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 3, 1, 3, 1, 2.

You can fluently move up the keys if you tuck your thumb (#1) under your 3rd finger. You will enjoy the sound you make as you quickly climb up and down the scale. I really recommend that you learn all about the minor chords and little by little you will be a bright musician.

Discover More Practice Techniques

Now you know the ins and outs of playing a chromatic scale piano.
Music Advisor is excited to help learn everything you want to know about music.

Check out our blog with music related articles or take a minute to look over our buyer’s guide. Use our site as your #1 resource to answer all of your musical questions.

Stephanie Su
 

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

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