I recently started practicing the piano and started to learn all of the scales and noticed that for some strange reason the chromatic scale on the piano was more easy for me to apply than on the guitar. That got me thinking of how to approach the chromatic scale on the guitar and try to apply it to my playing more.

The chromatic scale is every note C-Db-D-Eb-E-F-Gb-G-Ab-A-Bb-B. Like playing every fret on one guitar string or every white and black key on the keyboard in row. Nothing really special about it, but it has an interesting sound. Acutally "Flight Of The Bumblebee" is almost entirely chromatic, so that can give your ear a guide of what it sounds like. Some guitar players that use the chromatic scale really well are Django Reinhardt, Steve Morse and John Petrucci.

In each example I'll play a two chord vamp (A minor - D major) to actually give a "musical" application of the ideas. It's about music, not licks, so always find a musical application of an idea. I have three ways that I try to apply the chromatic scale.

Playing the entire 12 note scale

This is pretty self explainitory. Django Reinhardt would do this a lot sliding one finger up the string and picking every note. It works very well in this respect, kind of a bridge to get to the note you want. You can also play it 4 notes a string with each of the 4 fingers, like this example. The red notes are the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.


Using chromatic notes in an 7 note modal scale

This one is a little more tricky, this is adding some chromatic notes to the 7 note modal scale. In the case of A minor and D major, those 2 chords would imply the A dorian mode (A-B-C-D-E-F sharp-G). These are the red notes in the example below. So what you can do is just play those 3 notes a string and then where you extra finger lands play that note too. Confused? Well you would play the first notes on this example G (index finger) A (middle finger) B (pinky) if you were only going to play the Dorian scale. Your extra finger, the ring finger ends up over the B flat note, so it is there so just play that note. It isn't a theoretical way of playing the chromatic notes over a 7 note scale, it is strictly a guitar fingering way of playing an extra note wherever that happens. I think John Petrucci has done this.


Using chromatic notes in a 5 note pentatonic scale

The last example uses chromatic notes added to the minor penatonic scale. In this case that would be A pentatonic minor (A-C-D-E-G). If you look you see that the red notes are the notes of the A minor pentatonic scale. I've just added one extra note wherever that physcially happens to be. I only use my index, middle and ring fingers to play this lick. It kind of has a Steve Morse type sound and is a way to throw some shredding chromaticism into a blues type sound.


You might already be familiar with Jimmy Williams' work with Steel Prophet. In 2001 the band released the highly acclaimed album "Book of the Dead" and completed full tours of America and Europe.

Purchase his latest instrumental CD, "Sonic Divergence".

Jimmy Williams

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