UD #40 Chromatic Walk in the Park (A Foundation in Music Theory)
from Ukulele in the Dark w/ Guido Heistek
Today I want to talk about something that is incredibly useful when building a mental model for music. It’s called the chromatic scale. And in many ways it is the basis for all theory in music.
Knowing the chromatic scale forwards and backwards really helps with learning scales, transposing, using moveable chords and more.
THE SPACING OF THE NOTES IN MUSIC:
A few lessons ago we talked about the C major scale up one string.
If you take a look at the spacing of the notes in the C major scale on one string you notice something very interesting. Here it is in tab:
C D E F G A B C
You’ll notice that between most of the notes we skip a fret. When we go from open C to D we skip the first fret and go to the second fret. Same for D to E.
You may also notice that the B and C notes are right next to each other. The E and F notes are also right next to each other. We don’t skip a fret between these notes. They are neighbors. This is critical in understanding the spacing of the notes in music and for navigating the chromatic scale.
STEP ONE IN CHROMATIC WALKING:
I’ve devised a little activity to help students get a feeling for the unique spacing of the notes and music. I call it chromatic walking. The first step is to take a walk from the C-note to C-note in the C-major scale. When we walk we take a step for each note. When we step between the C and D notes we take a whole step. When we step between the E and F notes or B and C notes we take a little half step. We can walk the scale forwards or backwards. And we can walk the C-major scale starting on any note. In the videos below I start the scale on the C note but I also start the scale on an A note. Please try starting the scale on any of the notes but be sure to get the spacing right. Be sure to take only a half step between the notes E and F as well as B and C. Take whole steps between all the other notes. Go slow at first and then increase speed. This will help you get a real solid feel for the spacing of notes in music. Try this with a friend or teacher, too. It can be a lot of fun. Here are some videos of me doing STEP 1 of chromatic walking.
Here is the major scale C to C have a nice walk!
Here’s Walking A to A:
STEP TWO IN CHROMATIC WALKING:
What about those spaces between notes?
There is no note between E and F. And there’s no note between B and C. E and F and B and C live right next to each other.
All the other notes C and D, F and G etc. are not right next to each other. They have notes in between. The note between C and D can be called either C-sharp (C#) or D-flat (Db). The note between F and G can be called either F sharp (F#) or G flat (Gb).
When we fill in the spaces between all the notes in the C major scale we get a chromatic scale. We usually use sharps on the way up and flats on the way down.
Here it is a chromatic scale written out in letters and tab:
C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C
C, B, Bb,A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C
The chromatic scale is the landscape on which all music theory plays out.
Here is a cool illustration of the chromatic scale in a circle:
Getting a strong sense of the chromatic scale before you start discussing music theory is a huge help. I have a feeling that for many students music theory ideas have nowhere to “land” because the students don’t have a good sense of the chromatic scale.
Let’s go back to our chromatic walking. Here are videos for the second step in chromatic walking which is doing the full chromatic scale. In the video I do the chromatic scale starting on C going up and going down. I also do the chromatic scale starting on A going up and going down. You can practice it starting on any note. Take your time with this. Have fun with it. Do it without buddy. You can monitor each other. That also adds to the fun. Here is the video. Have fun giving this a try on your own.
WHY THE CHROMATIC SCALE?
Here is a list of things that knowing the chromatic scale can help you with in your playing. Each of these items is really a newsletter of its own so I won’t be able to go into detail. I’ll talk more about it in the next newsletter.
1. Movable chord shapes
Example: How many frets up the neck do I need to move a C chord for it to become an F chord?
Example: What are the notes in an E major scale?
Example: Why is the IV Chord in the key of F a Bb chord? Why isn’t it a B chord?
4. Learning the fretboard of your ukulele.
Example: What note is on the 4th fret of the E string?
Answers in the next newsletter.
I hope you enjoyed this week’s newsletter. Go for a walk!
All the best,