Revisiting the Chromatic Scale

by Mitchell Estrin

Date Posted: October 08, 2018

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The chromatic scale may be the single most important scale for a musician to practice. Why, you might ask. The simple answer is that the chromatic scale incorporates every note of tonal music you will ever play.

For younger students, the chromatic scale will often take on importance when beginning to audition for All State, All County, honor bands, and school seating/chair placement. Generally, there are requirements for a specified rhythm, tempo, articulation, and range. Although this levels the playing field for the audition, these specifications will often cause frustration and disappointment. This is especially true for less advanced players who have had minimal experience with the chromatic scale. This in turn will be discouraging for the student, who will then (in most likelihood) despise the scale and put it away until the next audition is announced.

Rather than fall victim to this cycle of inadequacy, it is imperative for all musicians to develop a regular practice routine for the chromatic scale. This, in turn, will pay rich future dividends, not only for auditions, but in all facets of instrumental performance. Standard solo and ensemble literature is filled with chromatic scale passages of varying length, tempo, rhythm, articulation, and range. With a logical plan of action, the chromatic scale can become a good friend and a valuable ally in performance.

Here are 12 suggestions – one for every note of the chromatic scale - for effective chromatic scale practice:

1. Slow Practice

Start slowly. Allow the fingers and muscle memory time to become comfortable with the pattern.

2. Correct Fingerings

Utilize the correct fingerings. Learning the scale incorrectly will slow you down and make future correction difficult. Use alternate fingerings when appropriate.

3. Moderate Range

Begin using a reasonable range. Don’t try to go full range right out of the gate. Gradually add more notes to the scale as your comfort level increases.

4. Start on Different Notes

Vary the notes you begin and end on. Don’t only practice starting and ending on the same notes, as composers can utilize the chromatic scale in a variety of ways.

5. Different Rhythms

Use different rhythmic patterns. If you only practice in groups of 4 notes per beat, this will limit your ability to easily navigate various rhythmic patterns. Practice in groups of 2, 3, 4, 6 and eventually 5 and 7.

6. Consistent Rhythm

Strive for absolute rhythmic precision.

7. Use a Metronome

Always practice with a metronome to insure evenness and to keep track of your speed. Only increase the tempo when execution is flawless.

8. Vary Articulations

Use a variety of articulations. All slurred, all tongued, slur 2 tongue 2, etc. Continually vary.

9. Dynamics

Use a variety of dynamics. All forte, all piano, gradual crescendi and diminuendi, etc.

10. Consistent Sound

Listen to tone quality from note to note and throughout the entire range. Strive for a beautiful sound and consistent timbre in all registers.

11. Interval Accuracy

Listen for interval accuracy. Be certain the distance between every half-step is accurate.

12. A General Tip

Practice the chromatic scale every day!

I hope these 12 tips will help you to become a chromatic scale champion!

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