Bass Scales - Chromatic Scale

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Bass Scales - Chromatic Scale

The chromatic scale is unlike any other bass scale. It consists of all 12 notes of the octave, played in order. You're unlikely to use a chromatic scale in any songs, but playing a chromatic scale is a great way to get familiar with the notes on the bass and get to know the fretboard.

Unlike other scales, there really is no root in a chromatic scale. Since every note is part of it, you can start playing anywhere. Even so, you will still hear people name a note as the root, for example "E chromatic scale." This simply means that you begin and end with that note, even though it holds no special role in the scale.

On the bass, there are several ways you can play a chromatic scale. Let's look at each one.

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Chromatic Scale on One String

This method is not too practical for playing the scale quickly or efficiently, but it is a simple, clear way of looking at the scale and learning the notes on one string. The fretboard diagram above shows an E chromatic scale, but you can play an A, D or G chromatic scale in the same way on the other strings.

Begin by playing the open E string. Then, play the next four notes with each of your four fingers. After that, shift your hand up to play the next four notes, and again for the last four. You've just ascended up a one-octave chromatic scale.

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Chromatic Scale in First Position

If you prefer not to shift your hand around, the best way to play the chromatic scale is in the lowest hand position, called first position (because your first finger is over the first fret). Again, we will play an E chromatic scale as an example.

Begin with the open E string, and play the next four notes with each of your four fingers. Next, play the open A string, and then play the next four notes the same way on that string. Do the same again on the D string, but this time stop at the second fret, an E one octave higher than the open E string.

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Chromatic Scale in Any Position

The previous method takes advantage of the open strings so that you don't ever have to shift positions. If you want to play the chromatic scale higher up on the fretboard, you'll find that you're one finger too short to avoid shifts.

Let's play an E chromatic scale starting with the E at the seventh fret on the A string. Play the E with your first finger, then the next three notes with each subsequent finger. Now, shift your hand back one fret and play the next note on the D string with your first finger (at the sixth fret). Then, shift back up one fret to your original hand position and play the next four notes with each of your four fingers. Repeat on the G string, but stop with your third finger at the ninth fret.