1 Thing You Need to Know: Chromatic Scale

Have you ever heard of a chromatic scale? In auditions at the collegiate level (whether freshman or doctoral candidate), the professor will most likely ask the student to play a chromatic scale.

Why is that? Well, you can tell a lot from a chromatic scale, but more importantly, if you can play the chromatic scale well, huge benefits are the results.

In this post, we’re going to share what these benefits are and provide a beginner approach for learning the chromatic scale.

What’s the Chromatic Scale?

This scale is played by using all the notes (in an octave) by half steps. For example, here’s a G chromatic scale (ascending): G G♯ A B♭B C C♯  D E♭E F F♯ G.

For the first time, it will be easier playing on a piano. In this case, you would play every black and white key between the two Gs. Just play them in order and don’t skip any notes.

The Benefits

There are several benefits from learning the chromatic scale. Let’s break these down.

Benefit 1: Technique

When you play the chromatic scale from G to G (1 octave), you’re playing every note there is. Sure, there are different octaves, but on a simple level, this is everything.

When you practice this pattern every day, the saxophone begins to feel more natural, your fingers relax, and you’ll continue to increase how fast you can play the notes.

Playing fast (effectively) is only accomplished with many repetitions with the chromatic scale.

Benefit 2: Tone

Yes, even your tone will improve. As you practice the chromatic scale you’ll begin with a low note and work your way up to a high note, with the same breath.

This trains the embouchure to remain stable as you play up the saxophone. Playing multiple notes in one breath (as well as practicing the notes you don’t always play in beginner music) allows the tone to improve and difficult notes to become easier to play.

Benefit 3: Time

Since you’ll be playing one note after another, there isn’t any variation with rhythm in our exercise. This allows for focus on evenness, and a chance to use the metronome.

When the metronome is used, not only will it help you play faster, but it will help you play with better time.

How To

The process is simple: play the chromatic scale mentioned at the beginning of this post following this pattern:

  1. Set metronome to ♩=60
  2. Begin on G
  3. Change to the next note with each metronome click
  4. Go up to G and back to the G where you began
  5. Play up and down 5-10 times each day

When you are consistent with the scale at this tempo, then try the next tempo marking: ♩=63. Continue this pattern until you reach ♩=80. After that, follow this pattern:

  1. Set metronome to ♩=60
  2. Begin on G
  3. Change to the next note with each metronome click
  4. Go up to G and back to the G where you began
  5. Set metronome to ♩=63, and play the entire scale
  6. Set metronome to ♩=66, and play the entire scale

Continue this pattern until you can’t play any faster (in one practice session). On the next day, go back to ♩=60 and follow the same pattern. Soon you’ll be able to play faster than you thought was possible, which is pretty exciting.

Try it Out

Give this a try and let us know how it went. There are many benefits to the chromatic sale and they can be yours with consistent practice. As always, you can even see benefits in as little as week. Have fun!

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Comments 2

  1. As a long time sax player your on line instructions I appreciate. They are a very good refresher for me. Always good to review the fundamentals. Thank you.

    1. Post

      Hi Rick, thank you for your comments; they are appreciated. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the content and that it’s helpful. If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out!

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