If you aren’t very good with scales (and let’s face it, there are a ton of us who couldn’t memorize scales to save our lives), there is always one scale that you are sure to memorize; the chromatic scale.
This is a scale that, unlike the other scales used in modern music today, involves only half steps and covers the entire neck of the bass guitar. Yes, you’ve heard that right; there is a scale that covers absolutely every single note on the bass guitar neck, from the open low E to the twenty-fourth fret high E.
The chromatic scale is commonly used in classical music (if you’ve ever heard the classic carnival theme, you’ve heard the chromatic scale at work) and jazz music, but is also being used in styles such as blues, country, heavy metal, and hard rock. You can also use these scales for improvising on the bass guitar.
In this article, we will discuss the basics of chromatic scales in bass guitar playing so that you can get a start on playing these awesome, simple scales.
Alright, so first things first; how do you use chromatic notes? Well, the answer isn’t very simple. There is a lot of debate is to whether or not chromatic notes must be, when used, as leading notes. In this case, to simplify things, we are going to talk about the chromatic scale as its own creation and not worry about the technical aspects of the scale.
As we said before, the chromatic scale is the only scale that follows a half step pattern, meaning that it covers fret after fret after fret over the fret board. This makes it easy to find notes and string them together.
Start off by simply playing the scale up and down the neck, starting on the first fret of the low E string and playing frets one through four, using one finger per fret (index on first, middle on second, ring on third, and pinky on fourth) and then move down each string.
Once you’ve finished the pattern on all four strings, move up one fret and repeat the pattern. This will help you to get used to using all four fingers, which can be a bit difficult at first. It takes a lot of coordination so take your time honing your skill.
Once you have gotten used to playing the chromatic scale, try writing a few riffs using it. One great example of a simple yet effective (and depending on your skill level, maybe even difficult) way to use the chromatic scale to create a great riff is Erotomania by Dream Theater.
The main riff is complete built using the chromatic scale (granted, in an odd time signature, but using it just the same) and is a great guiding tool in terms of execution using this scale.
Your imagination is your limit when using chromatic scales in bass guitar playing. Try writing some simple melodies, then try writing some more difficult ones; anything that will allow you to familiarize yourself with the feel of the scale. Good luck, and have fun!
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