How to Play Chromatic Scale on Piano

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The chromatic scale is arguably one of the easiest scales to understand, particularly on piano. This is because you simply go from one key to the other without skipping any. This scale consists of 12 notes, each a half step (semitone) apart.

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For instance, let’s say you start on the note C. The C chromatic scale would consist of the notes, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#,A, A# and B. Since you started on C, you can end on C. But these are the 12 notes that make up the scale. As you go down you play the same keys, except that some of the notes would be enharmonic equivalents, which means that they are the same keys with different names. The notes played in descending order can be called C, B, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D,Db and C. Normally, as you go up, some of the notes are sharped and as you go down, some of the notes are flatted.chromatic scale on piano

How about starting on the note, D (for instance)? It’s basically the same thing. All you do is move from one key to the next. Starting on the note D, to form this scale, the 12 notes of the scale are D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C and C#.

The formula for this scale is very simple: All notes are included. In the key of C, you start on C and end on C. In the key of G, you start on G and end on G. And so on.

How about the fingering for this scale? What fingers go on what keys? Let’s find out.

Only three fingers are used to play the scale. They are the thumb (1st finger), index finger (2nd finger) and middle finger (third finger).

How to Play Chromatic Scale on Piano with Right Handchromatic scale piano fingering, right hand

Starting on the note, C, going up the scale, the fingering for the right hand is 1313 123 1313 12. Starting on the note C, going down the scale, the fingering for the right hand is simply reversed. Descending, the fingering is 21 3131 321 3131.

In other words, starting on C, ascending, the 1st finger (or thumb) plays C, 3rd finger plays C#, 1st finger plays D and 3rd plays D#. 1st finger plays E, 2nd plays F and 3rd plays F#. 1st finger plays G, 3rd plays G#, 1st finger plays A and 3rd plays A#. Then 1st finger plays B and 2nd plays C.

Going down the scale, 2nd finger plays C and 1st plays B. 3rd finger plays Bb, 1st plays A, 3rd plays Ab and 1st plays G. 3rd finger plays Gb, 2nd plays F and 1st plays E. 3rd finger plays Eb, 1st plays D, 3rd plays Db and 1st plays C.

When ascending, any time a white key immediately follows another white key, you play it with the second finger. When descending, if a white key follows another, the first one is played with the 2nd finger, while the one to its immediate left is played with 1st finger.

All the black keys are played with the middle (third) finger.

Here’s a video I made which shows how to play this scale with the right and left hand.

How to Play Chromatic Scale on Piano with Left Hand

How about the left hand?chromatic scale piano fingering, left hand

After you have mastered the right hand fairly well, you can move to the left hand. Starting on C, the fingering for the left hand is 1313 213 1313 21, ascending. To go down the scale, you simply reverse the order of numbers. The same fingers play the same keys. So descending, the fingering is 12 3131 312 3131.

Starting on C, the 1st finger (thumb) plays C, 3rd finger plays C#, 1st finger plays D and 3rd finger plays D#. Since we have one white note immediately following another, we use the 2nd finger to play E, 1st finger plays F and 3rd finger plays F#. 1st finger plays G, 3rd finger plays G#, 1st finger plays A, and 3rd finger plays A#. A white note follows another white note once again, so you should use the 2nd finger to play B and 1st finger to play C.

To go down the scale, simply play everything in reverse using the same fingers for the same keys. 1st finger plays C and 2nd finger plays B. 3rd finger plays Bb, 1st finger plays A, 3rd finger plays Ab and 1st plays G. 3rd finger plays Gb, 1st plays F and 2nd plays E. 3rd plays Eb, 1st plays D, 3rd plays Db and 1st plays C.

As is the case with the right hand, for the left hand, all the black keys are played with the middle (third) finger.

chromatic scale, ascending

The chromatic scale, ascending

chromatic scale, descending

The chromatic scale, descending

chromatic scale, ascending

The chromatic scale, ascending

chromatic scale, descending

The chromatic scale, descending

Here’s the chromatic scale, ascending and descending. In terms of the note names that can be used (or enharmonics), these are only examples and can vary.

This scale has no set spelling agreed upon by all. Its spelling is, however, often dependent upon major or minor key signatures and whether the scale is ascending or descending.

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There’s more information on chromatic scales and other scales here.

Go to Beginner Piano Lessons home page.

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