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What is the chromatic scale and how to learn it?

Learning the chromatic scale is the next step in Montessori style ear training. I assume you did all the preparatory exercises and you alredy have a good knowledge of the C major scale. If not, please do those exercises first.

The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone above or below another. So far, we have been dealing only with the C major scale. If you play the C major scale on a piano, you would only use the white keys. Let’s add the black keys and we have the chromatic scale.

Look at any of the Montessori bells exercises in this post and you will see that the piano keys go – white, black, white, black, white, white, black, white, black, white, black, white, white. That means that some white keys are right next to each other and some are further apart (because there is a black key stuck between them). At this moment just notice that it’s happening.

Please note that you can actually see 13 keys (not 12) altogether. The last white key (the 13th) is the same as the 1st one but sounds an octave higher (so it has the same solfège syllable assigned to it). Similarly, the 14thwould be the same as the 2nd, the 15th would be the same as the 3rd… There are only 12 unique tones in Western music.

Learn the ascending chromatic scale with Montessori bells and solfège system

Strike the first bell in set 1. Then strike the syllables till you find the one with the corresponding sounds. Place the syllable on the keyboard. Repeat till you order all syllables in the correct order. Click the check button to check that you are correct. Please, don’t read any further till you finish this exercise!

As you see, the black key syllables start with the same letter as the previous white key and only differ with having “i” as the second letter. That’s because the black keys are a semitone higher than the previous white key.

Now strike the first bell again and sing the tone in a gentle voice using the syllable “do”. Then strike the first and the second bell singing along “do, di”. Repeat till you can sing the whole scale easily.

Here is another variation. You are going to predict the sound of the next bell. Strike only the first bell and sing “do” followed by singing “di”. Only then strike the second bell to check you sang the correct tone. Then strike “do, di” singing along and sing “re” on your own. Check your pitch by striking the third bell and so on.

When you’re ready, order the mixed bells in the exercise below into the chromatic acending scale without having set 1 for reference.

You can repeat these exercises as many times as you need.

Descending chromatic scale

After you mastered singing and ordering the ascending chromatic scale, try the same exercises with the descending chromatic scale. Strike the first bell in set 1. Then strike the syllables till you find the one with the corresponding sounds. Place the syllable on the keyboard. Repeat till you order all syllables in the correct order. Click the check button to check that you are correct. Please, don’t read any further till you finish this exercise!

Oh no, what’s happening there? The syllables under the black keys are now different! Yes, that’s right. The black keys have different syllables when you play the chromatic scale down. That’s because the black keys are now a semitone lower than the previous white key. For example the same black key is called either “di” or “ra” depending if you raised the “do” tone by a semitone or lowered “re” tone by a semitone.

Now order the descending chromatic scale without a reference.

Learn pitch names in the chromatic scale

If you can sing the chromatic scale using syllables, why don’t you learn the names of the tones? We are going to use the most common Helmholtz Pitch Notation. Please, pick the variation of the exercise below that’s relevant to your country!

Naming convention: English

The black keys have either sharp ♯ (for example C♯ is C sharp) or flat ♭ (for example B♭ is B flat) symbols called accidentals after the letter. Sharps make the tone a semitone higher, flats make it a semitone lower.

Drag and drop the names of the tones under the bells.

The chromatic scale acending
The chromatic scale descending

Naming convention: German (DE, CZ, SK, PL, HU, AT, RS, DK, NO, FI, EE, LV)

If a black key is a semitone higher than the white key, it has a suffix -is (for example cis). If a black key is a semitone lower than the white key, it has a suffix -es (for example des). The exceptions are “es” (instead of “ees”) and “as” (instead of “aes”).

Drag and drop the names of the tones under the bells.

The chromatic scale acending
The chromatic scale descending

Conclusion

We covered a lot in this post. I’d recommend that you go through the exercises repeatedly till you feel comfortable with the chromatic scale ascending as well as descending.

To be able to feel and understand music doesn’t happen overnight but it will happen. Just don’t give up. Practice till you can sing the scale with ease using solfège syllables and that you can name all the tones.

I tried to simplified the theory as much as possible. You want to experience music, not to stuff your head with meaningless theory. We will go into more details in one of the future posts. In the meantime, have fun.

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