Chromatic Scales – A Simple Yet Potent Guitar Finger Exercise
In this lesson for beginning guitarists, I’m taking a look at the subtleties of one of the simplest finger exercises you can work on the guitar.
Chromatic scales involve positioning the fingers of your fretting hand each over four consecutive frets and then playing first up and then back. From the index finger to the middle, then to the ring and finally to the pinky, you play four notes going up the neck. Once you’ve reached the pinky finger’s note, you then turn around and head back down the neck playing four notes again–pinky, ring, middle, index.
Chromatic scales aren’t meant to sound like sweet beautiful music, but working them slowly and with attention helps you perfect proper finger movements. I should mention–Jamie Andreas covers chromatic scales thoroughly in her seminal book The Principles of Correct Practice for the Guitar (which, if you haven’t, you really should).
In this video, I demonstrate the best way to derive maximum benefit from working chromatic scales, and I once again discuss the invisible aspects of playing guitar that you won’t get off of guitar tabs or from the vast majority of guitar books. Lots of good stuff in this video:
Okay? So as you work chromatic scales, you want to focus on the following specifics of how your fingers move:
1. Keep your fingers close over their respective frets as they wait their turn to play. The closer the better–strive for mere microns. This applies when you’re coming back down and pulling the fingers off as well. It’s particularly challenging to keep the fingers close when you’re lifting them up off the frets. But that’s where you get the most benefit from this chromatic scale workout!
2. Keep your fingers curved. None of this super-tense looking finger stuff. Ugly hands make ugly music.
3. Keep your fingers vertical. When you come down on the individual frets, make sure you come down right on the fingertip and very vertical. The ring and pinky fingers, in particular, don’t naturally come down vertically at first.
4. Keep your fingers relaxed. Continually breathe into any tension that arises in your hand as you work the chromatic scale. Taking your time, going extremely slowly and paying total attention will help you become more aware of any tension spots and then relax them.
This is, of course, just the beginning of how to use chromatic scales to improve your guitar playing. The rabbit hole goes very deep on this exercise, but this is plenty enough to get you started or to help you refocus on what you’re trying to do with chromatic scales in your overall process of becoming a fantastic guitarist.
Any questions? Ask me in the comments!