HERE’S A SIMPLE WAY TO
“chromaticize” diatonic scales. Take the
familiar three-note-per-string C major scale
in Ex. 1a, and add a fourth note to each string.
The resulting scale, though filled with half-
steps, still retains a major tonality, so we’ll
call it C chromatic major [Ex. 1b].
A closer look at Ex. 1a reveals that in the
major scale, each group of three adjacent
notes forms one of three different interval-
lic shapes (going up from the first note):
whole-step/whole-step (bar 1, beat one),
whole-step/half-step (bar 2, beat one), and
half-step/whole-step (bar 1, beat three).
To convert these three-note diatonic
shapes into four-note chromaticized shapes,
use the following formula. For the whole-
step/whole-step, and the half-step/whole-
step shapes, add a note between the second
and third notes. For the whole-step/half-step shape, add a note between the first and
This formula applies not only to the
major scale and its related modes, but also
to the melodic minor scale (and its related
modes) and—with a few exceptions—to the
harmonic minor scale (and, you guessed
it, its related modes).
Examples 1a and 1b can be played
legato (as written) or picked, whichever
you prefer. Please bear in mind that these
examples, though quite useful, are merely
an introduction to this idea of chromati-
cization. Ex. 1b will help you get the pat-
terns under your fingers and can serve as
a great warm-up exercise. It’s up to you to
mix up the groupings and turn them into
musical phrases. Applications of this con-
cept are limited only by your fingers, fret-
board knowledge, ears, and imagination.