A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Chromatic Scale exercise

So, a few nights ago, I came across an article in No Treble that discussed using the chromatic scale as an exercise. The scale itself is easy: pick a note and play the next 12 notes in sequence. Basically, play every note on the neck in alphabetical order. So, if we did this from the E-string, it would be E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#. We could then play the octave, if so inclined.

There’s probably a pattern that can be used to play it across strings as well. If you analyze the fretboard, you’ll see that moving up strings, the next note in sequence is 5 frets behind wherever you left off. So, the pattern would be diagonal.


Anyway, the exercise is written in standard notation – which I can read a bit now! I noticed something though: there were 2 notes being played at a time, which is called a dyad (its not quite a chord because chords require 3 or more notes to be played together).

I didn’t quite get how to run the exercise, so I asked the TalkBass folks about it, and chungweishan explained what I was missing at 3 AM. One of the notes didn’t change. It was played on an open string as a reference note while we played the chromatic scale on top of it. Basically, we let that note ring while we fret another one on a different string.

Armed with that understanding, I was able to run the exercise. I discovered something cool while doing it – a snippet of one of the bass pieces for Megadeth‘s Countdown to Extinction. It can be played chromatically while using a reference tone. I liked the sound of it a lot, actually.

Here’s a link to the exercise:

Afterward, in the TalkBass thread, mambo4 shared a video with an exercise based on James Jamerson‘s style. I haven’t tried it yet, but here’s the video and a link to it: Igor’s Chromatic Exercise.

Jamerson’s Chromatic Exercise 

Finally, Bob_Ross shared his thoughts about chromaticism as an exercise. He thinks it has little value as a reading exercise, because of how humans chunk information, but might have use as a warm-up exercise and thinks that varying finger patterns could be useful in building finger dexterity and independence – something explored a lot in Bass Fitness, by Josquin des Pres.

Then he shared something that I found interesting. I think either on this blog, or in a comment on Grrl + Guitar, I mentioned a pattern I had stumbled upon a while ago which had a distinctive “gypsy” sound to my ears. I practiced it a bit using triplets when I first came across it. Bob practices it as well and actually said that its the best value he’s found for practicing chromaticism.

Basically, we play an arpeggio, but accompany each note with a chromatic approach note. I’ve only done this with a note leading up to each of the arpeggio notes, not the reverse (starting on an arpeggio note and following with a chromatic) but the end result should be very similar.

It was pretty cool to see that someone else enjoys this sound and exercise – and that its thought of as valuable in the learning process.

I found another use for the original chromatic exercise as well, which I shared with the forumites. Basically, playing a reference tone along with the chromatic scale notes also helps to reinforce the sound of each interval in the scale. This is true for other scales as well – the reference note gives us something concrete to listen to and compare against. It makes the sound of whatever other note we’re playing very distinct.

Later today, if there’s time, I’ll post up an example of the arpeggio exercise. I haven’t run it in a while.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s