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3/7/2016

Theory Basics: 12 Chromatic Tones

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TheoryBasics:12ChromaticTones
byConradAlbrecht

Next:ChordPatterns:DiatonicChords
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Iwantedtoexplainacommonsetofchordscalledthe
diatonicchords.Buttounderstandthediatonicchords,
youfirstneedtounderstandscalesandtounderstandscales,youfirstneedtounderstandthe12
chromatictonesourmusicisbasedon.Sothisarticlewillexplainthebasictheoryofpitchesinourmusic,
includingthe12chromatictones.

TheChromaticScale
Eachnoteinapieceofmusichasapitch.Thepitchishow"high"or"low"thenotesounds.
Betweenthelowestaudiblebasspitchandthehighestaudibletreblepitch,therearethousands
ofpossiblepitches.
However,ourmusicdoesn'tuseallofthesepossiblepitches.Pitchesthataretooclosetogether
sound"outoftune"tous,soourmusicdoesn'tusethemandwedon'thavenamesforthem.
Thepitchesthatweactuallyuseandgivenamestoareaseriesofpitchescalledthechromatic
scale:
Thepitchesinthechromaticscaleareallthesamepitchdistanceapart.Thatparticularpitch
distanceiscalledahalfstep(or,inBritain,semitone).So,thesmallestpitchdistance
betweenanytwonotesinourmusicisthehalfstep.
Betweenthehighestandlowestpitcheswecanhear,there'sroomforabout100halfsteps.
So,allofthepitchesinourmusiccomefromthischromaticscaleofabout100different
pitches.
The"chromaticladder"ontheleftshowsa
sectionofthechromaticscale.Clicksome
neighboringboxesintheladdertohearwhat
thehalfstepdistancesoundslike.

LetterPitches
Weuseletterstonamesomeofthe
pitches.Ontherightisthatchromatic
laddersectionagain,showingthe
letternamedpitches.Notice:
OnlythelettersAthroughGare
usedthenwestartoverwithA
again.Thispatternrepeatsallthe
wayupanddownthechromatic
scale.Sothereareactuallyabout8
differentA's(rangingfromaverylow
bassAallthewayuptoaveryhigh
trebleA)about8differentB'sand
soon.
Someoftheletterpairs(BCandEF)are
justonehalfstepaparttheotherletterpairs
aretwohalfsteps(awholestep)apart.
Whydoweusethesameletteroverand
overfordifferentpitches?Becausetoour
ears,ahigherC(forexample)soundslike"the
samenote,buthigher"asalowerC.
TryplayingtwodifferentC's(orD's,etc.)in
thechromaticladdertohearhowtheysound
"thesame,butdifferent".
http://www.drawmusic.com/HowToWrite/007Chromatic/

Pitchladderdoesn'tplay?
ThepitchladderworksinInternetExploreronly.
Thepitchladderplaysnotesonyourcomputer'sbuiltin
synthesizer.So,thesynthesizervolumemustbeturned
upinyourWindowsvolumecontrols.

A
G
F
E
D
C
B
A
G
F
E

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3/7/2016

Theory Basics: 12 Chromatic Tones

Thedistancefromonepitchtothenextpitch
withthesamename(e.g.fromanFtothenext
higherF)iscalledanoctave.Ifyoucountthe
halfstepsinthechromaticladderfromoneFto
thenextF,youcanseethatoneoctaveequals
12halfsteps.

D
C
B

A
Often,whenwediscussthenotesinascaleor
chord,wedon'tcarewhichoctavethenotes
arein,becausetheyhaveasimilareffectregardlessoftheiroctave.Sowecansay,forexample,"theC
majorchordcontainsthenotesCEG"withoutworryingaboutwhichC,E,orGwemean.

SharpsandFlats

A
G#Ab
G
F#Gb
F
E
D#Eb
D
C#Db
C
B

Westillneednamesforthepitchesinbetweentheletterpitches,forexamplethepitch
betweenGandA.Thesepitchesdon'tgettheirownlettertonamethem,weuseaneighboring
letterplusthesharp(#)orflat(b)symbols.Thesharp(#)makesapitchahalfstep
highertheflat(b)makesitahalfsteplower.
Forexample,thepitchbetweenGandAcanbecalledeitherG#("Gsharp")orAb("Aflat").By
eithername,itsoundsthesame.Sometimesoneofthenamesispreferredovertheotherfor
musictheoryreasons,butwewon'tworryaboutthatyet.
Ontheleftisourchromaticladdersectionagain,finallywithallthepitchnamesfilledin.

Conclusion:12ChromaticTones
Whenwetalkaboutthenotesinascaleorchord,weusuallydon'tcarewhichoctavethey'rein.
Andifweignorethedifferentoctaves,thereareonly12chromatictones:

A#Bb

G#/Ab
G#Ab
G G
F#Gb
F#/Gb
F
F
E
D#Eb
D

A#/Bb
B
C
C#/Db

D
D#/Eb

C#Db
C

Thesearethe12toneswhichwechoosefromtomakescalesandchords.

B
A#Bb

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20042016ConradAlbrecht.Allrightsreserved.

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