Chromatic scale

Chromaticism ( altgr. χρῶμα chroma, color ') referred to in the music, the " change of color " of tone of a diatonic scale by increasing or decreasing ( high or low alteration ) by a semitone. The chromatic variations, for example, to f are F sharp and firm.

Moves one vote between two variations of the same sound ( eg f - fis, fis - f, f - fes ), it is called chromatic progressions in contrast to diatonic (ef or f # g). Externally you can see the difference between a diatonic and chromatic tonal step because, in chromatic steps, the names of the tones involved same, on the other hand have different initials in diatonic steps. ( The only exception: hb is also a chromatic step.)

In the picture you can see note diatonic tone steps in mind that a progression to the adjacent position in the line system takes place, while the position in chromatic steps remains the same.

In the nowadays usual keyboard instruments equal temperament tuning is the difference between chromatic and diatonic progressions only theoretical because all semitones are equal. The difference between chromatic and diatonic exists, so to speak, only in the imagination, which, however, often to a full understanding of musical processes (especially classical music ) can be important. For pure intonation and use of pure moods but also a physically real and measurable difference between chromatic and diatonic steps exist.

Chromatic scale

Through a series of twelve partly diatonic, chromatic semitone partly within an octave gives a chromatic scale (eg: c, cis, d, dis, e, f, F sharp, G, G sharp, etc.):

Sample: Chromatic scale from c: full octave ascending and descending Play / i?

In the notation, it is common the ascending scale with crosses, the record Descending with ♭ - sign. If you were to do otherwise, it would have the disadvantage that the additional benefit would need to use natural sign.

The chromatic scale has no root. It is primarily a material scale, can be obtained from the use of scales by selection. But it can also act directly as a utility scale.

So it is especially often used for example in instrumental music as an element virtuoso drive, which is why the play the chromatic scale to the basic technical training each instrumentalists heard.

In the free tonality and the atonal twelve-tone it occurs as a utility scale to replace the diatonic major and minor scales.

The frequencies of the chromatic scale

The following are the frequencies and frequency ratios of the tones of the chromatic scale are listed and compared with the pure mood. Here, the pitch a ' with 440 Hz is assumed.

Diatonic and chromatic pitches in the score

In contrast to diatonic and chromatic tone steps you can not see from the score if they are diatonic or chromatic scale degrees in each. Here rather the tonal context is crucial. So the sound is f not automatically diatonic, just as fis must be chromatic. In a C major diatonic environment is f ( because it belongs to the diatonic C major scale), and fis chromatic, in a D major environment is diatonic F sharp (as part of the diatonic D major scale) and f chromatic.

Even double high or low tones are not necessarily chromatic. Thus, for example, the diatonic, ie diatonic seventh stage of Gis -Dur fisis. While such extreme cases are rare, since one usually means confusion enharmonic spellings selects simpler, but may well happen, for example, in the modulation joyful Schubert, who likes to " lost your way" into remote keys.

Diatonic and chromatic semitones

Today's most common mood of instruments with inflexible intonation is the gleichstufige dividing the octave into 12 equal semitone. Here, there are between diatonic and chromatic semitones no audible or measurable difference.

In ancient and modern singing schools that propagate a variable with pure intonation intervals, but is distinguished because of their different size between diatonic and chromatic semitone.

Therefore transferred to our grading system applies:

Halftones on adjacent positions in music notation are diatonic semitones in the same position on the staff are chromatic.

Example passage duriusculus. Chords here by W. A. Mozart Misericordias Domini d- MollChromatic (K. 205a ).

Are in the bass

C → h: diatonic

H → b chromatic

B → a diatonic

A → as chromatic

As g → diatonic

The half- tones of the chromatic scale can be defined differently → Summary table of Halbtonvarianten in Article semitone.

If the use of natural, occurring in the overtone intervals provided, the whole tone in different sized steps must be subdivided. Is inserted eg between f and g is a chromatic intermediate ( F # ), then the whole tone fg splits into a chromatic (f- f # ) and a diatonic semitone ( F # -g). The size of these halftones depends on the respective underlying tuning system.


In the Pythagorean the ( 9:8 frequency ratio ) knows only the greater whole tone, this is in a chromatic semitone with the frequency ratio 2187/2048 (equivalent to approximately 114 cents) and a diatonic semitone with the frequency ratio 256/243 (about 90 cents ) divided. The Pythagorean chromatic semitone is also called apotome, the diatonic Limma.

Since the Pythagorean chromatic semitone is the larger than the diatonic, is here, for example, fis higher than postage. At this Intonation based widespread in the 20th century doctrine of the leading tone (for example, F #) is actually higher than intone in the same stage mood.

Just intonation

While the Pythagorean tuning all sounds (including the greater whole tone ) wins only by combining the first two intervals of the overtone series, octave and fifth, the pure atmosphere also oriented towards higher areas of the overtone series and incorporates the fourth ( 4/3) and the pure major third (5/ 4), the higher returns an octave as the interval between the eighth and tenth partials and there is the product of the large ( frequency ratio 9/8) and small whole tone (10 /9) is (9/ 8 * 10/9 = 90/72 = 5 /4). The diatonic semitone in just intonation is bridging the interval between a major third (5 /4) and fourth ( 4/3). Its frequency ratio is calculated to 16 /15, which corresponds to about 112 cents. The major whole tone can now be in the diatonic semitone and the large chromatic semitone with 135/128 (about 92 cents) and split the small whole tone in the diatonic semitone and the small chromatic semitone with 25/24 (about 71 cents).

In contrast to the Pythagorean ie the chromatic semitones are here both smaller than the diatonic semitone, so that now, for example, fis deeper than tot is. In the context of historical performance practice and of the reasons being that belonged consonance based d- fis not on the relationship of the 81st overtone ( four fifths ), but on the fifth overtone (pure major third ), is on instruments with flexible intonation preferred today in tonal music, this variant.

Mean Tone

In meantone tunings are used theoretically range from 76 cents for the chromatic semitone and 117 cents for the diatonic semitone.

Suspended unequal temperament

So-called well-tempered tunings as the Werckmeister or KirnBerger tunings are in intonation between the same stage and the mean tone.