• Understand the basic elements of the CAGED system.
• Learn the “rules” for adding outside notes.
• Expand your view of the fretboard in every key. Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.
Have you ever asked yourself if you “know” all your scales? Well, one might answer that question with the chromatic scale. Simply put, the chromatic scale is all 12 notes. Chromaticism plays an important role in the construction of melodic lines in jazz, allowing dissonance to resolve into consonance. Jazz players are fond of a famous quote that basically states: No matter where you are on the neck, if you hit a “wrong” note you’re only a half-step away from a “right” one. This lesson will show how to integrate chromatics into major and minor CAGED scale forms, as well as provide examples of jazz lines. While this lesson centers around a major scale, this method of visualizing chromatic scales works with all scale types.
Let’s begin with a fingering for a chromatic scale. Ex. 1 shows an ascending and descending one-octave chromatic scale in open and first positions. We’re starting on C, so I used a Cmaj7 chord as the underlying harmony.
Let’s expand that idea in Ex. 2. Here we are starting on F and playing a chromatic scale up to the A on the 1st string before descending to where we started. Because we aren’t using any open strings, this fingering can easily be moved up and down the neck.
To clearly see how to integrate the chromatic scale into the major scale forms, I believe it’s best to start with one-octave major scale fingerings. Since we want these to be movable all over the fretboard, I’ve written them in 2nd position to avoid any open strings.
Ex. 3 is based on the “A” shape in the key of C.
Ex. 4 is based on the “E” shape in the key of G.
Ex. 5 is based on the “C” shape in the key of D.
Ex. 6 is based on the “G” shape in the key of A.
Finally, Ex. 7 is based on the “D” shape in the key of F.
Now that we have our scale forms, let’s add in the chromatics by filling the spaces between the diatonic major scale tones. There are two possible fingerings for the chromatic scales derived from these forms, due to the guitar’s tuning. The following group of examples illustrates these fingerings.
Ex. 8 is based on the “A” shape in the key of C.
Ex. 9 is based on the “E” shape in the key of G.
Ex. 10 is based on the “C” shape in the key of D.
Ex. 11 is based on the “G” shape in the key of A.
Finally, Ex. 12 is based on the “D” shape in the key of F.