The chromatic scale … again

how to see soundNothing in music is random. And that’s why it’s so easy to learn. Patterns like the chromatic scale, the major scale, and the circle of fifths are all very simple. And because each pattern leads to the next, they’re also totally predictable. In fact, no one is throwing us any curveballs here … the science of sound is basic.

So it makes sense that color follows these same patterns. Like music, color is simple and organized. And like the circle of fifths, the color wheel naturally progresses from one tone to the next.

But ColorMusic really comes alive when you rearrange these notes back into the chromatic scale. After all, that’s the pattern you really use in music. The way notes are laid out on any instrument.

And to get from the circle of fifths to the chromatic scale, you just have to rearrange a few notes. It works like this:

 Take all the square notes that are spaced at whole-step intervals and rotate them so that each pair of complements trades places. That is, just make red and green switch places … and orange and blue … and yellow and purple. And just like that, we can suddenly see every note in music. So the color wheel has been turned back into the chromatic scale.

Of course, this new color pattern looks a little strange at first … because each color in the chromatic scale is out of place. But once we apply it to the piano keyboard, it starts to make sense.

 Now, I know what you might be thinking. This color pattern just looks weird. And honestly, you’d be half right. But look at it this way … if you had always been blind and then suddenly got your eyesight, the world would look pretty different. Sure, you may have heard about trees … and clouds … and cars … and people. But all of it would be new if you were seeing it for the first time.

And that’s exactly what Color Music is like. It may look totally new. But it makes huge sense … fast. We just have to look at those two basic intervals in music: half-steps and whole-steps.


The circle of fifths

how to see soundYou’re probably thinking “Musical patterns are basic.” And of course, you would be right. But you might have also noticed something strange in the post about major scales. I mean, what’s up with the order of major scales? Why is the C major scale followed by G major … then D major … then A major … and so on?

Well, the answer is simple. It turns out, there’s a special connection between major scales. And that’s why they are listed in this order. You see, all major scales overlap … so they all share some of the same notes. It works like this:

 The second half of each major scale (notes 5, 6, 7, 8) becomes the first half of another major scale (notes 1, 2, 3, 4). For example, the second half of C major (G  A  BC) is also the first half of the G major scale. And the second half of G major (D  E  F#G) becomes the first half of the D major scale … and so on. In this way, all major scales form a kind of daisy-chain pattern.

In fact, if you continue connecting all 12 major scales, they form one big ring called the “circle of fifths”:

It’s called the circle of fifths because each new scale starts on the fifth note of the previous scale. For example, check out these patterns:

  • the G major scale (which is highlighted above) starts on the “5” of the C major scale
  • the D major scale starts on the “5” of the G major scale
  • the A major scale starts on the “5” of the D major scale
  • etc.

So each scale or “musical key” is made of up equal halves of the scales that come before and after it. For example:

  • the G major scale is part C major and part D major
  • the D major scale is part G major and part A major
  • the A major scale is part D major and part E major
  • and so on


In fact, if you think about it, the circle of fifths is exactly like the color wheel.

 Just like every key in the circle of fifths, each color passes to the next … and all colors are connected. As you can see:

  • the key of G (red-orange) is part C (red) and part D (orange)
  • the key of D (orange) is part G (red-orange) and part A (orange-yellow)
  • the key of A (orange-yellow) is part D (orange) and part E (yellow)
  • etc.


Seriously, the connection between color and music is amazing. I mean, it’s like having x-ray vision! Using color, you can see exactly how patterns work in music. Only the connection doesn’t just stop there. Because if you look a little closer … it gets even better.


The major scale

how to see soundSo the chromatic scale is simple. And the most common example of this 12-note pattern is a piano keyboard. Only, you don’t actually play the chromatic scale in music. Instead, musicians use it to make smaller and more interesting patterns. And they do this using “intervals.”

Intervals are the gaps or spaces between notes—and they’re basically what music is all about. By using intervals, musicians combine different notes to create some very cool sounds. Intervals help you get from one note to another. They’re what you use to play scales, chords, and progressions. And what’s nice is they’re totally simple.

In fact, there are just two basic types of intervals in music: “half-steps” and “whole-steps” … which are easy to see using squares and circles.


half-step interval separates any two notes that are next to each other in the chromatic scale. So the chromatic scale is really just a pattern of half steps. As you move from one note to the next, you go through each half-step interval: square … circle … square … circle … square … circle … and so on.

A whole-step interval is just a combination of two half steps. Which means you play a whole step by skipping every other note. It’s easy, really. All the square notes in the chromatic scale are separated by whole-step intervals … and all the circles are, too.



Try playing each of these intervals and you’ll get a feel for how they sound. Of course, they still don’t sound that great. But that’s okay … because the way you really start making music is by combining different intervals.

In fact, the most popular interval pattern in music is what people call the “major scale,” which has a pattern that looks like this:


Starting at a C note on the keyboard, for example, the major scale is:

This pattern is so popular that musicians label each note 1 through 8. Try it—starting with your left hand, play the first four notes of the major scale one finger at a time … then play the last four notes with your right hand: 1, 2, 3, 4 … 5, 6, 7, 8.

Of course, you can also play this same pattern starting on any note. For example, try playing the eight notes of the G major scale (starting on G):

There’s not much to it, really. The major scale sounds so musical. And using squares and circles, it’s easy to see. In fact, let’s go all the way. Now, try playing through all 12 major scales. Think of it as a kind of target practice. As you play each scale, your eyes, ears, and hands will get smarter. And your brain will grow, too … because major scales lead directly to the next main pattern in music—the circle of fifths.



The chromatic scale

how to see soundIn music, the first and most basic pattern to know is the chromatic scale. It’s actually so basic you might even say it’s the mother of all note patterns. Every scale and every chord comes from the chromatic scale. And nearly all instruments are based on this pattern of notes. The most common example of the chromatic scale is a piano keyboard.

The first thing you might notice about this pattern is that it has only 12 notes. And each note sounds a little different. In fact, the best way to hear the chromatic scale is to actually play it. Seriously … try it. Sit down at a piano and run your fingers across the keyboard. As you hit each note—moving from left to right—you’ll hear the notes gradually rise in pitch. And when you move in the opposite direction—playing one note after another—the notes gradually fall in pitch.

If you keep moving left or right across the keyboard, the notes keep getting lower or higher. So the notes get lower moving to the left … while the notes get higher moving to the right. But really, you’re just repeating the same 12 notes over and over again. And that’s why music is so simple: the chromatic scale is just a nice little pattern of 12 basic notes.

To keep track of which note is which, musicians name each note using letters. It’s a little weird how it works, but it’s easy to explain. While some notes have just one letter name, other notes are labeled using what are called “sharps” (#) and “flats” (b). If a note has a sharp symbol (#) in its name, it means it’s higher than the note to its left. And if a note has a flat sign (b), it’s lower than the note to its right.

 For example, the note between C and D is sometimes called C# (meaning it’s higher than C). And sometimes, it’s called Db (meaning it’s lower than D). But no matter what you call it (C# or Db), it’s really just the same note.

Of course, I could go on about how silly and strange note names are, but that’s beside the point. What really matters is that the chromatic scale includes all 12 notes in music … and each of these notes is equal.

In fact, that’s why the chromatic scale doesn’t sound that great. As you move from one note to the next, the pitch gradually rises or falls. So obviously, it’s not much fun to play. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be.

You see, most musicians don’t actually play the chromatic scale at all. It’s just the collection of all 12 notes laid out in order. You might think of it as a kind of painter’s palette. Like any good painter, you simply pick and choose the notes you want to use.

In reality, musicians play smaller patterns that sound a lot more interesting. And the most popular of these is called the “major scale.” Which is the next step on our way to seeing sound with ColorMusic.


How music works

how to see soundOkay, so color is simple. There are just 12 colors in the color wheel and we all know how they work. You’ve got primaries … and secondaries … and tertiaries. Oh yeah, and there are complementary colors, too. It’s basic, really.

As it turns out, music patterns are just as simple—seriously. They just look a little strange. Colors are easy to see because our eyes naturally understand them. But musical notes, on the other hand, got a bad deal. It’s unfair, really. Over the centuries, musical patterns were slowly hidden under a layer of letters, numbers, and symbols. And we can thank a few medieval monks for that.



To make sense of music, we just have to bring those patterns to the surface. And that’s what ColorMusic is all about. It makes musical patterns easy to see. And, honestly, they look awesome  … like some ancient mosaic that’s been waiting under a layer of dust. (In fact, I get all excited just thinking about it.)

But before we can really unearth musical patterns—and get them out into the sunlight—we have to look at three basic note patterns:

Think of these patterns as the three doors that lead to Color Music. Once we’ve passed through all of them, it gets really good.

Of course, we could just start looking at musical patterns right now … in color. But to really make sense of things, it helps to have a little background in music. Nothing crazy, of course. Just a quick look at notes and how they work. And we’ll do this the old-fashioned way: in black and white.

It’s all very simple. And once we have Color Music, we’ll really appreciate how easy life gets. So first off, the chromatic scale….


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