Semitones And Tones
What Is A Semitone? (Half Step)
In music, we talk a lot about intervals which is the distance in pitch of one note to another.
The smallest possible interval (in western music anyway) is a semitone, or in the US they call it a half step.
A semitone is the very next higher or lower note., i.e from E to F or from C to C sharp (C#) on a piano keyboard.
There are two types of semitones:
- Chromatic semitones
- Diatonic semitones
What are Chromatic Semitones?
Chromatic semitones are when you have a semitone interval where both notes have the same letter name.
For example C to C# or Gb to G.
What are Diatonic Semitones?
Diatonic semitones are when you have a semitone interval where the two notes are different letter names.
For example C to Db or F# to G.
In these two examples they are exactly the same notes but are enharmonic equivalents.
What Is A Tone? (Whole Step)
The word semi means half so we could think of the word semitone as 'half a tone'.
A tone (or whole step), therefore, is an interval of two semitones.
For example, from C to D or from E to F#.
What Do We Use Semitones and Tones For?
We use semitones and tones to form scales.
A major scale is made up a certain combination of semitones and tones.
That sequence is:
Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone.
You might see that abbreviated to the first letters:
T, T, S, T, T, T, S.
If you're in the US you might refer to semitones and tones as whole steps and half steps and so that same sequence would be:
Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half.
Or again for short we can use just the first letters:
W, W, H, W, W, W, H.