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Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 10: Tones
and Semitones
In the "C major" scale, both the first and the last notes are Cs- but how do we know what the inbetween notes are?
On the piano, a C major scale uses all the white notes (so it doesn't have any sharps or flats), but on
other instruments, we don't have white notes, so how do we know which notes to use?
In fact, what we need to know is the distance between each of the notes in the scale. The distance
between any two notes of the scale which are next to each other will be either a tone or a semitone;
but what are tones and semitones?
Let's use the piano keyboard to look at some examples of semitones.
If two notes are as close as possible on the piano keyboard, we call the distance between them
a semitone.
Find E and F on the piano keyboard. The distance between E and F is a semitone; it's not possible to
squeeze another note in between them, because there is nothing between them on the piano
Now find A and B flat. The distance between A and B flat is also a semitone.
If there is one note between the two notes we are looking at, the distance between those two notes is
called a tone. A tone is the same as two semitones.
Find G and A on the keyboard. G-A is a tone. We can squeeze a G sharp/A flat between them.
E-F sharp is a tone. F natural sits between them.
Tones and Semitones in the Major Scale
Let's look at that major scale again, and see what the pattern of tones and semitones is (T for tones
and S for semitones):
The pattern is T-T-S-T-T-T-S.
In fact, all major scales follow the same pattern of tones and semitones, so try to remember it!