Beginner Music Theory tutorials
10. Tones and semitones
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Oh come on, you're telling me there is a measuring unit for the distance between two notes now? Music theory complex

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Tones and semitones explained

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial we will be discussing the concepts of tones and semitones which are some of the most important aspects of music playing, mostly because they influence many things such as scales, chords and musical intervals. So, let's have some fun.

2. Tones and semitones explained

A semitone (also known as a half step) is the smallest measuring unit or interval used in classical Western music. Frequency wise, it is equal to a twelfth of an octave or half a tone, hence the name a half step.

A tone (also known as a step) is composed of two semitones.

A simpler definition for a semitone is the difference between two consecutive pitches (which may or may not be part of the same scale, as we'll talk about in a future tutorial).

On a piano, this translates to the difference in pitch between playing a white key and a black key found next to each other on the keyboard (sometimes you will have two white keys next to each other but never two black keys). On a guitar this translates to the difference between two consecutive frets located on the same string.

So why are tones and semitones so important? We'll unravel this mystery tutorial by tutorial but for now, let's just say that they help us classify music intervals, scales and chords (let's just say the the difference between a major chord and a minor chord is one semitone, placed at the right note so to speak).

Also it's useful to understand these concepts for when other musicians talk to each other about how a note is one semitone higher than another.

And yeah, that's about it for this tutorial. In the next one we will be applying these concepts when we talk about accidentals and a thing called enharmonic notes. See you then.

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