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Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 10: Tones and Semitones


Tones and Semitones in music theory

Finding Tones and Semitones in The C Major Scale

Listen to this series of eight notes:



This is a scale of C major. (A "scale" is any defined series of musical notes.)


In the "C major" scale, both the first and the last notes are Cs- but how do we know what the in-between 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.

piano keyboard for music theory - finding 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 keyboard.

no notes between semitones on the keyboard - music theory



Now find A and B flat. The distance between A and B flat is also a semitone.

no notes between semitones on a keyboard - music theory



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.

one note between tones on a keyboard - music theory


E-F sharp is a tone. F natural sits between them. 

example of a tone (whole step) - music theory



 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):

pattern of tones and semitones in the major scale - music theory


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!

T - T - S - T - T - T - S