If you have ever wondered what a step, tone or semitone is then today's lesson will reveal all so let’s dive right in.
Steps, tones & semitones
In order for musicians to communicate musical ideas and concepts accurately, a system has developed whereby we use the terms tone or whole step, and semitone or half step, that not only describe the steps physically on the guitar, but also on the musical staff. A whole step, or tone is a chromatic step of two notes, or on guitar two frets, for instance: F to G which skips over F♯ (see figure 1.a below). A semitone, or half step is a chromatic step of one note, or on guitar one fret, for instance: D to E♭ (again see figure 1.a below). A semitone is also the smallest harmonic interval that exists is Western music, and a series of twelve semitones make up our entire musical alphabet.
So when a musician says "move that riff down a whole step", it means to lower the riff by two frets or a tone. Sometimes it is necessary to use the term tone-plus-semitone to describe a step of three semitones. Many musicians communicate scales by using whole step, half step terminology, for instance: a natural minor scale can be written in shorthand as W-H-W-W-H-W-W where the W represents a whole step and an H represents a half step.
Below you will find a table that shows the terminology used, it’s up to you as to which set of terms you use, I would suggest learning both and settling on one.
|Half step||Semitone||G to A♭|
|Whole step||Tone||G to A|
|Whole-plus-half-step||Tone-plus-semitone||G to B♭|
|Two whole steps||Two tones||G to C|
Well this brings another lesson to an end. Understanding steps, tones and semitones is pretty easy but if your still stuck then follow some of the external resource links below for further explanation.
Cheers & enjoy!