• Answered: “What Is A Tetrachord?”

    in Beginners,Piano,Scales,Theory

    If you’re looking out for an answer to the question “what is a tetrachord”, then you’re on the right page.

    In the next 5 to 7 minutes, I’ll be taking you by the hand, and showing you what a tetrachord is and how it can be formed starting from any note on the keyboard.

    So, thanks for giving me your undivided attention.

    A Short Note On The Tetrachord

    The term tetrachord has a Greek origin and can be broken down into two Greek words: tetra and chord.

    It’s easier to understand the concept of the tetrachord on a string instrument like the violin. Therefore permit me to use the violin as a reference.

    If you’ve been privileged to stand close to a violinist, you’ll observe that while they’re playing the major scale, they play four notes to a string. So for the entire major scale (let’s say the C major scale):

    They’ll play the first four notes (which are C, D, E, and F):

    …on a string, and the last four notes (which are G, A, B, and C):

    …on another string.

    The term tetrachord is derived from the approach to scale playing where four notes (tetra) are played to a string (chord). So, the term tetrachord literally means “four notes to a string”.

    On the keyboard, the C major scale (which consists of eight notes):

    …can be divided into two tetrachords:

    The lower tetrachord (first four notes):

    The upper tetrachord (last four notes):

    An Intervallic Breakdown Of The Tetrachord

    The tetrachord can be understood and transposed using a knowledge of the distance between the four notes within its compass. Using the lower tetrachord of the C major scale (C, D, E, and F):

    …the interval between the notes of a tetrachord can be understood.

    “Check It Out…”

    From C to D:

    …is a whole step.

    From D to E:

    …is a whole step.

    From E to F:

    …is a half step.

    Using the breakdown above, here’s the intervallic formula for the tetrachord:

    Whole – Whole – Half


    W – W- H

    …which you can recall using the mnemonic “why won’t he”

    Using the “W – W- H” formula, the tetrachord can be formed starting on any note.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    The G Tetrachord

    Starting from G:

    …we’ll go up by a whole step (to A):

    …another whole step from A to B:

    Lastly, we’ll go up by a half step from B to C:

    Altogether, here’s the G tetrachord:

    The Bb Tetrachord

    Starting from Bb:

    …we’ll go up by a whole step (to C):

    …another whole step from C to D:

    Lastly, we’ll go up by a half step from D to Eb:

    Altogether, here’s the Bb tetrachord:

    The D Tetrachord

    Starting from D:

    …we’ll go up by a whole step (to E):

    …another whole step from E to F#:

    Lastly, we’ll go up by a half step from F# to G:

    Altogether, here’s the D tetrachord:

    “For Your Reference, Here Are All The Tetrachords On The Keyboard…”

    C tetrachord:

    Db tetrachord:

    D tetrachord:

    Eb tetrachord:

    E tetrachord:

    F tetrachord:

    F# tetrachord:

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The “Official Guide To Piano Playing.” Click here for more information.

    G tetrachord:

    Ab tetrachord:

    A tetrachord:

    Bb tetrachord:

    B tetrachord:

    Attention: That’s 12 tetrachord examples on the keyboard and it is recommended that you learn and master them.

    Final Words

    The tetrachord is one off the secret concepts that beginners can rely on while learning how to play scales.

    Now that we’re done with the introductory lesson, we’ll be delving into how tetrachords can be used to master scales in a subsequent lesson.

    Keep up the great work.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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