• Between The Chromatic Half-Step And The Diatonic Half-Step Which is Larger?

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    The chromatic half-step and the diatonic half-step are two known half-step types.

    These half-step sizes are not equal in size — one is larger — and in this lesson, I’ll be telling you which half-step is smaller or larger.

    So, give me your undivided attention for the next 7 minutes or so and I guarantee that your perception of half-steps will change completely.

    Let’s refresh our minds on the half-step before we go any further.

    A Short Note On The Half-Step

    All the notes on the octave — black and white — are a half-step apart from each other and that makes the half-step the shortest distance in tonal music.

    From C to C:

    …is an octave and all the notes within the compass of the C octave ( which are C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, and B):

    …are a semitone apart from each other.

    So, from a given note to its adjacent note (whether white or black) is a half-step.

    “Check Out These Half-Step Examples…”

    C to C#:

    C# to D:

    D to D#:

    D# to E:

    E to F:


    There are two half-step types: the diatonic half-step and the chromatic half-step. Let’s refresh our minds on these half-step types.

    “What Is A Diatonic Half-Step?”

    When two half-steps have different letter names, they are classified as diatonic half-steps. A classic example of diatonic half-steps are “E-F” and “B-C”:



    E and F are two different letter names and so are B and C.

    “Other Half-Step Examples Include The Following…”





    …and so on.

    The Chromatic Half-Step — Explained

    The chromatic half-step consists of two half-steps that share the same letter name. For example, C-C#:

    …is a chromatic half-step and that’s because both of the notes have “C” in common.

    Another example is Db-D:

    …where both of the notes have “D” in common.

    So, although these half-steps may sound alike practically:



    …the former is a chromatic half-step while the latter is a diatonic half-step.

    “Check Out Other Chromatic Half-Step Examples…”




    Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on the concept of half-steps and also established the distinction between the two half-step types, let me show you which of them is larger in the next segment.

    The Chromatic Half-Step Vs The Diatonic Half-Step

    The best way to start off is by associating these half-step types with intervals. For example, instead of saying “the chromatic half-step”, we’ll say “the augmented unison.”

    Let’s cover that quickly before we proceed.

    Here Are The Intervals Associated With Half-Steps

    The diatonic half-step between C and Db is an interval known as the minor second interval. The interval between C and D:

    …is a major second interval.

    Lowering D by a half-step (to Db):



    …produces C-Db:

    …a minor second interval.

    “For The Chromatic Half-Step…”

    The half-step between C and C#:

    …is an augmented unison.

    When C and C (of the same pitch):



    …are played together, the interval between them is a unison.

    Raising one of the Cs by a half-step to C#:



    …produces C-C#:

    …which is an augmented unison.

    “Which Is Larger, The Minor Second Or The Augmented Unison?”

    Between the minor second interval and the augmented unison interval, the larger interval is the interval whose size is bigger.

    The minor second is a “second interval” while the augmented unison is a “first interval” and all second intervals are larger than first intervals (which are also known as the unison or prime.)

    Due to the fact that the minor second interval is larger than the augmented unison, the diatonic half-step is considered to be larger than the chromatic half-step.

    “Keep In Mind…”

    The diatonic half-step is associated with the minor second while the chromatic half-step is associated with the augmented unison.

    Final Words

    It’s NOT strictly accurate to say that half-steps are equal and that’s because from advanced perspective, half-steps are NOT equal.

    “Here’s A Typical Example…”

    The half-step from C to Db:

    …is larger than the half-step from C-C#:

    We’ll talk more about this in a subsequent lesson.

    Bye for now.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

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



    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Dana Mark

    This makes no sense to me since C to Db is exactly the same keys as C to C#. Why is a so-called second interval always bigger than a first interval when the distance between the notes in this case is exactly the same? To me that is like saying 2/4 of an inch is bigger than 1/2 of an inch. What am I missing?


    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thank you for your feedback.

    C to Db is said to be bigger because it is a second interval as opposed to C to C# which is a first interval. If you also write both notes on the staff, you’ll notice that C and Db will occupy two staff positions while C and C# would occupy one staff position.

    The diatonic half-step is indeed larger than the chromatic half-step. Although, for practical purposes they may appear the same, they are not equivalent in size or quality.

    C to C# is an augmented interval while C to Db is a minor interval.

    So, structurally, and functionally, both intervals differ.


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