• Can I Tell You What A Vast Majority Of Musicians Don’t Know About The Whole-Step?

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    I have fresh insights on the whole-step distance to share with you in this lesson.

    The whole-step distance is one of the basic ideas musicians start out with while learning how to play the keyboard — especially while learning scales. So, it’s easy to assume that you are already conversant with everything about whole-steps.

    But I’m going to give you a breakdown of the whole-step distance from a never-before-seen perspective and right before I do that, I’ll love to give you some quick insights on the whole-step.

    Quick Insights On The Whole-Step

    Although there are many ways to define a whole-step and we’ve covered them in the past, I’ll want to give you a new definition that is a bit advanced.

    The whole-step is simply a major second interval.

    Attention: This definition is not for beginners.

    So, if you’re familiar with the major second interval, then you’re also familiar with the whole-step and I suppose that you know what a major second interval.

    A major second interval is the distance between the first and second tones of the major scale in any key.

    Using the E major scale (as a reference):

    …the distance between the first and second tones of the scale (which are E and F#):

    …is a major second interval and a whole-step for all intents and purposes.

    “Check Out All The Whole-Steps On The Keyboard…”

    C to D:

    Db to Eb:

    D to E:

    Eb to F:

    E to F#:

    F to G:

    Gb to Ab:

    G to A:

    Ab to Bb:

    A to B:

    Bb to C:

    B to C#:

    A Breakdown Of The Whole-Step Into Half-Steps

    The expression below is correct:

    Half-step + Half-step = Whole-step

    Whole-step = Half-step + Half-step

    Therefore, a whole-step distance consists of two half-steps. For example, the whole-step distance between C and D:

    …consists of two half-step distances and there are two approaches to the breakdown of the whole-step:

    Approach #1

    The whole-step distance between C and D consists of the following half-step distances:



    Approach #2

    The following half-step distances:



    …are between C and D (a whole-tone distance):

    “Hey! Can I Get Your Undivided Attention”

    The half-steps that make up a whole-step distance are ordinarily half-steps. However, if you probe further, you’ll be able to determine if the half-steps are diatonic or chromatic.

    Attention: There are two half-step types, diatonic half-steps and chromatic half-steps, and every half-step is either diatonic or chromatic.

    Let’s go ahead and examine these half-steps.

    A Critical Look At The Half-Step Components Of The Whole-Step

    In our breakdown of the whole-step, we came up with two approaches that produced two half-steps each.

    Approach #1 produced “C-C#” and C#-D”:


    …which is a chromatic semitone.


    …which is a diatonic semitone.

    …while approach #2 produced “C-Db” and “Db-D”:


    …which is a diatonic semitone.


    …which is a chromatic semitone.

    So, it will interest you to know that the whole-step for each of the approaches can be broken down to two half-steps: a diatonic semitone and a chromatic semitone.

    “What You Need To Know About The Whole Step”

    Every whole-step consists of two half-steps.

    However, the half-steps that make up a whole-step are a combination of a diatonic half-step and a chromatic half-step. Hence, two half-step examples of the same type CANNOT produce a whole-step.

    “It’s Simpler Than It Sounds…”

    The whole-step between C and D:

    …consists of two half-steps: one of them is diatonic and the other is chromatic. So, for every whole-step a diatonic half-step must follow a chromatic half-step and vice-versa.

    Note this:

    1. Two diatonic half-steps DON’T make a whole step.
    2. Two chromatic half-steps DON’T make a whole step.

    “Two Diatonic Half-Steps…”

    These diatonic half-steps:

    E to F:

    F to Gb:

    …add up to produce E-Gb:

    …which is NOT a major second interval (aka – “whole-step”).

    “Two Chromatic Half-Steps…”

    The following chromatic half-steps:

    Eb to E:

    E to E#:

    …add up to produce Eb-E#:

    …which is NOT a major second interval (aka – “whole-step”).

    “So, What’s The Formula For Whole-Steps?”

    The formula for the whole-step is given below:

    Diatonic half-step + Chromatic half-step = Whole-step

    Chromatic half-step + Diatonic half-step = Whole-step

    Final Words

    Did you learn something new in this lesson? I’m doubly sure that you did.

    If you have questions, comments, contributions, and suggestions, please feel free to post them using the comment box below.

    I appreciate you for the time invested in reading this blog.

    See you in the next lesson.

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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.



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