In this lesson, I want to introduce you to melodic progressions.

In a previous lesson, we covered the 4 Dimensions of the Octave. We associated octave with *eight*.

In this post, we’ll cover a slightly different perspective to an octave.

Even though an octave is an eight-tone series, it contains all the pitch classes. This is because all the pitch classes [12 of them] are within the compass of an octave.

Below is an octave:

However, within this same compass, there are 12 pitches

This means that an Octave has *twelve *parts [by default], notwithstanding that the name *octave* comes from the relationship between the first and eighth tone.

In this article, we’ll associate Octave with twelve because:

- There are twelve pitch-classes within the compass of an octave
- An octave is naturally divisible into twelve equal parts.

For the rest of this lesson, the use of the word ‘Octave’ will mean twelve – as opposed to the previous article where we considered it to be eight.

**DEFINITION OF MELODIC PROGRESSIONS**

**Melodic progression** is the **DIVISION **of the *octave* into a certain number of **EQUAL **parts. Even though there are several melodic progressions, in this article, we’ll restrict our study to two basic melodic progressions.

- Semitone
- Wholetone

Before now, you’ve come across these words. You probably know that the **distance** between these two notes is a semitone:

and that this one is a wholetone

However, don’t be in a haste to leave this page. This article is prepared to redefine semitone and wholetone. It is good that you have an idea of where we are going. If you don’t, don’t worry – we’re stopping at nothing to make sure that you understand everything, step-by-step.

Let’s get started with these melodic progressions – semitone and wholetone.

## SEMITONE

There are several definitions of the semitone out there. They all share one thing in common – they talk about distance. However, in music, distances are described as intervals and a semitone is not an interval.

Intervals have two things – Quality and Width.

**Quality** refers to the use of adjectives like Perfect, Major, minor, diminished and Augmented while…

**Quantity** refers to the use of *ordinal* numbers like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th… 13th, etc.

The term semitone clearly doesn’t represent a quality or width. If you want to understand the difference and relationship between melodic progressions and intervals, read this article – Melodic Progressions vs Intervals.

At this point, you may be asking… “Chuku! What is a semitone?”. Here you go…

A semitone is themelodic progressionthat divides an octave (12 pitch classes) into 12 equal parts.

From the definition above, the semitone is a melodic progression and not a distance. Now, this melodic progression divides an octave into 12 equal parts to yield a semitone.

*Mathematically*, an octave (containing 12 pitches) divided by 12 can be represented as 12/12 = 1

Here are four facts that will redefine the semitone:

**Fact #1**: __The Octave is naturally divisible into 12 equal parts.__

In-between the compass of an Octave, you can see 7 naturals and 5 accidentals.

**Fact #2**: __Adjacent notes on the keyboard differ from one another by the melodic progression of a semitone.__

That sounds very familiar. Right?

From C to C♯ is a semitone progression,

C♯ to D is a semitone progression,

D to D♯ is a semitone,

D♯ to D is a semitone progression etc.

These are all melodic progressions of semitone or simply a *semitone progression*.

**Fact #3**: __The shortest melodic progression in European music (instruments) is the semitone.__

On the piano and most European Instruments (where an octave is divisible by twelve), the shortest melodic progression is the semitone. In other words, when pitches are ascending and descending, the smallest perceptible difference between successive pitches in both directions is a semitone progression.

**Fact #4**: __There are 12 semitone progressions in an octave.__

Remember the mathematical calculation earlier.

*[12/12 = +1] A semitone is equivalent to +1*

If you raise a note by the shortest possible distance, you’ll have a semitone. Right? Alright!

In the case of C below…

A semitone progression moves us from C to C♯:

Starting from C, semitone progressions will move thus:

C-C♯ 1^{st} semitone progression

C♯-D 2^{nd} semitone progression

D-D♯ 3^{rd} semitone progression

D♯-E 4^{th} semitone progression

E-F 5^{th} semitone progression

F-F♯ 6^{th} semitone progression

F♯-G 7^{th} semitone progression

G-G♯ 8^{th} semitone progression

G♯-A 9^{th} semitone progression

A-A♯ 10^{th} semitone progression

A♯-B 11^{th} semitone progression

B-C 12^{th} semitone progression

I purposely stuck to the use of the sharp (♯) pitch modifier. Feel free to visualize the notes using alternate enharmonic spellings (aka – “flats / ♭”).

Before we get into the next melodic progression, let’s look at the common definition of a semitone.

A semitone is the

shortest~~distance~~on the piano/keyboard that exists between adjacent noteswhether white or black.

There’s really nothing wrong with that definition, except for the use of the word *distance*. Therefore, if we substitute the word “distance” with melodic progression, we’ll have:

A semitone is the

shortestmelodic progression on the piano/keyboard that exists between adjacent noteswhether white or black.

12 of such melodic progressions [semitones] will give you an **Octave**.

Equal Division of an **Octave** into 12 parts will give you a semitone.

## WHOLETONE

* *It’s easier to redefine wholetone progressions. Let’s look at its definition. So, what is a wholetone?

The Wholetone is themelodic progressionthat divides an octave (12 pitch classes) into 6 equal parts.

Just like the semitone, the whole tone is a melodic progression and not a distance. Now, this melodic progression divides an octave into 6 equal parts to yield a wholetone.

*Mathematically*, an octave (containing 12 pitches) divided by 6 can be represented as 12/6 = 2.

An octave has 12 semitones by default and when we divide these 12 semitones by 6 parts, we are going to have 2 semitones in each wholetone progression.

*[12/6 = +2] A wholetone is equivalent to +2*

If you raise a note by two semitones, you’ll have a wholetone.

In the case of C below,

A semitone progression moves us from C to D:

Starting from C, semitone progressions will move thus:

C-D 1^{st} wholetone progression

D-E 2^{nd} wholetone progression

E-F♯ 3^{rd} wholetone progression

F♯-G♯ 4^{th} wholetone progression

G♯-A♯ 5^{th} wholetone progression

A♯-C 6^{th} wholetone progression

So, we basically have 6 wholetone progressions within the octave.

## Final Words

With all we’ve covered, I’m sure you can see the terms as melodic progressions derived from the division of an octave into a certain number of parts.

I want to recommend that you read Melodic Progressions vs Intervals if you want to learn more. I’ll be sharing with you lots of ideas that are based on these melodic progressions and, of course, there are several melodic progressions: sesquitone, ditone, diatessaron, diapente, quadritone, sesquiquadritone, quinequetone, sesquiquinequetone, septitone and more (even the tritone).

40% of these melodic progressions are covered in the **HearandPlay 110 Workbook – All You Need To Know About NOTES.** Click here if you’re interested in redefining what you know already about NOTES.

#### Chuku Onyemachi

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

…And this is one of my favourite topic.

When it comes to sound frequency, the division of an octave to 12 semitones is logarithmically equal, since each octave has double frequency than its predecessor. The subject of consonance and dissonance becomes clearer by using some elementary sound theory (overtones).