Semitone and Half Steps

A semitone, which can also be called a half step, is a term used to describe the smallest interval in music.

An interval describes the distance between two notes. Or in other words, how far one note is from another.

Moving from note to note is how we create melodies, build chords, and play by ear. Intervals allow the musician to make a judgment about how far one note is from another.

If you ever sat at the piano and tried to pluck out the melody of a song, you are attempting to guess what interval you must move to get the next note. This can be a tough thing to do at first, but you will find yourself getting better and better the more you practice.

So let's get back to what a semitone is.

This interval can also be referred to as a half step or half tone. This is because the you are moving half the amount of a whole step.

A whole step tells you to move up or down the piano keyboard two notes. If you started on C and moved up the keyboard a whole step you would end on D.

From C to Db is one note, then from Db to D is another note.

This example tells us how to move for a whole step, so let's try making this a semitone or half step.

Earlier I said that a half step is one-half of a whole step. So if a whole step tells you to move two notes to the right or left, then a half step tells you to move one note to the right or left.

If you play any note on the piano, you move to the note that is directly to the left or to the right of that note. This gives you a half tone.

Here's a test for you:

If you play a C, the next note is a D, right?


Half steps take into consideration both black and white notes. This means that if you are playing a C, then the note directly to the right of it would be a C#. (The Black note to the right of the C)


This movement from the C to the C# would be moving a half step up.

What if you move a half step down from C?

It would end on a B note.


Just move to the note directly to the left and you have just moved a half step.

Using Semitones

The real question is why do you need to know this?

It's important to know half steps and whole steps because it is the basis of building scales and chords.

In our lesson on scales you will see how important it is to know what a half step and a whole step is.

Knowing what a semitone is might seem unimportant right now. But in order to learn scales (which is one of the most important parts of learning piano) you need to know what a half step is.

Once you master half steps and whole steps you can then transition that into scales which then leads to building chords. Once you can build chords you will be further than 90% of the other piano players in the worlds.

If you want more help learning half steps and whole steps, along with instruction on how to build chords, check out my video course Mastering Basic Piano Chords.

This course shows you how to build every chord you are going to need to start playing your favorite songs in no time.

Click to go to Lessons #6 -Whole Steps

Back To Lesson #4 - Piano Fingering

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