Understanding Half Steps and Whole Steps

Let's get into a little bit of music theory. Ohhh that theory? Yes, that theory! Learning theories may sound a little boring but believe me this is a powerful tool that can get you through learning a lot. Having a good grasp of the theory behind music will greatly improve your music skills. Once you mastered the idea, you can apply this theory to any musical instrument you want to learn. Even learning to sing for that matter.

What is a music interval? A music interval is basically the distance between two notes. Interval can be classified in different ways but now let's just keep things simple.

In western music, the smallest interval between two notes is called a half step or semi-tone. Let us take a look at the C and C# sharp notes. The interval between these two notes is called a half step, a semitone, or a half tone. You can use any term you want, they all mean the same thing. A half step is the interval between two adjacent notes. On your piano a half step is the two adjacent notes or keys regardless of the color (black or white). Example are C and C#, E and F, G and Ab, etc. On your guitar, these are the two adjacent frets (first and second frets, second and third frets and so on.)


Now let us check out the F and G notes. You will see that F and G has F# or Gb between them which are half steps (F to F# then F# to G). This is called a whole step, a tone, or a whole tone. A whole step is basically composed of two half steps!  I would recommend that you pause a moment and go to your instrument and identify the half steps and whole steps. This is a very simple exercise but is very critical in improving your skills.
Great job! Now you can identify half steps and whole steps. Let's try a little question and answer portion to solidify our basic knowledge on this lessson.

[Question] Are C and C#, D# and E, G and A half steps?
[Answer] No! G and A is a whole step because there is G# or Ab in between.

[Question] Are D and E, D# and F, E and F# whole steps?
[Answer] Yes! They are all composed of two half steps.

At this point  you should be able to do the following:

  • Define a half step and a whole step
  • Differentiate a half step from a whole step
  • Identify the half steps and whole steps on your instrument