Chapter Three : Tones and Semi-tones > Easy Piano by Ear

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Chapter Three : Tones and Semi-tones

A whole tone is the distance from one key to the next when there is ONE KEY in between. A semitone is the distance between  keys with NO KEYS in between.

Therefore following the diagram below: from D to E is a whole tone, because D# is between.   F to F# is a semitone because there are no keys in between.   E to F is a semitone no keys in between, F# to G# is a whole tone because G is between.

A whole tone is also called a whole step. A semitone is also called a half step.


The pattern of a major scale is:
*Tone, Tone, semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, semitone *

The scale of C major is the only major scale that follows this pattern without having to add any sharps or flats.
C to D = tone; D to E = tone; E to F = semitone; F to G = tone; G to A = tone; A to B = tone;  B to C= semitone

This PATTERN you MUST MEMORIZE to be able to play in ANY KEY. Every major scale MUST follow this formula for spacing and distance between keys..
Using this formula we are able to find a major scale beginning on any key, white or black.

Here is some “homework” for you.

You might want to try to figure out several scales using this pattern. To make it easier for you, I will write out D major scale as an example for you to follow:

I will begin by writing all the letter names from C to C:……. D E F G A B C D   (remember: write each letter name only ONCE except the octave letter name).

Now I will go back and insert #’s or b’s where they need to go in order to follow the step pattern for a major scale we just talked about.(T,T,st,T,T,T,st)

D E F# G A B C# D……. D to E= Tone; E to F# = Tone; F# to G = semitone; G to A = Tone; A to B = Tone; B to C# = Tone;  C# to D = semitone. There we have the scale of D major.

Here is some “homework” for you.

I’ll suggest beginning on G as it has only one #.  Write the letters out as I did in the example.  The act of writing and the visual  will help you remember it.

1. write out the letter names from G, A, B etc to G  (one octave higher) – use every letter name just once except for the 8th note which will be the same as the first.

2. under the letter names, using the formula pattern write the distance from one key to the next using T, T, ST etc. (as in the pattern shown above)  and insert the # (sharp), (there is just one) where it is needed.

3. Play the scale you just wrote out. How does it sound? Does it sound like the C major scale,  just beginning at a different pitch?

This time begin on F and follow steps  1. and 2. above. You will find you need to insert a b (flat). I’ll let you discover where.  🙂

If you are able to write and play the scale of G major and F major using this formula, you might want to try beginning on A………. BRAVO!

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