Tones and Semitones

Tones and Semitones

Grade 1

Tones and semitones refer to the distance between two notes.

A semitone is two notes that are directly next to each other.
A tone is two notes that are one note apart.

It is important to remember accidentals when looking at semitones and tones. Thinking of a keyboard can often make it easier to tell whether the two notes are a semitone or a tone apart. We’ll start by looking at semitones.


Semitones

Annotated piano

Let’s look at the notes F and F♯.
The two notes are directly next to each other if you look at their location on the keyboard above.
Therefore, they are semitones.

If we take E and F, they are also right next to each other on the keyboard, and are therefore semitones.

Likewise, if we were to take D and C♯, they are also right next to each other, so would also be semitones.

Notice how it doesn’t matter if both tones are white, or one is black and one is white; or whether you are comparing notes going from the left to right, or right to left. If the two notes are directly next to each other they are semitones.


Tones

Annotated piano

Now, looking at the keyboard above, find A and B. They are both seperated by a single note (they’re both seperated by either A♯ or B♭). This means they are a tone apart.

Looking at E and F♯ we see that F♮ is the only note inbetween them, so they are therefore a whole tone apart.

Like the semitones, it doesn’t matter if the two tones are both white, both black, or one is black and one is white, what matters is the distance between them.

In the grade 1 exam you may be expected to look at two notes on a stave and identify whether they are a tone apart or a semitone apart.