Whole Step: What Is It In Music?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  May 24, 2022

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The Whole Step, also known as a tone, is the second largest interval found in music. It is two semitones, or half-steps, wide and contains two notes of the diatonic scale. This interval is found in many different genres of music and is essential for understanding and creating melodies.

In this article we will discuss the Whole Step and all its related elements.

What is a whole step

Definition of Whole Step

A whole step, also known as a ‘whole note’ or ‘major second’, is an interval in music created by two adjacent notes that are two semitones (a.k.a. half steps) apart. It is the largest distance you can move on the piano with a single key before you need to press a different key to go further in either direction.

In terms of conventional scales, when ascending, this interval would describe moving from the first note to the second letter name in any given scale. For example, a whole step up from F would be G. When descending it would describe moving from one note to the other below it alphabetically in a scale – moving from C to B would be considered a whole step downward. In most cases, these intervals will have identical letter names no matter which direction they’re ascending or descending but may differ depending on accidental placements and chromatic movement within the context of certain chord progressions or scales being used within the music being played at any given moment.

In terms of notation, most often this interval is written as either two dots standing side by side or one giant dot that spans both of those letter names – they mean exactly the same thing musically and only change aesthetically as a convenience for sight reading purposes and/or stylistic preferences for visual appeal when printed notations are consulted during particular musical endeavors like recitals and rehearsals, etc…

What It Means in Music Theory

In music theory, a whole step is a way to measure pitch in a sequence. It is sometimes referred to as a full tone, and it is essentially a musical interval equal to two semitones. In other words, it is the interval between two notes that are separated by two keys on a keyboard or fretboard. A whole step can be used to create melodies and chords, or to identify chord progressions and harmonic progressions.

Let’s delve deeper into understanding whole steps in music theory:

Interval of a Whole Step

In music theory, a whole step is an interval whose size is two half steps (or semitones). It is also referred to as a major second, because this interval corresponds to the width of a second on the major scale. This kind of step is called a genus atius: it contains two black keys on the piano.

A whole step is one of the most common intervals found in western harmonic music. Since it’s twice as wide as the next smallest interval, half step (or minor second), it’s important to use it in order to create complex harmonies and melodies. It’s also important for musicians to be able to recognise and even sing this interval in order to be able to move between chords and scales quickly and accurately. Its notes happen simultaneously, so when you hear two notes at different pitches this may be termed an “interval” or “waiting“.

Intervals are typically defined according your dependent relationship between two musically related notes; meaning that when defining a musical interval such as a whole step you take into consideration whether both notes are being heard together or separated. For example if playing a single note followed by another note separated by the duration that represents a full step then this would be considered an ascending (Additive) Whole Step Interval; where playing two simultaneous notes and increasing their intervals by one full step from their original Pitch would be classified as an ascending (Multiplicative) Whole Step Interval (i.e 5th – 7th). Similarly all Descending Whole Step Intervals would behave similarly but with reverse relationships from all Ascenscending Ones, subtracting One Full Step instead of Adding One Full.

How It Is Used in Music

In music theory, a whole step (whole tone, or major second) is an interval in which there are two semitones (frets on a guitar) between notes. For example, when playing a guitar the frets on two consecutive strings would be considered a whole step. The same can be said for two black keys on a piano – these are also considered to be a whole step.

Whole steps are used in multiple different ways in music theory and composition. Harmony can be achieved by using intervals of various types, including half steps and whole steps. Furthermore, melodies can be constructed using varying sizes of intervals – such as leaps of seventh in Jazz and Classical Music or smaller intervals for Pop/Retro styles.

For example, if one was creating a melody utilizing intervals ranging from half-steps to seventh; this could potentially create interesting rhythms and melodies that incorporate both short term and long term changes. Additionally, chords often rely heavily on their voicing specifically the use of placement of third’s (major or minor), fifth’s and seventh’s built from whole steps or half-steps in order to create intriguing harmonic combinations melodic features such as pedal tones or suspended chords could be explored by limiting the use of only half-step intervals between notes at all times; creating an increased sense of tension underneath the melody without deviating too far away from the ultimate goal of harmony within those specific sections.

By understanding how easy it is to navigate around keyboard instruments using only half-step and whole-step movements by using teaching techniques such as minor moves – counting frets up/down one at a time while playing , it becomes much easier for students to start composing simple pieces that adhere to principles that have been established over centuries full understanding how half-step/whole steps correlate with specific scales/intervals once students have mastered these basic concepts their potential for exploring different types genres increases greatly!

Examples of Whole Steps in Music

A whole step, also known as a “whole tone,” is a musical interval that is two semitones (half steps) apart. Whole steps are usually a very noticeable part of music, as they denote a change in the overall sound of a melody. This article will discuss some examples of whole steps in music, so that you can get a better understanding of what they are and how they are used in different genres.

Examples in Major Scales

Whole steps are musical intervals which encompass two consecutive notes, progressing by two full tones. When listening to music, you will often identify them in major scale patterns. A major scale is comprised of eight whole steps, except for between the third and fourth notes as well as between the seventh and eighth notes – there, you will find half steps. Whole steps are commonly used in a variety of musical genres like classical music, jazz, and rock and roll.

An easy way to understand whole steps is by playing a major scale on a piano or guitar – starting with any note on the C Major scale pattern. For example:

  1. starting note C (whole step to D)
  2. D (whole step to E)
  3. E (whole step to F)
  4. F (half step to G)
  5. G(whole step to A)
  6. A(whole stepto B)
  7. B(halfstep to C).

The resulting composition is known as an ascending major scale – striving for higher tones in 8 consecutive notes. The same concept can be applied using varying key signatures such as minor scales – just remember that every second note should progress upwards by one full tone aka one whole step!

Examples in Minor Scales

In music, a whole step (also known as a major second) is defined as an interval of two consecutive tones. This interval is a base level building block of several different kinds of music, including minor scales. The notes in a minor scale connect to form a whole step when one note progresses up two tones on the scale instead of one.

The sequence of whole steps and half steps in any particular kind of minor scale produces its unique sound, but all commonly used scales include two complete whole steps and two half steps within them. To illustrate this concept more clearly, here are some examples of common minor scales that demonstrate how the interval appears in various types of music:

  1. Natural Minor Scale: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A – In this case, there are two pairs of consecutive whole steps above A that make up the natural minor scale; following A to B and D to E.
  2. Harmonic Minor Scale: A-B-C-D-E-F-G#A – The harmonic minor scale features three consecutive whole steps in one section; covering F to G# directly before reaching the final A tone.
  3. Melodic Minor Scale: A-B-(C)-D-(E)-F-(G)-A – This type of minor scale only includes two complete pairs of whole steps between its beginning and end points; progressing from B to C before going on to E and then G before concluding with its “home” note at A. Additionally, it should be noted that when proceeded from an upward direction, both the C and E tones move up by just one half step instead of a full tone for melodic purposes instead.


In conclusion, understanding whole steps (or whole tones) is an essential part of mastering music theory. Whole steps help you to create larger melodic intervals and can help you to construct more complex chord progressions. Knowing the fundamentals of whole steps can help you to more effectively compose, play, and arrange music.

Summary of Whole Step in Music

A whole step, also known as a major second, is one of the most important musical intervals you can learn. In Western music, this interval is known as a semitone and is often used to create melodies and harmonies. A whole step can be defined as the distance between two notes on a piano keyboard that are two half steps apart. In other words, if you place your finger on middle C then move it up another two black keys in pitch, it would be considered a whole step.

The importance of the whole step lies in its ability to create harmonic movement between different keys or chords. This interval contains rich tonal qualities and produces strong musical passages when used correctly. When combined with other intervals such as half-steps and thirds, musicians can create unique motifs or even entire compositions using complex combinations of scales and chords.

Whole steps are also essential for understanding how transposition works in music theory – the idea that any given note or chord in any key signature can be moved one full step higher or lower without changing its core quality or sound. Understanding how to recognize this interval will not just help you to understand music theory better but make it much easier for you when it comes to playing and writing music.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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