Tones And Semitones

Tones And Semitones

Each step around the Note Circle represents the interval of a SEMITONE (shown in blue) which is equal to a one-fret step on the guitar. Every fret on the guitar is a semitone apart, so move any note on the guitar up one fret and you are going up one semitone. An interval equal to two semitones (two steps around the circle or a two-fret jump) is called a TONE (shown in red).

Try this on your guitar: play any note and then play the very next fret up. This is the sound of a semitone. Then try the same thing again but move up two frets (so there will be one fret you miss between the notes you played) and you’ll be playing a tone. Semitones are abbreviated to ‘S’ and tones to ‘T’ on this site (and most other places).

semitone and tone

American Terms

In some (usually American) publications you might see the terms ‘Whole Step’ used instead of Tone and ‘Half Step’ for Semitone. While I prefer American terms for some things, I think these particular terms can lead to confusion and I don’t advise you use them; just register that they exist and know that you might come across them from time to time.


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