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  • Candice Alderfer

Intervals: Whole and Half Steps

Updated: Feb 15, 2019

When I started to learn theory, there were a few basic things I had to make sure I learned and completely grasped first. One of those being intervals.


C Major

The key of C major is, for almost everyone, the first thing they learn in music theory. On the piano, you start at C and end on C, pressing no black keys in between. Write this down.



Intervals: Whole and Half Steps

A scale is made up of different intervals. An interval is the distance between two notes. Distance is a crucial element to music and can differentiate one scale from another. To make a major scale you must follow these instructions for the distance between each note.

This rule applies to any major scale, no matter the starting note. As you can see from the image above, this formula has been applied to C Major on the piano. Below is a diagram showing all the intervals of the keys of a piano. On the top of the piano, you will see where all the half steps occur. On the bottom, you will see where whole steps occur.

There are two places on a piano where half steps occur without a black key being in between.



The first thing I did once I learned the formula for a major scale was to write the major scale for each white key on the piano. I suggest you do the same. You need to learn to feel comfortable with understanding how intervals apply to music and where distances differ from note to note. This is a must in order to write other scales, understand chords and recognize key signatures. Below is an example of all the scales I wrote out.



My biggest suggestion is to use a piano if you have one. You can download a piano app like I did. If you do have a piano or an app to use, make sure to always listen to the scales you play. You can train your ear to recognize how major scales differ from other future scales you'll come across in your learning journey. If you have no absolute way to a piano, draw one! I drew one in my notebook when I didn't have the opportunity to use my app, and I quite literally would press the keys of my drawn piano and travel up the notes to find the intervals. The more you draw the piano, the more you'll familiarize yourself with where each note is.


A little tip that helped me was to also say the scales out loud to really embed the information into my brain. For example, with B major, aloud I said, "B natural, C sharp, D sharp, E natural, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B natural." I even went as far as to record myself going through all the scales with my iPhone and a free recording app. Find the best way for yourself to memorize information. Be creative!


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