If two notes (pitches) are different, then one note is higher than the other. We can also say how much higher the note is, that is, we can say what the interval between the notes is. The smallest interval between two notes (the nearest that any two notes can be to each other) on a piano keyboard is called a semitone (in the USA a half-step). For example, from C to C# is a semitone - those two keys are right next to each other on the keyboard, just as E is next to F, or B to C. Note that F is not a semitone away from G, because there is a black key in between them - F#. The distance from F to G is therefore two semitones. When two notes are two semitones apart, that distance is described as a whole tone (whole step), or simply as a tone. For example, the distance from C to D is a whole tone because there are two semitones in it: the first from C to C# and the second from C# to D. E to F# is a whole tone, F# to G#, A to B, etc.
Notes are written in a variety of shapes on a five-lined staff (or stave, plural staves). Each line and space represents a fixed pitch, so a staff is capable of representing a set of nine notes with its 5 lines and 4 spaces. A note outside the compass of the stave can be represented by using a ledger line. When a clef is placed on the stave, it specifies a particular set of fixed pitches. When a treble clef is placed on a stave, the 5 lines (from lowest to highest) then represent E, G, B, D, & F and the spaces (from bottom to top) are F, A, C, & E . When the bass clef is placed on a stave, the lines are G B D F A and the spaces are A C E G. A note's shape represents its length (duration) [see the rhythm page for a list of these], and the position of the note-head determines the pitch.
A scale is an ascending or descending
series of notes.
If you play all the white notes on the piano from any C up to the
next C you'll hear a C major scale (the major scale is
familiar as Doh Ray Me Fah Soh Lah Ti Doh ).
If we wish to use the major scale starting on G (the G major scale), we find that we can no longer use only white notes to get the sound of the major scale - playing G A B C D E F G sounds wrong. Because we've started on G, the relationship of tones and semitones has been altered and is now T T S T T S T. We can correct this distribution of tones and semitones by sharpening the F; now when we play the scale we have G A B C D E F# G.
There are two versions of the minor scale, the
harmonic minor and the melodic minor.
The melodic minor scale has an ascending form and a descending form. The ascending melodic minor differs from the major scale only in that the third is a semitone lower; so C minor melodic ascending is C D E F G A B C. The descending melodic minor differs from the major in that the third, sixth, and seventh are flattened (lowered a semitone); C minor melodic descending is C B A G F E D C. The descending melodic minor is sometimes called the natural minor.
The following tables list the major and minor keys (scales) and
their key signatures
C major and A minor each have a key signature of no sharps and no flats.
If you see a piece of music with a key signature of 4 sharps, you know from the sharp mnemonic that those sharps are F#, C#, G#, and D# (Father Charles Goes Down). You know from the table of sharp keys that you are in E major (or its relative minor, C# minor).
In the same way, if your music has a key signature of 5 flats, the flat mnemonic informs you that those flats are B, E, A, D, and G (Battle Ends And Down Goes). You know from the table of flat keys that you are in the key (scale) of D major (or its relative minor, B minor).
The applet presents 5 notes on the staff; try to determine whether the one minor scale in which all 5 notes appear
is harmonic, ascending melodic, or descending melodic.
Press the Show Answer button to see if you're correct. Press New Minor Scale for the next example.