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  • Chris Anderson

GCSE Music Revision - Melody Part 1 - Tones, Semitones, Major Scale

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Each week at least one of the blogs will be a GCSE music revision topic. Although each board has its own requirements I’m focussing on the broad strokes that feature in most of them.

Melody: A succession of notes, varying in pitch, which have an organised and recognisable shape. [Oxford concise dictionary of music]

Tones & Semitones

Straight away it can get confusing because we know the word tone means a musical sound. So tones and semitones are also known as whole-steps and half-steps.

The most straightforward way to describe a whole-step or half-step is by using a guitar fretboard, or a keyboard. If you play a woodwind or brass instrument hopefully the explanation will still make sense.

Simply put a half-step (semitone) is the distance of one fret on a guitar, or a key immediately next door on the keyboard. A whole-step (tone) is two frets, or two keys.

Chromatic Scale: one using sharps and one using flats
Notes and TAB for a 1 octave chromatic scale

The red arrows show what a half step looks like while the blues show a whole step.

As you can see on the piano the half-steps are all right next to each other and the whole steps have one key in-between.

On the guitar every other fret is a whole step with half steps being the next fret up or down. The highlighted circles show the notes used in the TAB/Music. You will notice that the guitar picture is only showing sharps. C# and Db are the same note. These are known as enharmonic equivalents.

Enharmonic Equivalents.

An enharmonic equivalent is a note which sounds the same but is written differently. Enharmonic equivalents are used to make music look neater or to save confusion. For example, a sequence of music is easier to read as ascending or descending if the note heads are on different positions on the stave. Doing this could also reduce the number of accidentals used.

If you need to find an enharmonic equivalent of a sharp note, go up to the next letter and make it flat.

If you need to find an enharmonic equivalent of a flat note, go down to the previous letter and make it a sharp.

Enharmonic Equivalents (read left to right, and right to left) C# = Db

D# = Eb

F# = Gb

G# = Ab

A# = Bb

The Major Scale

Now you know about tones and semitones (whole-steps and half-steps) let’s talk about the major scale. Every major scale is formed in the exact same way. By that I mean every major scale follows the same pattern of tones and semitones (whole-steps and half-steps). I prefer to use tones and semitones when thinking about scales as I find it quicker using Tone and Semitone (T & S) as my descriptors.

The “formula” is Tone Tone Semitone Tone Tone Tone Semitone.

This means that starting on any note if you follow that pattern you’ll get a major scale.

We’ll use the D major scale as an example.

Why not try it with other music notes. Pick a random note as your starting note and follow the pattern.

Three things to remember though:

1. You use each letter of the musical alphabet once and in order, in a one octave scale.

2. Don’t ever mix sharps and flats in a major scale.

3. Remember you are going a Tone from your starting note.

In the next revision blog I’ll talk you through key signatures and minor scales.

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