Whole tone

What is a whole tone in music?

A whole tone is one of the smallest intervals used to measure a distance between two different pitches notated by notes in Western music theory. 

Notes can be located closeby or far apart. This distance is measured by music intervals, consisting of whole tones and semitones (also called half steps or half tones).

Therefore, whole tones and semitones can be used to express the length of intervals. For instance, the major second interval consists of one whole tone, and a minor seventh has the length of five whole tones.

What is a whole tone on a piano?

Let’s imagine the piano keyboard. Remember, some white keys are separated by a black key and some are not.

On the piano keyboard, a whole tone is the distance between two white keys separated by one black key; or between two neighboring black keys separated by one white key.

For instance, we find a black keys between the white keys that represent the C and D notes; therefore, these notes are separated from each other at a distance of a whole tone. Between the black key F# and and the black key G# we see a white key. So these notes are separated from each other at a distance of a whole tone too. 

whole tone on piano

Keep in mind that black keys can have different names depending on the musical situation. For instance, F# from the example above can be called Gb at certain moments. This phenomenon is called the enharmonic equivalent.

What is a whole tone on a guitar?

On the guitar fretboard a whole tone is the distance between two adjacent notes separated by one fret.

For instance, the G note is located on the thinnest string of the guitar at the third fret. If we move up the fretboard, skipping one fret, we land on the fifth fret, which is an A. Take a look at the piano keyboard for reference: two white keys separated by one black. Right, it’s a whole tone. 

whole tone on a guitar

What is a whole tone on an ukulele?

On an ukulele fretboard, just like on guitar, a whole tone is the distance between two notes separated by one fret.

Let’s look at the notes C and D. On ukulele, the C is located on the thinnest string third fret. If we want to find the whole tone distance, we need to move up the neck two frets, landing on the fifth fret. 

whole tone on an ukulele

Further to read: 

Semitone / half tone

Music interval Perfect fourth

Music interval Perfect fifth