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Chromatic and Diatonic Half Steps

Module by: Terry B. Ewell. E-mail the author

Summary: Module introducing chromatic and diatonic half steps in music.

Music notation contains two types of half steps: chromatic and diatonic. Chromatic half steps contain the same alphabet letters. For instance, C and C#, Eb and E, and G and G# are all pairs of chromatic half steps. Diatonic half steps also contain half step motions but use adjacent letters in the musical alphabet. E and F, F# and G, and A and Bb are pairs of diatonic half steps.

Study the figure below. Which are chromatic half steps and which are diatonic half steps?

Figure 1
Figure 1 (Picture 0.png)

ANSWER: C to C# is a chromatic half step. D to Eb and E to F are diatonic half steps.

Here are some examples of chromatic half steps in music notation. Notice that half steps can ascend or descend.

Ascending (C to C#, chromatic half step):

Figure 2
Figure 2 (Picture 5.jpg)

Ascending (Bb to B natural, chromatic half step):

Figure 3
Figure 3 (Picture 4.jpg)

Descending (D to Db, chromatic half step):

Figure 4
Figure 4 (Picture 6.jpg)

Likewise diatonic half steps can ascend or descend.

Ascending (A# to B, diatonic half step):

Figure 5
Figure 5 (Picture 8.jpg)

Ascending (B to C, diatonic half step):

Figure 6
Figure 6 (Picture 9.jpg)

Descending (E to D#, diatonic half step):

Figure 7
Figure 7 (Picture 13.jpg)

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