A semitone is the distance between two (not in the octave) pitches that can be made up with a scale and a semitone. A typical musical scale has a scale length of 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, & 16 semitones. A scale of the same length would be 16 semitones, but it would be used with an extra 1 in a few cases. The difference between using 16 semitones in a scale and the 2 in 4 case was a key difference; that being that the 16th (or 16th semi) in 4, 8, 12 or 16 makes no musical sense. 16 semitones in a scale makes it sounds like the pitches are “fuzzy” and has to be emphasized by the use of 2 semitones. It is possible to make the pitch 12 semitones by adding one to each pitch; in this case the 16th semitone is simply the 12th. It is an oddity that is much more common than one would think, that is the use of 16 semitones in a minor scale.
Is 1 2 4 8 12 16 always the same?
In fact sometimes not; for example sometimes only 2 semitones are added. The reason is because this gives the final note of the scale the illusion of being a semitone.
The idea in classical music is to find a balance of scale and semitone so that the intervals are not excessively sharp or flat. If a scale has no 2’s then one octave is too sharp, whereas if 2 is added then 1 octave is too flat.
How do I use semitones ?
The most appropriate way of using semitones is with a scale. You might use a scale to make up a chord progression, or to add color to your own songs.
The use of two semitones in a scale is called half-step or quarter-step.
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