Music Theory 101: Diatonic Scale Definition, Whole Tone and Semitone

music theoryHello everybody and welcome to another Music Theory 101 where we are going to talk about the Diatonic Scale, the Whole tone and the semitones. Before we continue i would like to ask you to follow us on our social media so you can find out each time we upload new content. OK, let’s focus on the matter at hand.

Diatonic Scale

A succession of sounds, arranged by joint movement is what we call a Diatonic Scale. Arranging the 7 notes we already know from lowest to highest (for example: C, D, E, F, G, A, B) and adding at the end of it another note (C) which will be the first repeated note on the scale, we have a Diatonic Scale.

diatonic scale definition

The last C note of the serie can also be the first note of a new serie, similar to the first one, but in a higher pitch.

whole tone

The scale is composed of tones and semitones. What are they?

The notes don’t have the same space between them, between some of them the distance is bigger, and between others the distances is smaller.


It’s the smaller distance between 2 notes. Let’s say you have a piece of bread and you split it in half, each half is a semitone. When, you bring them together you form a whole tone. Now let’s take this to a much more relatable context. Remember the keys of a piano? Some of them are white and some are black, and the black keys are between the white ones. We can say that the white keys are whole tones, and the black ones are semitones, except for the keys E-F and B-C, those don’t have a black key between them, which means they are semitones.


Whole Tone

A whole tone is the summation of two semitones. The same piano example applies.

So a tone exists between the 1st note and the 2nd note, between the 2nd and 3rd, between the 4th and 5th, 5th and 6th, 6th and 7th. And a Semitone only happens between the 3rd and 4th note and the 7th and 8th note.

whole steps

A Diatonic Scales has 5 tones and 2 semitones. You can use the following formula for constructing a diatonic scale:

Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone.

Time for experiments!

A Diatonic scale doesn’t have to start in a C note, it can start on any note you want as long as it holds the formula we talked about before.

So go on and experiment on your guitar. Try to build scales based on the formula y gave you. I know this was a short Music Theory 101 but it’s only because i wanted to explain this quickly so be can step forward in the world of scales.

You can also check out these books:

These are great books and they all talk about the different scales and formulas to construct them.

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If you have any questions you can leave them below and i’ll answer as soon as possible.

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Ileana Villasmil

Singer, bachelor's degree in Music, 10 years of experience with choir singing, vocal techniques, and performance. Arranger, composer, and co-founder of Damprog Music.


  1. I always think of the whole tone as the goofy cartoon tom & jerry scale. Good that you mention the diatonic scale since most memorable solos, songs, chord progressions and music ion general sounds good diatonic, cant go wrong with that. Always great to see fellow musicians giving value (;

    • Thanks so much! And yes, the Diatonic scale in major and minor are the most popular in music

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