Robert Estrin - piano expert

Explaining Music Intervals - Whole and Half Steps

Music Theory Lessons, Episode 1

In this video, Robert explains what intervals are, the differences between whole and half steps, and why intervals are so important.

Released on January 1, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with the first in a series of music theory lessons. Today's subject, intervals. The very smallest intervals. We're gonna discuss today the half step and the whole step. Why is it so important? Well, you're gonna learn a bunch about that and I'm gonna break it down for you, because it really is very simple. In fact, all music theory is built upon very simple principles, one on top of the next. Just like mathematics. If you understand the fundamentals, it's very easy to understand larger concepts. So, I'm gonna really cover half steps and whole steps today, thoroughly. So, you'll understand them completely.

All right. Intervals, simply put, are the distance between notes or the distance between tones, more accurately. The piano is a wonderful instrument, because it's very visual. So, I'm gonna use the piano keyboard to show you. What is a half step? Simply put, a half step is two keys together with no keys between. Ah ha. So, if you go to the keyboard, any two keys that are together with no keys between. So, you notice, sometimes half steps can be white keys. Now, one of the mistakes that sometimes people make when they're new to this, is thinking that all the white keys are next to each other. Which is why, when you're looking at intervals, ignore the front of the keys completely.

And if you just look here, these are all half steps. Not all of these are half steps, because there are black keys between some of them. But all of these are a half step apart. That's very simple, isn't it? So, what's a whole step? Well, some people might say it's two half steps. But I'm gonna break it down even simpler. A whole step is two keys together with one key between. So, it can be two black keys, like this. The one white key is between. Or it can be two white keys with a black key between. Or it can be a black and a white. As long as there's one key between, you always have a whole step.

Now, why is this so important? Well, all major scales are a series of half steps and whole steps, which we'll cover in a future video. But for today, now you know, half steps and whole steps. The smallest intervals, the foundation of all music. All western music, that is. Thanks for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Robert - host, on March 23, 2016 @1:26 pm PST
To determine how many half-steps 2 keys are apart, you simply count the number of keys by the fallboard where both black and white keys are located. The front of the keys only have white keys. So, if you count keys there, some are half-steps and some are whole-steps depending upon whether or not there are black keys between them. But by counting keys in front of the fallboard, you will be able to determine how many half-steps there are between any 2 keys easily since both white and black keys are there to count.
Avrelle * VSM MEMBER * on March 23, 2016 @10:13 am PST
Please explain the last sentence of the 2nd paragraph, i.e. "Which is ......keys completely."
Steve Fuhrmann * VSM MEMBER * on March 23, 2016 @7:53 am PST
Thank you, Robert. Thank you for your video series; I enjoy them.
This video is almost too basic. Don't all your viewers already know adjacent piano keys are half steps. An explanation of the mathematical relationship between frequencies of half and whole steps would be interesting and perhaps set the stage for later explaining why some intervals sound pleasant and some sound tense. Again, thanks taking on the music theory topic. I'm looking forward to it.
Robert Estrin - host, on December 9, 2016 @1:47 pm PST
There are viewers on all levels. Here is an article and video which delves into the mathematical relationship of intervals:
Helena boggia on January 15, 2014 @7:49 am PST
Hi Robert, keep em coming...really helpful
Amy on January 1, 2014 @3:35 pm PST
Excellent explanation. Easily understood. Thank you! * VSM MEMBER * on January 1, 2014 @7:45 am PST
Thank you ... Could you please recommend a study/practice course to help read music QUICKLY for the pianio and also the guitar.
Thanks VERY much
Robert Estrin - host, on January 1, 2014 @5:32 pm PST
There is a comprehensive sight-reading program in the works which you will be hearing about in the future. Meanwhile, here are some videos that may be of help:
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