Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is a Tritone?

Learn the most important interval in music

In this video, Robert explains what a tritone is and its important implication in the tonal construction of music.

Released on May 14, 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 am Robert Estrin with a really interesting show today.

What is a tritone? The tritone. The forbidden interval back from the church in hundreds of years ago forbid this interval. What is it? We're gonna cover it today, you'll hear it, understand it, and see how it resolves and how it's used.

The tritone, very simply, is half an octave. That's why there are 12 possible available tones in music, in western music. If you go six-half steps, you will create a tritone, exactly half an octave. So if you went up from C and you went C to C sharp as one, D, D sharp, E, F, F sharp, six-half steps. See that's sharp, there's your tritone. It has a demonic sound to it, doesn't it? And here's the fascinating thing. Since it divides the octave in half, if you invert the tritone and go from F sharp to C, you still have a tritone 1-2-3-4-5-6.

Now, how does a tritone resolve? This is where it gets really interesting because, you can take a tritone and go outwards by half steps or inward by half steps, and it resolves either way. So once again going C to F sharp, resolve to B and G. So now we are in G. Now here is where it gets really interesting. If you resolve inward, once again C the F sharp resolves to C sharp and E sharp. It resolves inward to C sharp which is exactly a tritone away from how it resolved the four outward to G. All kinds of interesting things.

Now, the tritone is the basis for western music, for total music. How can it be so strong? Well, it is so needing resolution that is the basis for establishing a key. In fact, the dominant seventh chord creates a tension because of the tritone that it contains. So for example, if I wanna establish the key of C major, I'll play a 1-4-1-6-4-5-7 that 5-7. Which needs to be resolved because it has the tritone, there's the F-B.

So very interesting things you can discover with the tritone. The other thing is...the diminished seventh chord is two tritones. So if you have all minor thirds, you have a tritone on the first and third note, and you also have the second and fourth note are both tritones. That's why the diminished seventh is so deceptive as we covered in a previous video.

Thanks so much for joining, Robert Estrin here at and, see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on August 25, 2016 @7:21 am PST
I am also a 72 oldy and now I am learning new terminology with your videos! Thanks! * VSM MEMBER * on May 14, 2014 @5:44 am PST
I REALLY enjoyed your introduction to tritones .... Thanks very much. Being an old neophyte at 72 yrs, I often fall afoul of musical/musician terminology. Could you please explain simply what it means when you say "a tritone needs to be resolved"? Why should it be resolved?
Thanks very much
Robert - host, on May 14, 2014 @1:14 pm PST
Tonality has some notes which are active tones which must resolve to restive tones. This is the basis for Western music. Here is a video exploring this topic:
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