In general musical usage, the whole tone is a synonym for the interval of the major second . This results from the fact that diatonic scales only use whole and semitones as steps (one semitone corresponds to the small second).
In the Pythagorean tuning , the whole tone with the frequency proportion 9: 8 results as the difference between the perfect fifth with the proportion 3: 2 and the pure fourth with the proportion 4: 3.
In the Renaissance , through the introduction of pure tuning, the differentiation between the large whole tone (9: 8) and the small whole tone (10: 9) was added (pure major third (5: 4) = large whole tone + small whole tone).
The difference between the large and small whole tone, the syntonic comma , is eliminated in the usual tempered tunings , so that the whole tone is a clear interval that satisfies the definition of whole tone = fifth - fourth.
|interval||proportion||Approximation in cents|
|(large) whole tone (in C major: C – D, F – G and A – B)||9 : 8||204 cents|
|small whole tone (in C major: D – E and G – A)||10 : 9||182 cents|
|Semitone (in C major: E – F and B – C)||16 : 15||111 cents|
|Whole tone ( equal key )||200 cents|
|Semitone ( equal )||100 cents|
The term "whole tone" goes back to the tone of Aristoxenus ; He used it as a measure interval, formed the semitone, third tone , quarter tone and generally the n -th tone and represented the consonances as multiples of the tone: fourth = 2½ tone, fifth = 3½ tone, octave = 6 tone. These equations of magnitude also apply in the twelve-level tempered tone system that is predominant in western music today. Even Euclid adopted the aristoxenic terminology , which made the term “whole tone” ambiguous.
In the ancient Tonsystemtheorie other than the diatonic dive tetrachords of Philolaos / Euclid and Aristoxenos also all sorts of other diatonic tetrachords on where some modern music theorists speak of whole tones. These include tetrachords by Didymos , who already combined the intervals of the proportions 9: 8 and 10: 9, i.e. the large and small whole tones.
Western polyphonic music used the semitone and its variants as the smallest interval until the 20th century. Smaller intervals such as third, quarter, sixth, eighth and twelfth notes, which were already known in ancient music theory, were taken up again in the 20th century by composers such as Alois Hába .
In the Orient , intervals on the order of quarter tones are common in music practice.
- Whole tone up
- Whole tone down