Theory 1, 2, 3: Easy Concepts -- Half Steps and Whole Steps

In my last “Theory 1, 2, 3” column I discussed the scale numbering system that gives us our “thirds,” and “fifths” and all that. If you missed that column, you can find it here.

In this column I’ll explain three simple concepts to help you understand what guitar players mean when they talk about half-steps and whole-steps.

It’s not hard to grasp, so let’s go.

Theory Concept 1: What are “Steps” in the First Place?

Steps -- as we talk about them in music -- are simply the distance between two notes. We usually hear musicians talking about half-steps and whole-steps, though sometimes we might hear someone say “one-and-a-half steps” or “three steps,” referring to larger distances between two notes.

We can also define scale patterns with formulas that spell out the succession of half-steps and whole-steps that make up that particular type of scale. A minor scale follows a different pattern of half-steps and whole-steps than a major scale, for instance. The Mixolydian mode follows a different succession of half-steps and whole-steps that some exotic scale from the Middle East.

Click Here to Learn Concept 2: What Are Half-Steps and Whole-Steps on the Guitar?


About the Author: Adam St. James is the Editor of and the author of many popular instructional music books, CDs, and DVDs, including the Hal Leonard titles “The Blues Guitar Handbook,” and “101 Guitar Tips: Stuff All The Pros Know And Use,” and his five-hour DVD course “Logical Lead Guitar.”

Follow Adam on

Find Out More:

Follow Us: on Facebook 
Follow Us: on Twitter 
Follow Us: on YouTube 
Follow Us: on Instagram is a free website, with an active and friendly forum community, lesson videos, guitar news, and the most in-depth interviews in the guitar industry. Join the community: Register for a free account today and post some pics of your guitars, videos of your band, or whatever you think other guitarists will find interesting.

Click Here To Register for a Free Account

Just can't get enough? Check out...