Steps and skips

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Major second on C.svg
Step: major second. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Major third on C.png
Skip: Major third. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
A chorale melody containing only steps, no skips: "Jesu, Leiden, Pein, und Tod". Play (help*info) Chorale - Jesu, Leiden, Pein, un Tod - all steps.png
A chorale melody containing only steps, no skips: "Jesu, Leiden, Pein, und Tod". Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In music, a step, or conjunct motion, [1] is the difference in pitch between two consecutive notes of a musical scale. In other words, it is the interval between two consecutive scale degrees. Any larger interval is called a skip (also called a leap), or disjunct motion. [1]


In the diatonic scale, a step is either a minor second (sometimes also called half step) or a major second (sometimes also called whole step), with all intervals of a minor third or larger being skips. For example, C to D (major second) is a step, whereas C to E (major third) is a skip.

More generally, a step is a smaller or narrower interval in a musical line, and a skip is a wider or larger interval with the categorization of intervals into steps and skips is determined by the tuning system and the pitch space used.

Melodic motion in which the interval between any two consecutive pitches is no more than a step, or, less strictly, where skips are rare, is called stepwise or conjunct melodic motion, as opposed to skipwise or disjunct melodic motion, characterized by frequent skips.

Half steps

In the major scale or any of its modes, a step will always be a movement of 1 or 2 semitones, and a skip a movement of 3 or more semitones.

In other scales an augmented second—an incomposite step equivalent to 3 semitones—and/or a diminished third—a skip of 2 semitones—may be possible.


"Pop Goes the Weasel" melody is primarily steps. Play (help*info) Pop Goes the Weasel melody.PNG
"Pop Goes the Weasel" melody is primarily steps. Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Webern's Variations for orchestra (1940), op. 30 (pp.23-24) melody is primarily skips. Play (help*info) Webern Variations melody.png
Webern's Variations for orchestra (1940), op. 30 (pp.23–24) melody is primarily skips. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Melody may be characterized by its degree and type of conjunct and disjunct motion. For example, Medieval plainchant melodies are generally characterized by conjunct motion with occasional thirds, fourths, and generally ascending fifths while larger intervals are quite rare though octave leaps may occur between two separate phrases. [4] Renaissance melodies are generally characterized by conjunct motion, with only occasional leaps of more than a fifth and then rarely anything but a sixth or octave. [1] In contrast, melody in the 20th century varied greatly including the diatonic idiom of the 18th century (Classical), the variety of idioms from the 19th century (Romantic), and newer nondiatonic scales in the 20th century. [5] Some of these later idioms included many or predominantly leaps.

See also

Related Research Articles

In music theory, a diatonic scale is any heptatonic scale that includes five whole steps and two half steps (semitones) in each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps, depending on their position in the scale. This pattern ensures that, in a diatonic scale spanning more than one octave, all the half steps are maximally separated from each other.

In the theory of Western music, a mode is a type of musical scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic and harmonic behaviors. Musical modes have been a part of western musical thought since the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music. The name mode derives from the Latin word modus, "measure, standard, manner, way, size, limit of quantity, method".

Melody Linear succession of musical tones in the foreground of a work of music

A melody, also tune, voice or line, is a linear succession of musical tones that the listener perceives as a single entity. In its most literal sense, a melody is a combination of pitch and rhythm, while more figuratively, the term can include successions of other musical elements such as tonal color. It may be considered the foreground to the background accompaniment. A line or part need not be a foreground melody.

In music theory, a scale is any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, and a scale ordered by decreasing pitch is a descending scale.

In music theory, an interval is the difference in pitch between two sounds. An interval may be described as horizontal, linear, or melodic if it refers to successively sounding tones, such as two adjacent pitches in a melody, and vertical or harmonic if it pertains to simultaneously sounding tones, such as in a chord.

Chromatic scale Musical scale with twelve pitches separated by semitone intervals

The chromatic scale is a set of twelve pitches used in tonal music, with notes separated by the interval of a semitone. Almost all western musical instruments, such as the piano, are made to produce the chromatic scale, while other instruments such as the trombone and violin can also produce microtones, or notes between those available on a piano.

In music theory, the tritone is defined as a musical interval composed of three adjacent whole tones. For instance, the interval from F up to the B above it is a tritone as it can be decomposed into the three adjacent whole tones F–G, G–A, and A–B. According to this definition, within a diatonic scale there is only one tritone for each octave. For instance, the above-mentioned interval F–B is the only tritone formed from the notes of the C major scale. A tritone is also commonly defined as an interval spanning six semitones. According to this definition, a diatonic scale contains two tritones for each octave. For instance, the above-mentioned C major scale contains the tritones F–B and B–F. In twelve-equal temperament, the tritone divides the octave exactly in half as 6 of 12 semitones or 600 of 1200 cents.

In music theory, a tetrachord is a series of four notes separated by three intervals. In traditional music theory, a tetrachord always spanned the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion —but in modern use it means any four-note segment of a scale or tone row, not necessarily related to a particular tuning system.

Semitone musical interval

A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. It is defined as the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale. For example, C is adjacent to C; the interval between them is a semitone.

In the history of European art music, the common practice period is the era of the tonal system. Though it has no exact dates, most features of the common-practice period persisted from the mid- to late baroque period, through the Classical, Romantic and Impressionist periods, from around 1650 to 1900. The period saw considerable stylistic evolution, with some patterns and conventions flourishing and then declining, for example the sonata form. Thus, the dates 1650–1900 are necessarily nebulous and arbitrary borders that depend on context. The most important unifying feature throughout the period is a harmonic language to which modern music theorists can apply Roman numeral chord analysis.

Chromaticism is a compositional technique interspersing the primary diatonic pitches and chords with other pitches of the chromatic scale. Chromaticism is in contrast or addition to tonality or diatonicism and modality. Chromatic elements are considered, "elaborations of or substitutions for diatonic scale members".

Not only at the beginning of a composition but also in the midst of it, each scale-step [degree] manifests an irresistible urge to attain the value of the tonic for itself as that of the strongest scale-step. If the composer yields to this urge of the scale-step within the diatonic system of which this scale-step forms part, I call this process tonicalization and the phenomenon itself chromatic.

Chromaticism is almost by definition an alteration of, an interpolation in or deviation from this basic diatonic organization.

Throughout the nineteenth century, composers felt free to alter any or all chord members of a given tertian structure [chord built from thirds] according to their compositional needs and dictates. Pronounced or continuous chordal alteration [and 'extension'] resulted in chromaticism. Chromaticism, together with frequent modulations and an abundance of non-harmonicism [non-chord tones], initially effected an expansion of the tertian system; the overuse of the procedures late in the century forewarned the decline and near collapse [atonality] of the system [tonality].

Chromaticism is the name given to the use of tones outside the major or minor scales. Chromatic tones began to appear in music long before the common-practice period, and by the beginning of that period were an important part of its melodic and harmonic resources. Chromatic tones arise in music partly from inflection [alteration] of scale degrees in the major and minor modes, party from secondary dominant harmony, from a special vocabulary of altered chords, and from certain nonharmonic tones.... Notes outside the scale do not necessarily affect the tonality....tonality is established by the progression of roots and the tonal functions of the chords, even though the details of the music may contain all the tones of the chromatic scale.

Sometimes...a melody based on a regular diatonic scale is laced with many accidentals, and although all 12 tones of the chromatic scale may appear, the tonal characteristics of the diatonic scale are maintained. ... Chromaticism [is t]he introduction of some pitches of the chromatic scale into music that is basically diatonic in orientation, or music that is based on the chromatic scale instead of the diatonic scales.

Pitch space Model for relationships between pitches

In music theory, pitch spaces model relationships between pitches. These models typically use distance to model the degree of relatedness, with closely related pitches placed near one another, and less closely related pitches placed farther apart. Depending on the complexity of the relationships under consideration, the models may be multidimensional. Models of pitch space are often graphs, groups, lattices, or geometrical figures such as helixes. Pitch spaces distinguish octave-related pitches. When octave-related pitches are not distinguished, we have instead pitch class spaces, which represent relationships between pitch classes. Chordal spaces model relationships between chords.

In the musical system of ancient Greece, Genus is a term used to describe certain classes of intonations of the two movable notes within a tetrachord. The tetrachordal system was inherited by the Latin medieval theory of scales and by the modal theory of Byzantine music; it may have been one source of the later theory of the jins of Arabic music. In addition, Aristoxenus calls some patterns of rhythm "genera".

Melodic motion

Melodic motion is the quality of movement of a melody, including nearness or farness of successive pitches or notes in a melody. This may be described as conjunct or disjunct, stepwise, skipwise or no movement, respectively. See also contrapuntal motion. In a conjunct melodic motion, the melodic phrase moves in a stepwise fashion; that is the subsequent notes move up or down a semitone or tone, but no greater. In a disjunct melodic motion, the melodic phrase leaps upwards or downwards; this movement is greater than a whole tone. In popular Western music, a melodic leap of disjunct motion is often present in the chorus of a song, to distinguish it from the verses and captivate the audience.

A heptatonic scale is a musical scale that has seven pitches per octave. Examples include the major scale or minor scale; e.g., in C major: C D E F G A B C—and in the relative minor, A minor, natural minor: A B C D E F G A; the melodic minor scale, A B C D E FGA ascending, A G F E D C B A descending; the harmonic minor scale, A B C D E F GA; and a scale variously known as the Byzantine, and Hungarian, scale, C D E F G A B C. Indian classical theory postulates seventy-two seven-tone scale types, collectively called thaat, whereas others postulate twelve or ten seven-tone scale types.

Consecutive fifths

In music, consecutive fifths, or parallel fifths, are progressions in which the interval of a perfect fifth is followed by a different perfect fifth between the same two musical parts : for example, from C to D in one part along with G to A in a higher part. Octave displacement is irrelevant to this aspect of musical grammar; for example, parallel twelfths are equivalent to parallel fifths.

Rothenberg propriety

In diatonic set theory, Rothenberg propriety is an important concept, lack of contradiction and ambiguity, in the general theory of musical scales which was introduced by David Rothenberg in a seminal series of papers in 1978. The concept was independently discovered in a more restricted context by Gerald Balzano, who termed it coherence.

Diatonic and chromatic Terms in music theory to characterize scales

Diatonic and chromatic are terms in music theory that are most often used to characterize scales, and are also applied to musical instruments, intervals, chords, notes, musical styles, and kinds of harmony. They are very often used as a pair, especially when applied to contrasting features of the common practice music of the period 1600–1900.

Incomposite interval

An incomposite interval is a concept in the Ancient Greek theory of music concerning melodic musical intervals between neighbouring notes in a tetrachord or scale which, for that reason, do not encompass smaller intervals. Aristoxenus defines melodically incomposite intervals in the following context:

Let us assume that given a systēma, whether pyknon or non-pyknon, no interval less than the remainder of the first concord can be placed next above it, and no interval less than a tone next below it. Let us also assume that each of the notes which are melodically successive in each genus will either form with the fourth note in order from it the concord of a fourth, or will form with the fifth note from it in order the concord of a fifth, or both, and that any note of which none of these things is true is unmelodic relative to those with which it forms no concord. Let us further assume that given that there are four intervals in the fifth, of which two are usually equal and two unequal, the unequal ones are placed next to the equal ones in the opposite order above and below. Let us assume that notes standing at the same concordant interval from successive notes are in succession with one another. Let us assume that in each genus an interval is melodically incomposite if the voice, in singing a melody, cannot divide it into intervals.

Anhemitonic scale

Musicology commonly classifies scales as either hemitonic or anhemitonic. Hemitonic scales contain one or more semitones, while anhemitonic scales do not contain semitones. For example, in traditional Japanese music, the anhemitonic yo scale is contrasted with the hemitonic in scale. The simplest and most commonly used scale in the world is the atritonic anhemitonic "major" pentatonic scale. The whole tone scale is also anhemitonic.


  1. 1 2 3 Bonds, Mark Evan (2006). A History of Music in Western Culture, p.123. 2nd ed. ISBN   0-13-193104-0.
  2. Kliewer, Vernon (1975). "Melody: Linear Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music", Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music, p.270-301. Wittlich, Gary (ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN   0-13-049346-5.
  3. Marquis, G. Welton (1964). Twentieth Century Music Idioms, p.2. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
  4. Bonds (2006), p.43.
  5. Bonds (2006), p.540.