Jazz Theory 1
and Symmetric scales

  1. Tones & Semitones
  2. The Chromatic scale
  3. The Whole-tone scale
  4. 8-note Symmetric scales
  5. Quiz and Quiz Answers
  6. Ear tests 1- 3 and Ear test Answers
  7. Lesson Material - General files

    Jazz Theory lessons online

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JT 1.1 - Tones & Semitones

An interval is the distance (difference in pitch) between two notes.

When the notes occur one after another the interval is melodic.


When the notes occur simultaneously the interval is harmonic.

The smallest interval in use in the Western musical tradition is the semitone (also called half step). It is the interval between any note and its nearest neighbour on the keyboard. Two semitones together form one tone (or whole tone or whole step).

Audio 1

From C to C# (or Db) is a semitone. From C# to D is also a semitone.

Therefore from C to D is 2 semitones or 1 whole tone.

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JT 1.2 - The Chromatic scale

There are a total of twelve notes within an octave, represented by the 12 keys on the keyboard.
All notes are spaced at semitone intervals. There are therefore 12 semitone within an octave.


When all 12 notes are played one after the other they form the Chromatic scale ('chromatic' means 'colour').

The Chromatic scale contains all the notes of the Western music system. These twelve notes are repeated within successive octaves up and down the keyboard.

The chromatic scale is a symmetric scale because all the notes in the scale are spaced at equal (semitone) intervals.

Audio 2

Going up, the black notes on the keyboard are usually written as sharps.

C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A - A# - B - C

Going down, the black notes are written as flats.

C - B - Bb - A - Ab - G - Gb - F - E - Eb - D - Db - C

This keeps the accidentals required (flats, sharps, naturals) to a minimum.

Ten of the semitone intervals within the octave are between a white note and a black note on the keyboard.
But two of the semitones are from one white note to another white note. They are the intervals from E to F, and from B to C.

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JT 1.3 - The Whole-tone scale

All the notes of the chromatic scale are spaced at equal ('symmetrical') , semitone, intervals. This scale is therefore a called a symmetric scale

One can also form a symmetric scale by selecting notes spaced at whole tone (2 semitones) intervals.
This scale consists of six notes only and is called the Whole-tone scale.

Here the C whole-tone scale.

Audio 3

Any of the above notes can form the tonic of the whole-tone scale using the same six notes.

C whole-tone scaleC D E F# G# A# C
D whole-tone scaleD E F# G# A# C D
E whole-tone scaleE F# G# A# C D E
F# whole-tone scaleF# G# A# C D E F#
G# whole-tone scaleG# A# C D E F# G#
A# whole-tone scaleA# C D E F# G# A#

The whole-tone scales gained prominence in the beginning of this Century through modern composers such as Claude Debussy and Olivier Messiaen.

Jazz improvisers were quick to take up this new sound for improvisation over augmented triads and augmented 7th chords (+7 or 7aug).

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JT 1.4 - 8-note Symmetric scales

Other symmetric scales can be formed by alternating note spacings of tones and semitones.

There are two possibilities.

8-note Dominant scale (semitone - tone - semitone - tone -)
This scale starts with a semitone between the tonic and 2nd note, then a tone between the 2nd and 3rd notes, again a semitone between the 3rd and 4th note, and so on.

Audio 4

In Jazz this scale is used as an alternative choice for improvisation over dominant 7th and altered dominant 7th chords (see Lesson 20).

8-note Diminished scale (tone - semitone - tone - semitone - )
This scale starts with a tone between the tonic and 2nd note, then a semitone between the 2nd and 3rd notes, again a tone between the 3rd and 4th note, and so on.

Audio 5

In Jazz this scale is used for improvisation over diminished chords (see Lesson 15).

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JT 1.5 - Quiz

1. What is an interval ?

2. What is a semitone ?

3. What is a tone ?

4. How many whole tones are there in one octave ?

How many semitones are there in each of the intervals listed below.
(Both notes are within one octave range, the second note is always the higher one.)

1 = C - D

2 = C - E

3 = C - F

4 = C - G

5 = C - A

6 = C - B

7 = C - C

8 = C - Eb

9 = C - Bb

10 = C - F#

11 = F# - C

12 = F - B

13 = B - F

14 = E - D

15 = D - E

16 = G - B

17 = B - G

18 = D - Eb

19 = Eb - D

20 = D# - D

The C whole-tone scale contains the notes that make up 6 of the 12 possible whole-tone scales.
Which is the other group of six notes that make up the remaining six scales ?

The notes of the C 8-note dominant scale make up four 8-note dominant scales and also four 8-note diminished scales. Which are they ?

The notes of the C 8-note diminished scale make up four 8-note diminished scales and also four 8-note dominant scales. Which are they ?

Construct the C# 8-note dominant scale. Which other seven scales can be made up from the notes of this scale ?

Mark the 8-note Dominant scale in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.
Use the formula :

semitone - tone - semitone - tone - semitone - tone - semitone - tone

Like this for the E 8-note Dominant scale :


Mark the 8-note Diminished scale in all keys on the Keyboard Diagrams.
Use the formula :

tone - semitone - tone - semitone - tone - semitone - tone - semitone

Exercises as outlined in Quiz G and H above greatly improve your memory data base of music elements. This is essential for good improvisation!
Do not skimp on these exercises, but do as many as you can throughout this Course.

Quiz Answers

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JT 1.6 - Ear tests 1 - 3

Ear test 1 - tones and semitones.
First listen to the Audio Demo. It plays :

  1. first a semitone interval three times,
  2. then a tone interval, also three times,
  3. finally the beginning of the Harry Lime motif, which consists of semitones only. (The Harry Lime motif is from the legendary 1950s movie thriller The Third Man, starring Orson Welles.)


Ear test 1 - 10 intervals. Tone and semitone intervals only.

Each interval is played three times. First twice as two separate notes (the lower note first), then as two tones together.

Ear test 2 - symmetric scales (3-notes segments).
Each ear test plays a 3-note segment, forming interval combinations of tones and semitones.
These combinations are :
  1. - s - s - = two semitones

  2. - t - t - = two tones

  3. - s - t - = first a semitone, then a tone

  4. - t - s - = first a tone, then a semitone

Ear test 2 - 12 three-note segments.

Each 3-note segment is played twice, in ascending order only.

Ear test 3 - symmetric scales (5-notes segments).
The ear test plays segments of the four types of symmetric scales.

  1. - s - s - s - s - = chromatic scale segment

  2. - t - t - t - t - = whole-tone scale segment

  3. - s - t - s - t - = 8-note dominant segment

  4. - t - s - t - s - = 8-note diminished segment

Each scale segment is 5 notes long (otherwise you could recognise the scale just by counting the number of notes !).

Ear test 3 - 8 five-note scale segments.

Each 5-note scale segment is played twice, in ascending order only.

Complete scales
Audio Demos of three Symmetric C scales :

  1. - t - t - t - t - C whole-tone scale

  2. - s - t - s - t - C 8-note dominant scale

  3. - t - s - t - s - C 8-note diminished scale

Single Items test
Each number plays one of the above C scales : 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 |

Ear test Answers

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JT 1.7 - Lesson Material

The Lesson Material Table at the end of each lesson contains exercises and reference material for you to print out.

  1. Keep the scales, chords and other practice material in a separate Practice Folder. All pages which go into that folder are numbered as shown in the Contents Page.

  2. Each Lesson also includes a Facts sheet. Keep these in a separate Reference folder.

  3. Also included under Lesson Materials are a page with Keyboard Diagrams and a blank sheet of Manuscript paper. In following Lessons we will also use Scale Letters Diagrams, Chord Letters Diagrams and Chord Inversion Diagrams.
    Print as many sheets of these as you like and use them for writing out intervals, scales and chords in all keys.

Be sure to use these devices for testing your knowledge on scales and chords.
They will help you to build a collection of visual images of scales, chords and other musical elements in your mind.

File Name Contents
jt01fac.gif Jazz Theory 1 - Facts sheet



Large Keyboard

Keyboard Diagrams

Manuscript paper



Practice Folder - Contents page

Practice Folder - Symmetric scales (p.1)

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© 1998 - 2008 Michael Furstner (Jazclass)