semi·​tone | \ ˈse-mē-ˌtōn How to pronounce semitone (audio) , ˈse-ˌmī-, -mi- \

Definition of semitone

: the tone at a half step also : half step

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Other Words from semitone

semitonic \ ˌse-​mē-​ˈtä-​nik How to pronounce semitone (audio) , ˌse-​ˌmī-​ , -​mi-​ \ adjective
semitonically \ ˌse-​mē-​ˈtä-​ni-​k(ə-​)lē How to pronounce semitone (audio) , ˌse-​ˌmī-​ , -​mi-​ \ adverb

Get Musical With the Definition of Semitone

A semitone (sometimes called a half tone or a half step) is the distance from a white key to a neighboring black key on the piano keyboard—for example, from G to G-sharp or from E to E-flat. In an octave (from G to the next G above, for instance), there are twelve semitones. Semitones are the smallest intervals that are used intentionally in almost any of the music you'll normally hear. Two semitones equal a whole tone—the distance from G up to A or from E down to D, for example.

Examples of semitone in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The score begins with horns and trombones blaring a semitone dissonance, like a motor horn in a nightmare city, and goes on from there. Alex Ross, The New Yorker, "The L.A. Philharmonic Revisits the Weimar Republic," 9 Mar. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'semitone.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of semitone

15th century, in the meaning defined above

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Time Traveler for semitone

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The first known use of semitone was in the 15th century

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Cite this Entry

“Semitone.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Mar. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of semitone

music : a difference in sound that is equal to ¹/₁₂ of an octave

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