When it comes to music theory, whole tones are an essential concept to understand. A whole tone refers to a distance of two semitones, or two half-steps, in the Western twelve-tone system. This distance is also known as a major second interval.

The Origin of Whole Tone Scale

The whole tone scale is a musical scale that consists entirely of whole tone intervals. This scale has been used by composers throughout history to create unique and ethereal sounds in their music. The origins of the whole tone scale can be traced back to ancient Greece, where it was used in music and mathematics.

Uses of Whole Tone Scale

In modern music, the whole tone scale is most commonly used in jazz and contemporary classical music. Composers such as Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky utilized this scale to create dreamlike soundscapes that were unlike anything heard before. Jazz musicians such as John Coltrane also used the whole tone scale in their improvisations to add an otherworldly dimension to their playing.

Whole Tone Chords

In addition to scales, whole tones can also be used to construct chords. A whole tone chord is a chord that consists entirely of notes that are separated by intervals of a whole tone. These chords have a distinctly ambiguous and unresolved sound due to the lack of any major or minor tonality.

Examples of Whole Tone Chords

It’s important to note that while these chords may sound dissonant on their own, they can be utilized creatively in compositions to create tension and release.

The Role of Whole Tone in Jazz Music

In jazz music, the whole tone scale and chords are often used to create a sense of dissonance and tension. Jazz musicians will often use these elements to lead into more traditional chord progressions, creating a sense of surprise and anticipation for the listener.


Whole tones are an important concept in music theory that can be used to create unique and otherworldly sounds in compositions. Whether you’re a composer or a performer, understanding the role of whole tones in music can help you to create works that are engaging, innovative, and unforgettable.