Diatonic scale

In music theory, a diatonic scale is any heptatonic scale that includes five whole steps (whole tones) 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 (i.e. separated by at least two whole steps).

Diatonic scale on C, a "white note" scale

The seven pitches of any diatonic scale can also be obtained by using a chain of six perfect fifths. For instance, the seven natural pitch classes that form the C-major scale can be obtained from a stack of perfect fifths starting from F:


Any sequence of seven successive natural notes, such as C–D–E–F–G–A–B, and any transposition thereof, is a diatonic scale. Modern musical keyboards are designed so that the white notes form a diatonic scale, though transpositions of this diatonic scale require one or more black keys. A diatonic scale can be also described as two tetrachords separated by a whole tone.

The term diatonic originally referred to the diatonic genus, one of the three genera of the ancient Greeks. In musical set theory, Allen Forte classifies diatonic scales as set form 7–35.

This article does not concern alternative seven-note scales such as the harmonic minor or the melodic minor which, although sometimes called "diatonic", do not fulfill the condition of maximal separation of the semitones indicated above.