Intervals - Finally Explained Part 1

That's the best and simpliest explanation about intervals, you can find.

Ultimate Guitar


Intervals, according to music theory literature is a distance between two notes, simply said. So, if we play two notes, one after another, there's a interval between them, called a melodic interval even if they are the two same notes. If we play them together (simultaneously) - there's also an interval, but now it's called a harmonic interval.

Today's lesson is about to be pure theory behind them, the next two will be about practicing them in two methods - visually and aurally.


So, how do we measure them? Simply, in semitones. If you don't know what a semitone is, check my lesson on notes and their names. It's crucial to know them, so if you need, have a minute to read that one.

Now, I will show you a table of intervals, which you should know.

Going from left to right: Number of semitones, name of the interval, short name.

no. of semitones | name |short | example note
| 0 | Perfect unison | P1 | C | 1 | Minor second | m2 | C# |
| 2 | Major second | M2 | D |
| 3 | Minor third | m3 | D# |
| 4 | Major third | M3 | E |
| 5 | Perfect fourth | P4 | F |
| 6 | Diminished fifth |A4/d5 | F# |
| 7 | Perfect fifth | P5 | G |
| 8 | Minor sixth | m6 | G# |
| 9 | Major sixth | M6 | A |
| 10 | Minor seventh | m7 | A# |
| 11 | Major seventh | M7 | B |
| 12 | Perfect octave | P8 | C |

Explanation of symbols in short names is simple: P goes for perfect, m for minor, M for major, d for diminished, A for augmented. These are the interval qualities. More on it later.

Example notes are to show how intervals work. We have chosen the C as our root note, so intervals that are in the table are measured from C do note x. Next example: Major fifth (M5) is from C to G. Look at the table and accommodate the knowledge.

When I was learning the intervals, years ago, I was writing that table several times daily on a piece of paper, so the recipe got stuck in my head. Now, my mind really knows how many major sixth has got semitones in it and what's it shortened name. And every other too. That's really simple, but don't overwhelm yourself. Try to memorize two, or three daily, and if you're sure about them, go onto memorizing next ones.

The prefixes: m, M, P, A or d, determine the interval quality. Quality of an interval is purely connected with its sound. Perfect were traditionally considered to sound really perfect and pure, consonant. Major or minor are just major or minor, considered to major be bright or happy, and the minor sad and dull. Diminished or augmented sound really distinct and I will not try to describe it, leaving it for you to find out for yourself, or wait for the part three.

That's all about the first part of the series. In the next one you will be shown how to learn them visually on the fretboard so playing them will be a no-problem for you. In part three we will use our ears to remember all the intervals.

Stay tuned! As always - rate, comment and visit my Facebook profile.

20 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Opps! I guess I was in a hurry. Thats Perfect fifth for sure! Thanks for pointing that out! Sorry for that.
    Yes, it'd be theoretically correct to use next tone, but this table approach is purely mathematic, I've noticed that for my students it's easier to understand when they start learning intervals in this way. This method helps to understand the places where really the enharmonics are, and since they are stuck in the head - using proper notation is not a problem
    Why not teach correctly from the start? Then you don't have to go back later and correct the errors that they learned. I don't see how it can "help to understand the places where really the enharmonics are" better than teaching correct information from the outset.
    Yall are both dumb, both of them are theoreticly correct, I have tought myself everything I know, and what I know is that "theory", does nothing but confuse people and complicate things, playing guitar is supposed to be fun, not confusing, complicating or frusturating. To really "master" the insturment, you must do it yourself, thats why people like you two will never be as good as the creators of the inturment. Over anylizing and over thinking song writing distorts your creativity, not stimulate.
    "Theory does nothing but confuse people and complicate things." ... If people like you ran the world, we'd still be in the damn stone ages. "thats why people like you two will never be as good as the creators of the inturment." DO YOU REALLY THINK THE GUITAR WAS INVENTED OUT OF THIN AIR WITH ZERO THEORY INVOLVED? WTF. SERIOUSLY WTF WTF WTF WTF WTF.
    So bumming about is more effective than learning to understand how an instrument works? I can guarantee that every masterful guitarist has quite a bit of theory under his or her belt.
    In the second paragraph after your table, I noticed you wrote M5 for major fifth but I don't see that in the table. I see a perfect fifth from C to G.
    I don't believe it took me so long to find this info. This is really helpful, thanks :
    oh spare me the "don't let theory stifle your sensitivity man!" crap. People who want to learn about their instrument will read articles by those in the know, I taught myself and play everything by ear and have very little music theory at all. I can play a lot of stuff that baffles what I consider to be my technically superior player mates BUT I have massive holes in my knowledge that I am only just finding out now, which is why after 30 years of playing I have set about learning theory - it makes so much more sense when you know why something sounds the way it does.
    Great job. This is info every guitar player should have memorized.
    In music theory your table would not be ok. the minor second to C can't be C#. second interval refers to second tone of the basic scale. if the second from C is D then the minor second from C would be Db. Same for third or any other minor/major interval. third from C is E, so minor third can not be D# it's Eb because E is the third note if you coun from C. C# and Db do sound the same cuz from sound view it is the same, but in theory C# and Db are not the same. Replacing tones like this is called enharmonic replacement. I do think that it should be clear that second refers to second tone, third to third tone, fourth to fourth tone and so on. So first you count the tone and then add # or b.
    It's going to be listed in the next lesson, that lesson is only about theory. Wait patiently
    Please make sure you list where intervals are VERTICALLY instead of just horizontally how most people do.