Know Your Intervals

This article covers the intervals in music and shows how they are played on the guitar. It also looks at both the major and minor scale and how the scale is structured using these intervals.

Know Your Intervals
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The working structure of music begins with intervals. They are the building blocks of all the larger musical structure. Every musical structure may be defined by its intervals.

Let's consider a few intervals. The two pitches that are the same are said to be in unison. When you tune one string to another on a guitar, you are employing unison intervals.

Next comes the distance of one fret - for example, from the first fret on any string up to the second fret on the same string. This is known as a half step interval. The distance of two frets is now as a whole step.

So we can learn each interval by its name, sound, and shape.

Simple intervals are those contained in one octave. There are twelve half steps per octave in Western music, so there are a total of thirteen conceivable intervals. We first consider just eight of them. Below these are shown relative to the pitch of G.

Play each, memorizing their names and shapes on the guitar.

Major Intervals








These intervals make up the structure of the major scale.

Root – G

Major 2nd – A

Major 3rd – B

Perfect 4th – C

Perfect 5th – D

Major 6th – E

Major 7th – F

Octave – G

The major scale is made up of the four perfect intervals plus the four major intervals.

Minor Intervals





We can take both major and minor intervals to create a variety of scales and modes.

The natural minor scale is:

Root – G

Major 2nd – A

Minor 3rd – Bb

Perfect 4th – C

Perfect 5th – D

Minor 6th – Eb

Minor 7th – F

Octave – G

Dorian mode would be:

Root – G

Major 2nd – A

Minor 3rd – Bb

Perfect 4th – C

Perfect 5th – D

Major 6th – E

Minor 7th – F

By recognizing and understand the intervals we can build scales and chords quicker and with a better understanding.

If the four perfect intervals plus the four major intervals created the major scale, it would stand to reason that the four perfect intervals plus the four minor intervals would give us the minor scale. That would make sense. But it also wrong. Just like any language, music has its exceptions. The natural minor scale is actually formed with a minor 3rd, minor 6th, minor 7th, and a major 2nd. Natural minor is typically seen as the musical opposite of major. It sounds basically dark and sad.

Now let's look at some alternative intervals



Now let's look at the intervals across the G and B strings.

These next example are for a root note of A as this gives you a better image of the changes to the intervals across the G and B strings.




After learning the intervals, you will see how they can combine to make various musical structures and you will learn to recognize all these by ear.

By Geoff Sinker

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    metalmaarten
    Major 7th should be F# (F sharp), if I'm not mistaken. Only the C major scale uses C D E F G A B C without any flats (b) or sharps (#). Useful lesson, though!
    gsinker
    Your right it should be F3 typo error, sadly i cant edit the lessons now its posted.
    Joeseye
    Useful lesson. Great if you want to know how to spice up some chords. Two comments: - I wouldn't group perfect intervals (i.e. 4th, 5th and octave) with major intervals. They're not quite the same thing, and have more of a "neutral" quality, due to their strong resonance with the tonic. - Where's the tritone???
    eddievanzant
    The intervals listed are only in relation to the first note of the C major scale (C). So from C to the other notes of the scale, you will only see perfect or major intervals. So in the key of C there are only two tritones to be found throughout and between all notes. From B to F is a flat fifth or a tritone. It's called a flat fifth because E is the fourth note of the B locrian scale so F must be the (flat) fifth note. There is only one of each degree in a regular scale. One fourth, one fifth etc. But if you start on F and go to B that is an augmented or sharp fourth. Because B is the fourth note of the F lydian scale. There is a key to all this - the circle of fifths, which really shows you how all the possible intervals are organized. It actually begins with the fourth note (F) scale. Which has one sharp (the fourth note) compared to the scale of the first note of the key which has no sharps or flats. From then on every mode will have one flat more than the last And that may confuse you because there are keys with multiple sharps in the key signature. But what I'm talking about is the modes of each key. So even though the key of D has two sharps, when you're talking about the intervals in that key from the first note, just like the key of C there are only major or perfect intervals. All keys have the same intervals but starting on a different note
    akira10
    Looks so much more simple when explained this way. Thanks Geoff, most useful lesson on UG for a while to me !
    LightxGrenade
    Great lesson, especially for those trying to train their ear. Something that helped me develop my ear and learn intervals was associating the intervals with certain songs that I know very well. For instance, a m2 interval are the 2 main notes in the "jaws theme", a m3 is the first 2 notes in "What's This?" from Nightmare Before Christmas, a perfect 4th is the first two notes from "Here comes the bride". I don't know if it'll work for anyone else but it helped me learn them and more importantly, recognize them when I heard them.
    mamacuccia
    Same! I noticed while playing these that it sounded like the intro to Streetlight Manifesto's "A Better Place, A Better Time." Turns out, he uses most of these in it!
    macnchez1990
    9th Sentence, the word "now" should be "known". Minor thing I realize, but other than that a great lesson.
    beggar__
    If anybody was interested, here's super cool website where you can practice your intervals (and a lot of other things) http://www.musictheory.net/exercises Fretboard interval training http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/fretboard... Interval ear training http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/ear-inter... There's a lot of options, you can tweak it as you like. Everything I know about intervals comes from this.
    gsinker
    Thanks for the comment, i have another lessons using intervals to play simple arpeggios that hopefully will be posted shortly. also check out my web site for more lessons www.rockschooldubai.com.
    myway43
    I cannot even begin to tell you how much this helps. As a younger man I did not think I had to know any of this, I thoiughbt I just had to look cool, yep I was a poseur. Thirty years later I want to actually learn. So thank you for the lesson.
    Bofie
    Thank you Geoff for this usefull lesson! As a beginner I have to learn those things before I can say I'm a guitar player and I must say that it seems logical but as in music nothing is logical, one has to accept things as they are...
    Dom Hawthorn
    Great lesson. Just wondering, how do you include photos and formatting in your lessons? Whenever I try to write a lesson on here I have no options for adding photos etc, just a box for inputting text, which obviously makes for a boring lesson!! Good job again on the lesson, really good.
    gsinker
    Hi Dom, thanks for comments. To get this layout i write everything in MS word. Then a copy and paster everything into a HTML editor. You could use adobe dreamweaver to do this. I now use the editor in my website which is K2 I then have to post the images up to my website. Once they are are looking correct on my site I then copy all the HTML format into the section in Ultimate guitar then point the images to my website. I know there are other ways but this works for me.
    Piratejuice
    Shit. Thank you! This brought some new ideas into my thick head. Once again, thanks for making use of my brain since it's been on standby for a while.