Intervals Explained

Intervals are probably the most important aspect of music theory to know if you want to do serious and regular songwriting. A detailed explanation of how to write riffs using intervals.

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Intervals are probably the most important aspect of music theory to know if you want to do serious and regular songwriting. Before reading this article, you should know several things about music theory, namely: 1) How to read music from a staff, 2) A good understanding of notes, 3) Knowing how to play piano, or play guitar off of sheet music would help you to understand the article better. To start off, there are two kinds of intervals: melodic and harmonic. Melodic intervals, as you can guess, carry melodies. That meaning, two notes played seperately are two melodic intervals. Harmonic intervals are notes being played at the same time.
  • The names of intervals: Intervals have different names, according to the distance apart from the root note. Taking the key of C Major (CDEFGABC), the names are as follows: C (root note) C sharp (minor second) D (major second) E flat (minor third) E (major third) F (perfect fourth) F sharp (minor fifth, augmented fourth) G (perfect fifth) G sharp (minor sixth, augmented fifth) A (major sixth) A sharp (minor seventh, augmented sixth) B (major seventh) C (octave, or perfect eighth)
  • Naming an inverval: To name an interval, all you need to do is count the amount of notes between the two tones, including the first note. So, for example, you want to find out what amount of an inverval is between C and G. Here's how you do it CDEFG There is a total of five notes. Therefore, G is a fifth of C. However, there could be several kinds of fifths. Diminished, minor, major, and augmented. A diminished interval is two semitones (a whole tone) below a major interval. Therefore, F would be a diminished fifth in the key of C major. F sharp would be a minor fifth, G would be a major fifth, and G sharp would be an augmented fifth. So, let's say G sharp is the desired note. CDEFG Five notes. Now, since it is G sharp, it is one semitone ABOVE G natural, so it as an augmented fifth. This is important to know because when you change key signatures, naturals, flats and sharps will change. I am using C major for the sake of simplicity. However, using the key of F major, the following notes are used F G A B flat C D E F So, if we are trying to find out what interval is between F and B, everything changes. FGAB There are four notes. Now, because it is B, and not B flat, it is an augmented fourth, or a minor fifth, depending on what you prefer to call it. However, a B flat would be a perfect fourth because B flat is the fourth degree of the key of F major.
  • How to use intervals to write songs: Using your new knowledge of intervals to write songs is not very difficult. Using power chords, with the low E as your root note (sixth string played open), strum E5. That is your root chord (or note, if you will). Move up one fret. You have just played a harmonic interval, a minor second. Move up again. You have reached a major second, or diminished third. Move up to the third fret, strum. That is a minor third. Moving up to the fourth fret, you have played a major third. Now, try playing this: -------------------- -------------------- -------------------- -5-5-5-5-4-4-4-4-2-- -5-5-5-5-4-4-4-4-2-- -3-3-3-3-2-2-2-2-1-- Play it moderately fast, and make the last chord sound short. That riff takes you from a minor third, diminished third (major second) to a minor second. If played in the right strum pattern, that can also be heard in the song "Just" by Radiohead. Not bad for a bunch of boring theory.
  • In summary: To summarize intervals to coincide easier with guitar playing, here's a quick guide. It is implied that hte number of semitones is the amount of semitones from the root note. Major third: 4 semitones (four frets) Major fifth: 7 semitones (seven frets) Major seventh: 11 semitones (eleven frets) By using this knowledge, you can also form chords based on the intervals between the notes, by just thinking about the amount of frets up from the root note everything is. Thanks for reading my article, and I hope that you use what I've taught well. Peace Out, - Backup Guitar.
  • 27 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      stunt
      hey does anyone have a good theory website that i can go to to learn this shit. you guys r confusing me
      placeboboy
      im confused how do you now if the first note is minor or major. and if each scale is different how do you know where all the diminushed and augmented notes are. good though
      bigrd15132
      C (root note, unison, diminished second) C sharp (minor second) D (major second, diminished third) E flat (minor third, augmented second) E (major third) F (perfect fourth, augmented third) F sharp (diminished fifth, augmented fourth, tritone) G (perfect fifthdiminished sixth) G sharp (minor sixth, augmented fifth) A (major sixth, diminished seventh) A sharp (minor seventh, augmented sixth) B (major seventh) C (octave, perfect octave, 8va, augmented seventh)
      SilentDeftone
      For the key of C. C - root note Db - minor 2nd D - major 2nd D# - #2nd, only seen when there is a maj3rd in the chord as well Eb - minor 3rd E - major 3rd F - perfect 4th F# - augmented 4th Gb - diminished 5th G - perfect 5th G# - augmented 5th Ab - minor 6th A - major 6th Bbb - diminished 7th A# - #6, only seen with a maj7th in the chord as well Bb - minor 7th B - major 7th C - octave
      renato
      indeed, the talk is getting confusing, but that's because they are arguing about the particularity of the G major scale, and not on intervals in general. (almost) everything on this thread is true, but people are looking at it differently. For example: talking specifically about Cmajor, John Swift's noted that G sharp in the C scale is an augmented 5th. But A flat would be a minor 6th. its the same sound (same fret) but a different note. It all depends how you look at it. Once you know that you can conclude that as the minor 6th is present in the locrian mode (fourth mode, major), the C major chord is the would be the fourth mode of the key of G major.... The four in your I-IV-V hmmm. i've realised how hard it is to explain myself. no wonder younger musicians find modes and intervals so confusing. Its actually really easy. There are only 7 notes in (western)music, and 12 tones. Maybe i'll try and write an acticle about that... probably not thought.
      slash_620
      im with stunt,i dont get what all you guys are saying,i understood the srticle,but then you had to come along and start arguing so now im confused
      anchains14
      omg thanx this article has allowed me to open my eyes w/ to the world of theory. all theory is based on this knowlege of intervals and i was lost but now i am able to learn more
      John Swift
      In the key of C major G sharp would never be called a minor 6th it is always an augmented 5th, F sharp is either an augmented 4th or a diminished 5th, the term minor is never used when refering to perfect intervals 4ths & 5ths are perfect because as with octaves they invert perfect for example C up to G is a perfect 5th and C down to G is a perfect 4th whereas C up to A is a major 6th because C down to A is a minor 3rd these are therefor not perfect
      morgasm
      Taking the key of C Major (CDEFGABC), the names are as follows: C (root note) C sharp (minor second) D (major second) E flat (minor third) E (major third) F (perfect fourth) F sharp (minor fifth, augmented fourth) G (perfect fifth) G sharp (minor sixth, augmented fifth) A (major sixth) A sharp (minor seventh, augmented sixth) B (major seventh) C (octave, or perfect eighth) the above that i have underlined are wrong. in general, it would be correct, but because s/he said it was in key of c major, it isnt, for example. C to Fsharp. C to F would be perfect 4th but because its one semitone larger, it's augmented 4th. Another thing is that it definitely cant be a minor 5th, as it goes to diminished... heres the pattern... smaller normal larger 2nd minor major augmented 3rd minor major augmented *4th diminished perfect augmented *5th diminished perfect augmented 6th minor major augmented 7th minor major augmented *8ve diminished perfect augmented hope that has helped... i jus did my piano theory gr5, so hopefully that'd all be accurate
      redwing_suck
      bubonic chronic: i see your point.... and i understand your point..... however in something simple like this, it is not that influential..... but like you said when you start getting into more serious stuff, you need that knowledge.... like when applying intervals, building chords, naming chords..... so yes, using "b"'s is better for certain reasons, but in an article like this i dont think it has that much weight/importance for now.
      bigrd15132
      I take back my retractment. Backup Guitar, the original writer of the article never mentioned the trione, or perfect intervals, other than a perfect 8th, which is completely senseless because it's an octave and will 99.9% of the time be called an octave or 8va.
      Bubonic Chronic
      " However, there could be several kinds of fifths. Diminished, minor, major, and augmented." False. A "Major" fifth is a minor sixth. A "minor" fifth is an augmented 4th, or a tritone. Fifths and fourths are both considered "perfect" intervals in that the spacing between notes is always the same. Only one variation exists, and that is the augmented 4th/diminished 5th - and some theorists (including myself) do not consider this to be a 4th OR a 5th, but rather a "tritone" which is a major component of both augmented and diminished chords - neither of which contains a perfect 5th.
      bigrd15132
      I beg to differ. Although most of your intervals are correct, you fail to realize that there is no such thing as a major or minor 4th or 5th. They are perfect. One halfstep(or semitone, as you called it) above a perfect is augmented. One halfstep below is diminished. Also, you left out what is commonly known as the tritone. Which is laimens terms for a d5/A4. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I'm right and there are a lot of people who will never read this and know that you lied to them. I feel sorry for the ignorant few...
      skasolo
      Every time I think I know everything you guys show me up. keep it up.
      Charlotte_Punk
      man how much theroy do you people know, wish i had your knowlege (looks down with sad face) good article!!!
      RainDog
      Well, the letter of note tells you what scale degree it is. Notes can have different funtions in different scales. Different scales and keys use enharmonic notes for different scale degrees. If I play a C and a G flat, its different as a C and a F sharp, and is shown different in sheet music. One would be pertaining to a diminished harmony, and the other to lydian, or lydian augmented. Really, its not vitally important, but, say if your writing out a lead sheet or something, you'd want to use the correct notation to show what your really doing, becuase the correct sharps and flats will aid musicians to understand what scales and so forth are being used, which will allow greater understanding between musicians, and better music.
      Bubonic Chronic
      I've always found that intervals are only a fundamental step in the whole process of learning theory. You learn about intervals, and then you learn about how they relate to each other in terms of scales and chords. If you are working with a chord progression, you choose the interval name which suits that chord, like for instance you probably wouldn't call D a major second of C in a C major chord, but rather a 9th. Then again, if you were to flat the D for one C major lick over a C Major progression, you would be introducing a b2nd into your scale.
      KevinHallX
      question for redwing: how come it has to be a b2? i know that in jazz they like to use flats instead of sharps because of how wind instruments work, but i've never been explained to why.
      redwing_suck
      yes.... it is more important in certain situations.... but in something like this, it doesnt matter too much. i dont want to sound like a complete ******* that doesnt know shit about theory, cause i do.... but as far as i'm concerned, i see no problems with the "sheet music" deal you speak of. possibly when naming chords, doing scales, etc., it matters, but i dont see the problem anywhere else. elaborate so i can understand you better. but you're prolly right. meh. i dont know.
      RainDog
      Yes it does matter, they are enharmonic, but it matters. If using sheet music, if you show the minor second of c as a c# instead of a Db, it will cause problems. Even if notes are enharmonic, you must name them according to their function.
      redwing_suck
      erm... RainDog.... yeah..... um C# is enharmonic to Db. either way you look at it, they have the same pitch and are the minor second of C.... #1=b2.... but remember when anming chords it will be a b2.... cant have a #1.... however in this case it doesnt matter,
      RainDog
      "C sharp (minor second)" C sharp is not the minor second to C, D flat is.
      Bubonic Chronic
      "Moving up to the fourth fret, you have played a major third. Now, try playing this: ----- ---- ----- - ----- -5-5-5-5-4-4-4-4-2-- -5- 5- 5-5-4-4-4-4-2-- -3-3-3 -3-2-2-2-2-1-- Play it moderately fast, and make the last chord sound short. That riff takes you from a minor third, diminished third (major second) to a minor second. If played in the right strum pattern, that can also be heard in the song "Just" by Radiohead. Not bad for a bunch of boring theory." Also false. That is a chromatic descent of power chords, and since there is virtually no tonal center we cannot determine which "interval" we are using. In fact, I wouldn't even bother with interval theory with a riff like that. It's just octaves and fifths descending chromatically.
      k.b
      Here's an example of why the "correct" name of a note matters (enharmonic equivalents are not all equal): +----- I | F G A Bb C D E FF'Ionian | w w h w w w hF_A_C_E (M3-m3-M7) |FM7_ 9_ 11_ 13_ +----- IV| F G A B C D E FF'Lydian | w w w h w w hF_A_C_E (M3-m3-M7) |FM7_ 9_#11_ 13_ +----- VII| F Gb Ab Bb B Db Eb FF'Locrian | h w w h w w wF_Ab_B_Eb (m3-m3-m7) |Fdim7_b9_ 11_b13_ +----- In F-Lydian the "B natural" is a #4 (Augmented 4th) In F-Locrian the "B natural" is a b5 (Diminished 5th) By being precise, you indicate to all your comping pals which scale to use for solos, walking bass, etc. HTH