Intervals - Finally Explained Part 1

author: daniel.kPL date: 04/13/2012 category: the basics

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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.
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