The Crusade. Part 2: Intervals

In this article, we'll examine the basic building block of music, the interval. What is an interval? Read on.

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Rockers! Welcome back. I hope you're fired up, and ready to take over the world with your growing knowledge of theory. Are you ready to learn?! I said, Are you ready to learn?! Good! Grab an energy drink, sit back, and shake with an overcharge of caffeine while we tackle a great topic. In this article, we'll examine the basic building block of music, the interval. What is an interval? It's the difference in pitch between two notes. In other words, the distance (on the fretboard, or keyboard) between two notes. We've got two kinds of intervals: A Harmonic interval would refer to two notes played at the same time (such as a power chord, for you rock inclined.) A Melodic interval would reference two notes played successively, such as in a scale. Do - re - me, folks. We'll be learning about both. Why should you care? Knowin' yo' stuff with intervals will help you: Understand and build chords. Understand and build scales. Understand and apply dissonance and consonance. (Tension and resolution.) Harmonize lines for a way cool dual guitar attack! Create truly spooky, or angelic, sounds. Most importantly, help you understand more advanced theory concepts. Intervals are the beginning, and this location is widely accepted as a good place to start. The interval is the building block, so let's learn on! They follow a predictable pattern, with a little bit of zaniness in the middle: From the note A: A to A Unison A to Bb minor 2nd A to B Major 2nd A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave A pattern emerges: minor, Major, minor, Major. Except for the Perfect-Diminished-Perfect sequence around the 4th, flatted 5th, and 5th, everything is minor, Major, minor, Major. Once we reach the note 12 half steps higher than we started, we end up with the Octave. Oct means eight, and if we were counting scale tones, we would arrive at the same letter every eight notes: Check it out: The A Major Scale: A B C# D E F# G A A is the 1st, and 8th, letter of our sequence. That's where the oct comes from. (Just ask any octagonally shaped octopus.) Here's a chart of what the intervals look like on the guitar. By the way, if you play the notes individually, as written, they would be Melodic intervals, and simultaneously they would be harmonic intervals. (By the way, don't worry too much about this red tape if it doesn't make sense. It's a classification, and not something to be overly concerned with at this point.) Applications, And Homework Now that you've got the sound and feel of the intervals under your hands, let's do something with them. First off, recognize that the examples just given were from A, but can be from any note. Secondly, yes, you have to memorize the names and how to play them. The shapes vary slightly depending on which string you're on (the shapes from the 3rd and 2nd strings are slightly different.) Yet another reason to learn the notes on your guitar! You'll get it, don't worry. Next, we want to be able to see these, but more importantly, we want to be able to hear the different intervals. I highly recommend Ricci Adams' website for this. The free interval ear trainer is awesome. Use it. Yes, SIR! I vow to educate myself, and better my ear. I will try the interval ear trainer. (And don't have your guitar anywhere nearby! Just you and your ear.) And if you get confused with the ear trainer, check out the guide I wrote on my Blog. So what are intervals used for? To build chords and scales, for starters! A major chord is built from harmonic intervals (notes played at the same time.) A Major 3rd plus a minor 3rd, to be exact. A scale is built from a series of melodic intervals (Intervals played one after another.) We'll cover chord construction in the next lesson, so hang tough. And yes, scales will be addressed as well. Fear not, fearless ones! While you're waiting, and want to add some scary sounds to your playing, try experimenting with the minor 2nd and diminished 5th intervals. Spooky, indeed. Especially that diminished 5th. So, your to-do list looks like this: 01. Memorize interval names. 02. Apply them to your guitar. 03. Start training your ear with the interval ear trainer - and don't cheat by using your guitar. 04. Experiment with different intervals. 05. Eagerly await the next installment of The Crusade 06. Be excited that you're learning theory. It's one of the best things you can do for your musicianship. Don't forget to check out my blog. Copyright 2008 Josh Urban - All Rights Reserved Josh Urban (photo) is a musician with a unique perspective on music. Always a thinker, he gains insight wherever he can find it, be it in the clubs as a working musician, busking on the city streets, or teaching in the classroom. A naturally enthusiastic fellow, Josh is always fired up about bringing the lessons he's learned to his readers. Maintaining a website, a blog, and a monthly newsletter, he aims to make musicians stop, think, and play with a little more intensity, integrity, and inspiration. You never know who's listening.

104 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    dogmax
    They are the NAMES the distance between one tone to another. Each distance ( or Interval to be exact) has it's own name. I.e. the distance from A to itself is called a unison. The distance from A to C is a called a minor 3rd. This works with all tones; the distance from F to itself is also called a unison, the distance from F to G# is also called a minor 3rd. Because the distance between the tones is the same amount of half steps. I hope this helped.
    decayingdave
    This was helpful, but the jargon was still fairly heavy, Still - music theory is a language in it's own, so I don't expect this to be made easy.
    and3nlol
    uhm i just checked the intervall ear trainer, and i wonder how im supposed to use that if i never dealt with ear training before. I can not distinguish what note im hearing, so i can definitely not tell what intervalls im hearing. how am i supposed to start with these things?
    Yeti60
    WTF? of course E flat exists! So does D sharp because they are the same thing!
    HeavyDT
    hmmm i think it could maybe be dumbed down more but def the best ive seen most articles dont dumb it down at all
    Drustin
    I'm extremely confused. Is there anything I should know before reading this.
    Rockerdude22
    Ok I have no idea how to read music so this whole thing is no help to me at all... or am i wrong? Someone please help!
    JoshUrban
    Rockerdude, good news: Ya don't have to read to get the point. In some examples of theory it makes it easier, but this lesson should be fine without.
    Racer X
    I can't even see the picture, this article didn't help, but maybe im just retarded
    Jamma
    A to Bb is a minor 2nd? This seems a bit of a bad name to me since I would have thought the minor 2nd would be the second note of the minor scale, in this case, B. Why exactly is it called the minor 2nd. Wouldn't the diminished 2nd be a better name?
    misfitsramones
    in standard tuning A, is the 5th fret on the top and bottom strings. from A(5th fret) to Bb(6th fret) is a minor 2nd. this might help.... top string E(0) F(1) F#/Gb(2) G(3) G#/Ab(4) A(5) A#/Bb(6) B/Cb(7) C(8) C#/Db(9) D(10) D#/Eb(11) E(12) some say there is no suck thing as a Eb (E flat). notice how open (0) is E and (12) is E.
    Broken-pick
    From the note A: A to A Unison A to Bb minor 2nd A to B Major 2nd A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave ....What?I dunno,but it seems rather confusing to me. Are those notes on the fretboard or what?
    JoshUrban
    Yes, sorry folks, my finger must have slipped. It IS a G#, not a G, for the A major scale... Glad to see folks are paying attention - you pass the quiz.
    Vantage
    First time I've really understood the concept of intervals. I'm gonna keep reading this. Thanks a whole bunch. =)
    SH-Jeff112
    Broken-pick : From the note A: A to A Unison A to Bb minor 2nd A to B Major 2nd A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave ....What?I dunno,but it seems rather confusing to me. Are those notes on the fretboard or what?
    i dont get this either... can anyone help ?
    A6StringWorld
    cool article i kind of understand. I'm guessing the the power chord came from the perfect 5th
    Marley167
    Is it called the A "major scale" because each interval is at either a Major tonic or a Perfect? Also, how come they are called Perfect and Diminished at the 4th and 5th
    C&C Magik
    omg, this is the first time i looked at this, and it helped me incredibly. I love you.
    Ishmeister
    Hello Josh, first of all, I absolutely love your writing style. Secondly, I must adress my frustration. I am very eager to learn music theory, so I took your advice and went over to Ricci Adams site to try out the ear interval trainer and I must say that I dont understand a thing. I press "play" and it plays me two notes, am I supposed to know the "difference", so to speak, between the notes or what? Thanks in advance Slow learned who wants to learn
    Obder
    Aww man the picture's all messed up and I can't find a picture like it anywhere
    DimebagZappa
    For those who cannot read the blurry chart: The note on the low E string is A (5th fret) the whole time. On the A string you play open first then work your way up chromatically to 12. So each note (in relation to the pedalled note ) has a name. Starting with the open string and going up to 12 you get: A(5 on e) to A Unison (open on A) A (still 5 on lowE) to Bb minor 2nd (1 on A string) A to B Major 2nd (2on Astring) A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave I think imma figure this out real quick now.
    DimebagZappa
    ^if you start on A-string (open first). A, a#(bflat), B, C, c#(dflat), D, D#(eflat), E, F, f#(gflat), G, g#(aflat) then on the 12th fret A again! theres no flatted/sharp notes between b and c or e and f. I dunno why, but it is so. The same pattern on each string. (just start on each respective open string note) I really dont get this interval stuff but imma keep reading it until I get it. I wish I remember all the crap my music teacher taught me so many years ago.
    dolosolo
    I got lost on the chart thingy, its too blurry anyone help me please?
    cadeaaron07
    i had to cheat using my guitar on the ear trainer. my percentage increased dramatically after i started using it. except i cant figure out what a tritone is. can anybody explain that one?
    laid-to-waste
    cadeaaron07 wrote: i had to cheat using my guitar on the ear trainer. my percentage increased dramatically after i started using it. except i cant figure out what a tritone is. can anybody explain that one?
    tritone is the same as a flatted 5th/diminished 5th/augmented 5th it means three whole steps from root.
    mickel_w
    'The A Major scale: A, B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G' Wait, I thought the A major scale/key also has a G sharp? Wouldn't the above scale be A mixalydian(major) within the key of D? Sorry, I haven't quite fully come to grasp with theory, as you can tell.
    riaki1998
    My first attempt at ear training: '59 correct out of 286 attempts (21%)' And I'm actually pleased, lolz Oh well, hopefully I'll improve soon.
    BaDG0oD
    From the note A: A to A Unison A to Bb minor 2nd A to B Major 2nd A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave A pattern emerges: minor, Major, minor, Major. Except for the Perfect-Diminished-Perfect sequence around the 4th, flatted 5th, and 5th, everything is minor, Major, minor, Major. ***** I dont know notes, and not sure what is minor and major? How can i understand those lessons? Should i read some other lesson before i start with this one? Help please.
    Tiago Sa
    laid-to-waste wrote: cadeaaron07 wrote: i had to cheat using my guitar on the ear trainer. my percentage increased dramatically after i started using it. except i cant figure out what a tritone is. can anybody explain that one? tritone is the same as a flatted 5th/diminished 5th/augmented 5th it means three whole steps from root.
    Actually, the augmented 5th is enharmonic with the minor 6th, so it isn't the same as the tritone. And technically, I may be wrong, but isn't the tritone definition only used for the whole tone scale?
    JoshUrban
    Technically, one of the reason is that a second has to be two letter places above the root - A# would appear as a raised root (incorrect), Bb a flatted second (correct.) It's helpful when naming chords, among other things. Just ask yourself what accidental sign gets you the right LETTER PLACE, and add the appropriate sharp or flat. Hope that helps! Josh www.joshurban.blogspot.com
    NpcRebelion
    I'm impressed, although I play acoustic guitar so I can't help but feel I'm in the wrong place lol... I find the ear trainer thoroughly frustrating though I have to admit... And I can't find your blog >< But all in all cheers, I'll work on it
    Kalfany
    [quote="Obder"]Aww man the picture's all messed up and I can't find a picture like it anywhere [/quote] Yeah, can we get a better picture, please? It would help us a lot
    dogmax
    So to clearify... The list (the "A to A Unison" and so on) just lists the names of the intervals. To be honest I think it would work better if the list also explain the amount of halfsteps. But what the hell, I get it, to hell with the rest XD
    pa3k_2414
    shoudn't it be a G# for the a major scale?? great article though,this is really helped me since i am just starting to understand theory,
    sketchy z
    and also how do i figure out the interval patterns on the 2 or 3rd strings if the patterns different. thats all it really said
    OllyB
    I know this thread is a bit dead now but the only thing I'm stuck on is this: A to A Unison A to Bb minor 2nd A to B Major 2nd A to C minor 3rd A to C# Major 3rd A to D Perfect 4th A to Eb Diminished 5th (Also known as a Flatted 5th) A to E Perfect 5th A to F minor 6th A to F# Major 6th A to G minor 7th A to G# Major 7th A to A Octave I understand what enharmonics are, but why not refer to Bb as A# and that way all the notes that are there are sharps? Is there are reason Bb is labelled as a flat rather than a sharp? And does this extend to other keys? For example, are Minor intervals always referred in terms of flats? :S I'm pretty confused with this thing.
    Suttam
    I think the interval trainer is about knowing how much of a jump in between the notes you're having. A to A is a Unison, and so is B-B and C-C. If you jump a half step between your first note and your second note. Then you will be having a minor 2nd note. And if you are jumping a whole step then you'll be having a Major 2nd. Am I right?