The Crusade. Part 3: Applying Them Intervals

date: 11/03/2007 category: features
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What's happenin', disciples of discipline? (Hey, you are on part III, so give yourself some credit.) Today, we're gonna learn about the application of intervals and their relevance to the musical domain and the greater paradigm of your playing in the hopes for a shift of consciousness. Now, once everyone finishes waking up from that incredibly boring sentence that breaks rule #1 of The Crusade, we can get started. What I'm tryin' to say is...You might well wonder How the heck am I gonna use Intervals? OK, fair question. Some theory is rightly viewed as a parlor trick or extra paper work. However, it's my goal to show you how to transfer your newfound knowledge of intervals to the fretboard. Let's take it out of the realm of the screen, and into the one of music.

Practical Use #1 Building Chords and Arpeggios

So we have intervals. An annoying little concept not unlike that of a younger brother. Small, seemingly insignificant, but then they grow up to be four inches taller than you, and trust me, it's hard to hit someone who has longer arms. (But they're still insignificant. Ha ha.) But intervals are not! Insignificant, that is... As stated before, intervals are the building blocks of chords. But don't take my word for it! I'll show you. Let's cook up some major, minor, diminished, and augmented chords. For this use, we'll apply two intervals, the Major and minor 3rd. Just two! Very snazzy. Here's what they look like from the note C: Next, let's see how many ways we can add these two intervals. For simplicity's sake, we'll denote a Major 3rd as M3, and a minor 3rd as m3. Uppercase for Major, lowercase for minor. So, we have the following permutations: 01. M3 + m3 02. m3 + M3 03. M3 + M3 04. m3 + m3 What's all this? Well, check it out. To build a Major chord, we use equation 1 (M3 + m3.) To arrive at a minor chord, we flip things around, and end up with equation 2. An Augmented chord is derived from equation 3, and a diminished chord is build from equation 4. There are many different ways to view chord construction, and we'll be checking out different ways in the future. However, the method presented today builds directly on the use of intervals. Let's apply this by plugging chord tones into the equation. (By the way, if you haven't already, it's a great idea to learn the notes on your guitar. It helps in many ways, and while it's a slight pain to learn, you won't be wasting your time.) To build a C Major chord: Remember, our equation for a Major chord is: M3 + m3 = Major chord 01.Start with the note C. 02.Add a note a Major 3rd above C, which is E. 03.Add a note a minor 3rd above E, which is G. Presto! C Major. Let's try it for C minor. Our equation is: m3 + M3 = minor chord 01. Start with the note C. 02. Add a note a minor 3rd above C, which is Eb. 03. Add a note a Major 3rd above Eb, which is G. Next up, C Augmented. The equation: M3 + M3 = Augmented chord 01. Start with the note C. 02. Add a note a Major 3rd above C, which is E. 03. Add a note a Major 3rd above E, which is G#. Lastly, here's how you could build a C diminished chord. 01. Start with the note C. 02. Add a note a minor 3rd above C, which is Eb. 03. Add a note a minor 3rd above Eb, which is Gb.

Practical use #2 - Arpeggios

What about arpeggios? What the heck is an arpeggio? Is it an Italian sauce made from scraping dried mulberries off the forest floor? No! It is an Italian world, but it means the notes in a chord played are to be played one at a time, instead of all at once. For example, to build an A diminished arpeggio, we simply apply the principles learned in the previous section, and: 01. Start with the note A. 02. Add a note a minor 3rd above it, which is C. 03. Add a note a minor 3rd above C, which is Eb. 04. Instead of playing the notes all at once, we play 'em one at a time, just like your Dad told you to eat popcorn when you were little. Bingo, we have a weird arpeggio. Now, to be fair to the real world, whatever that may be, an arpeggio shape is usually slightly different than a typical chord shape. As the arpeggio unfolds over five or more strings, we may end up with two notes on the same string, impossible to play in a chord, but very helpful in an arpeggio. More on that later.

Help With Hearing Intervals

If you've been a good little student, hopefully you've toddled over to the interval trainer. Do it! You might have been confounded with recognizing any of the intervals, because, I realize, it almost seems like a guessing game, or magic, at first. Here's a few great cues to help you get a handle on the sound of certain intervals. War Pigs uses a Major 2nd when the main riff kicks in, as the chords change from D5 to E5, and Ozzy starts wailing Generals gather in their masses... That switch from D to E is a Major 2nd. Stairway to Heaven uses a minor 3rd (A-C) between the 1st and 2nd notes of the song. Paranoid uses a Perfect 4th interval (E-A) as the very first chord, a split second before Tony hammers on to form a power chord. Crazy Train Uses a Perfect 5th between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the opening guitar riff. (The F# on the 2nd fret to the C# on the 4th.) Crazy Train Uses a Minor 6th between the 4th and 5th notes. (F# - D) A blues shuffle uses a Major 6th when you're fretting the stretch (the span of four frets, adding your pinkie.) Purple Haze Uses the Octave Bb - Bb between the 1st and 2nd notes of the opening Da Da Da Da riff. (How's that for a technical explanation?) These are some of the many song cues that you can apply to make learning intervals a little easier, a little more fun, and a lot more personal.


  • We've looked at how Major and Minor 3rds can be combined to form four
  • types of chords.
  • Major
  • Minor
  • Augmented
  • Diminished
  • We also examined how if we play these notes one at a time, we arrive at an arpeggio, in essence, a broken chord.
  • Lastly, we saw a list of popular songs that give us ways to remember certain interval types. Keep in mind, the list I gave you is just a start. There's several intervals omitted, but they are certainly used in popular music! Other questions you might have: Q: I understand your examples of building chords, but some of the chords that I play looks nothing like that. A: Yes, this is true. If we were keyboard players, everything would be fairly consistent. However, due to the layout of the guitar, voicing the chords differently sometimes. A common way to voice an open A minor chords is as follows: Root, 5th, Octave of the Root, 3rd, 5th, or A E A C E. However, before we understand that, we have to understand the concepts presented in this article. Q: I always thought arpeggios had more notes in them. What gives? A: Oftentimes, the arpeggio will repeat the notes several times. A C Major arpeggio may play out: C E G C E G, and hence, more notes. Keep in mind that they're not different notes, just repeated ones. Keep up the good work, fellow rockers, and stay on the path to learning. Remember, you're developing a set of skills that will allow you to understand not just the type of music that you like, but all types. Far out, bro! Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more! If you can't stand to wait till the next article, be sure to check out my blog! See you there! 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.
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