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Intervals
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Intervals

This stuff has a pretty sharp learning curve, so you might not want to try to absorb all of this page in one sitting.  Come back and read it several times to make sure you really understand it.  A skewed understanding of intervals will lead to a skewed understanding of music.

WARNING!  This knowledge will significantly affect the way you listen to and hear music!  You'll never be the same again!  Are you willing to become a true musician at the expense of blissful ignorance?  Read on if you are.

An interval is the distance between two points.  A second is the interval between one point and the next on the second hand on a clock.  A minute is the interval between one point and the next on a minute hand.  A mile/kilometer is a certain distance that always happens to be the same.  Pretty simple, right?

Intervals in music are kind of the same in a lot of ways.  They have their own names, and respective lengths/distances.  Here are a few intervals, with their names.  Don't worry about understanding the names yet.

Two notes Interval
B to C Minor 2nd (m2)
C to D Major 2nd (M2)
A to C Minor 3rd (m3)
C to E Major 3rd (M3)
A to D Perfect fourth (P4)
A to E Perfect fifth (P5)

There are more intervals.  I won't get into them right away.

Basic terminology

First, you need to know a couple music theory terms before you can understand intervals.

bulletRoot note

The root note is the one you're starting on.  An A chord's root note is A.  If you're playing an A minor pentatonic scale, the root note is A.  If you are playing an interval, the first note is the root note.

bulletHalf-steps

A half-step is the next note, or the note's next door neighbor.  For example, a half-step up from A is A#.  A half-step down from E is D#.  It's one fret.  A half-step up from fret 2 is fret 3.

bulletWhole steps

A whole step is two half-steps.  (That's why they're called half-steps.)  A whole step up from A is B.  A whole step down from E is D.  It's two frets.  A whole step up from fret 2 is fret 4.

Naming

Now we can get on to the naming of simple intervals.  You need to know the naming of scale degrees to truly grasp the meaning of the names.

Perfect Unison - The notes are the same.  Exactly the same.  This is abbreviated PU, 1, or R (Root note).

Second - A second is either a half step or whole step. 1 or 2 half-steps, 1 or 2 frets.

Third - A third is either 3 or 4 half-steps.

Fourth - A fourth is always 5 half-steps, and called a Perfect Fourth. (Abbreviated P4)

Fifth - A fifth is always 7 half-steps, and called a Perfect Fifth. (Abbreviated P5)

Sixth - A sixth is either 8 or 9 half-steps.

Seventh - A seventh is either 10 or 11 half-steps.

Octave / eighth - An octave always consists of 12 half-steps.  This is sometimes called an 8th.  This is abbreviated P8.

Anything past here repeats the same rules, starting with Second for Ninth, Third for Tenth, Fourth for Eleventh, and so on.

Now, some of these are ambiguous.  They have more than one interval, yet the same name! We get around these by using the following naming convention:

Minor - the smaller interval.  Example: Minor 3rd = 3 half steps. They are abbreviated m2, m3, m6, m7 and so on.  Note the lowercase m.

Major - the larger interval.  Example: Major 3rd = 4 half steps.  They are abbreviated M2, M3, M6, M7, and so on.  Note the uppercase M.

The Missing Link

Maybe you hadn't noticed, but there is one "missing" interval.

It's the one with 6 half-steps.  Go back up and look, it's between the fourth and fifth.  It's not there!! What gives?!

There is an interval of that length, and it's called the Flat 5th (b5) or a Tritone.  It's a really ugly sounding interval!  If you want to hear one, play this: xx01xx and you'll hear it.  Sounds kinda nasty, huh?  By itself, it just isn't much good.

But, form an E7 chord (020100) and there's a tritone built in!  It's not a useless interval after all.

Confused?  Don't worry about it.  Let's concentrate on something else instead.

Hear the sounds of intervals!

E ---------------------------------------------------
B ---------------------------------------------------
G ---------------------0---1---2---3---4---5---6---7-
D -0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0---0-
A -5---6---7---8---9---------------------------------
E ---------------------------------------------------
   R  m2  M2  m3  M3  P4  b5  P5  m6  M6  m7  M7  P8

Practice these, and practice finding other ways to play them in other keys.  Try them one note at a time and both notes at a time.  Learn the sounds of them, and try to associate songs or sounds with them to aid your memory.  Eventually you will recognize them in songs, and be able to name them off the top of your head.

Hear them in songs:

m2 and PU:  Guitar line from the introduction to Project 86 - PS  (can be found on the Blair Witch 2 soundtrack)

m3, P5, and P8:  Guitar line in Newsboys - Always  (Step Up to the Microphone)

M2:  Bass line in Plankeye - Break my Fall

M2 up and down:  Bass line in Plumb - Lie Low

M3: Bass line from the intro to Slick Shoes - Angel

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Any questions, e-mail me at danlib64@yahoo.com for help.