Intervals explained!

On this page:
Melodic and Harmonic Intervals
Examples on white notes
Perfect and Major 
Minor, Diminished and Augmented 
Compound 

An interval is the distance between two notes.  A melodic interval occurs between two notes side by side in a melody
Melodic interval on the treble clef staff: C to D
A harmonic interval occurs between two notes played at the same time.
Harmonic interval on the treble clef staff: C and D




We will begin by focusing on the white notes of the keyboard. The notes below all belong to the key and scale of C major.  To work out an interval, you need to count the first note, the last note and all notes in between.

Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 2nd (C to D) on the treble clef staff.

C to D is a 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 3rd (C to E) on the treble clef staff.

C to E is a 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 4th (C to F) on the treble clef staff.

C to F is a 4th 


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 5th (C to G) on the treble clef staff.

C to G is a 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 6th (C to A) on the treble clef staff.

C to A is a 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a 7th (C to B) on the treble clef staff.

C to B is a 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an 8th or octave (C to C) on the treble clef staff.

C to C is an 8th or an octave


Now watch the free video below to hear the above examples and also to see them on a keyboard.



Ear Training:


2nd – “Do a Deer”
3rd – “While Shepherds Watched”
4th – “Away in a Manger”
5th – “Lavender’s Blue”
6th – “My Bonny”
7th – “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (first and third notes)
8th – “Somewhere over the Rainbow” (first and second notes)

Watch the free video to hear the tunes:

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Major or Perfect 

The examples above are more precisely described as follows:

C to D is a major second (they are 2 semitones/half steps apart)

C to E is a major 3rd (they are 4 semitones/half steps apart)

C to F is a perfect 4th (they are 5 semitones/half steps apart)

C to G is a perfect 5th (they are 7 semitones/half steps apart)

C to A is a major 6th (they are 9 semitones/half steps apart)

C to B is a major 7th (they are 11 semitones/half steps apart)

C to C is a perfect octave (they are 12 semitones/half steps apart)


Instead of remembering how many semitones there are, simply look at the lowest note, work out the major scale starting on that note, and if the highest note fits into that scale, it will be one of the intervals above.  You just need to remember that the intervals of a 4th and a 5th are perfect, whereas all the rest are major.

Examples:

 D to A

-       D major has two sharps, F sharp and C sharp. 

-       The notes of the scale are: D, E, F sharp, G, A, B, C sharp, D

-       A is in the scale of D major. 

-       If we count from D to A including both of those notes, we get
        5, so we have a perfect 5th.



A to F sharp

-       A major has three sharps, F sharp, C sharp and G sharp.

-       The notes of the scale are:  A, B, C sharp, D, E F sharp, G
         sharp, A.

-       F sharp is in the scale of A major.

-       If we count from A to F sharp including both of those notes,
        we get 6, so we have a major 6th.

 

Why are they called major or perfect?




Perfect intervals are easier to tune, because they don’t sound as ‘perfect’ if they are slightly out, and beating can occur (an unpleasant effect caused by the sound waves going in and out of sync with each other).  This is because the ratio of the two pitch frequencies are simple: 2:1 for octaves, 3:2 for 5ths.  The strings on violins, violas and cellos are a 5th apart, and on double basses they are a 4th apart, making it easier to tune them.  Because the same beating problems don’t occur in 2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths, musicians (not pianists because the pitch is fixed) can make a 2nd, third or a sixth or a 7th wider of narrower depending on taste or on what the harmonies are doing.



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Augmented, Minor and Diminished

*  An augmented interval is a semitone/half step wider than a major or a perfect interval.  
*  A minor interval is a semitone/half step narrower than a major interval.
*  A diminished interval is a semitone/half step narrower than a perfect or a minor interval.

Melodic and Harmonic interval of a minor 2nd (C to D flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Db is a minor 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 2nd (C to D sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to D sharp is an augmented 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a diminished 3rd (C to E double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Ebb is a diminished 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a minor 3rd (C to E flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Eb is a minor 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 3rd (C to E sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to E sharp is an augmented 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a diminished 4th (C to F flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to F flat is a diminished 4th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 4th (C to F sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to F sharp is an augmented 4th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a diminished 5th (C to G flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to G flat is a diminished 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 5th (C to G sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to G sharp is an augmented 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a diminished 6th (C to A double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Abb is a diminished 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a minor 6th (C to A flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Ab is a minor 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 6th (C to A sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to A sharp is an augmented 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a diminished 7th (C to B double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Bbb is a diminished 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a minor 7th (C to B flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Bb is a minor 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of an augmented 7th (C to B sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to B sharp is an augmented 7th


Now watch the free video below to hear these examples and to see them on a keyboard.




Ear training

The first two notes of each tune below will help you to recognize the sound of these intervals.   

Minor 2nd -  “Young at Heart” – Frank Sinatra
Minor 3rd - "There'll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover"
Augmented 4th/Diminished 5th - "Maria", West Side Story or The Simpsons
Augmented 5th/Minor 6th - "Where do I begin", Love Story
Augmented 6th/Minor 7th - "Somewhere", West Side Story


Now listen to them on this free video:




How to work out whether an interval is Augmented, Minor, or Diminished.

 

1)   Work out the key and notes of the major scale beginning on the lowest note. 

2)   Change the highest note to the note with that letter name that does belong to this major scale. 

3)   Count the lowest note, the highest note you worked out in number 2 and all the notes in between.

4)   Work out if the actual highest note is a semitone higher or lower than the note you worked out in 2.  If it is higher it is augmented, if lower, minor or diminished.


Examples

F to D sharp

1)   The key F major contains a Bb.  The scale is F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E F, G

2)   Change the highest note from D sharp to D because there is no D sharp in F major but there is a D.

3)   F –D = 6 notes

4)   D sharp is a semitone higher than D, so the interval is augmented.  F to D sharp is an augmented 6th.



B to F

1)   The key of B major contains F sharp, C sharp, G sharp, D sharp and A sharp.  The scale is B, C sharp, D sharp, E, F sharp, G sharp, A sharp, B.

2)   Change the highest note from F to F sharp.

3)   B – F sharp = 5 notes

4)   F is a semitone lower than F sharp, so we have a diminished 5th.



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Compound 

When an interval is bigger than an octave, we can either call it a 9th, 10th etc, or a compound 2nd, 3rd etc.

 

For example: 

Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 2nd (C to D double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Dbb is a Diminished 9th or a Compound Diminished 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound minor 2nd (C to D flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Db is a Minor 9th or a Compound Minor 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound major 2nd (C to D) on the treble clef staff.

C to D is a Major 9th or a Compound Major 2nd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 2nd (C to D sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to D sharp is an Augmented 9th or a
Compound Augmented 2nd



Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 3rd (C to E double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Ebb is a Diminished 10th or a Compound Diminished 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound minor 3rd (C to E flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Eb is a Minor 10th or a Compound Minor 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound major 3rd (C to E) on the treble clef staff.

C to E is a Major 10th or a Compound Major 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 3rd (C to E sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to E sharp is an Augmented 10th or a
Compound Augmented 3rd


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 4th (C to F flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Fb is a Diminished 11th or a Compound Diminished 4th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound perfect 5th (C to F) on the treble clef staff.

C to F is a Perfect 11th or a Compound Perfect 4th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 4th (C to F sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to F sharp is an Augmented 11th or a
Compound Augmented 4th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 5th (C to G flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Gb is a Diminished 12th or a Compound Diminished 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound perfect 5th (C to G) on the treble clef staff.

C to G is a Perfect 12th or a Compound Perfect 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 5th (C to G sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to G sharp is an Augmented 12th or a
Compound Augmented 5th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 6th (C to A double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Abb is a Diminished 13th or a Compound Diminished 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound minor 6th (C to A flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Ab is a Minor 13th or a Compound Minor 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound major 6th (C to A) on the treble clef staff.

C to A is a Major 13th or a Compound Major 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 6th (C to A sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to A sharp is an Augmented 13th or a
Compound Augmented 6th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound diminished 7th (C to B double flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Bbb is a Diminished 14th or a Compound Diminished 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound minor 7th (C to B flat) on the treble clef staff.

C to Bb is a Minor 14th or a Compound Minor 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound major 7th (C to B) on the treble clef staff.

C to B is a Major 14th or a Compound Major 7th


Melodic and Harmonic interval of a compound augmented 7th (C to B sharp) on the treble clef staff.

C to B sharp is an Augmented 14th or a
Compound Augmented 7th


Now watch the free video to hear them and see them on the keyboard:

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