Intervals: The Complete Guide

Intervals make up a melody; an interval is the distance from one note to another.

Distance and Quality

Intervals describe how far away one note is from another and what a chord sounds like. A major interval is always one step larger than a minor interval.

  1. An interval’s distance is described with a number that indicates the distance from one note to another. According to the diatonic scale, taking every scalic step into consideration. (E.g. D up to E is a 2nd.)
  2. An interval’s quality specifically classifies each interval. (Although an interval may have more than one name.)

E.g. C to E flat (going up) is a Minor 3rd because a 3rd is the distance from C to E flat from the bottom up, and Minor is the quality of the interval. C to E (going up) is a Major 3rd because a 3rd is the distance.

Quality: Major/Minor

Anything in a major key sounds relatively happy; anything in a minor key sounds relatively sad or angry.

  • There are two versions of certain intervals (2nds, 3rds, 6ths, 7ths): one is larger than the other by one semitone, or half step.
  • The larger interval– with the two notes further apart– is the major interval. (E.g. G sharp down to E is a major 3rd, M3.)
  • The smaller is the minor interval. (E.g. G down to E is a minor 3rd, m3.)
  • If inverted, or flipped upside down, these intervals will always equal another interval from the list. (E.g. An inverted 6th is a 3rd.)

Quality: Perfect

  • 1st, 4th, 5th, and 8th (octave) are perfect intervals.
  • Perfect intervals sound slightly ‘hollow’. (Listen to pieces suggested below for perfect intervals.)

Quality: Augmented/Diminished

  • Augmented intervals expand perfect and major intervals by one step. E.g. F up to B flat makes a Perfect 4th interval. Expanding the B flat up to B makes an Augmented 4th interval.
  • Diminished intervals decrease perfect and minor intervals by one step. E.g. F up to C makes a Perfect 5th interval. Decreasing the C down to C flat or B makes a Diminished 5th interval.
  • Augmented and diminished intervals are not part of any diatonic scale. Augmented and diminished intervals are considered “altered” intervals and sometimes sound slightly dissonant.

Basic Intervals

Intervals are labels which tell you how much a note leaps to the next. Every melody is made up of intervals, whether minor or major. These basic intervals are what you should work towards identifying by ear and by sight.

Tunes which contain the intervals are listed to help you remember and recognize the intervals. Commonly used intervals are written in bold.

Major/Minor Intervals

Major 2nd
Minor 2nd

Major 3rd – “Oh When the Saints”
Minor 3rd – “Oh Canada”

Major 6th – “My Bonnie”
Minor 6th – “Love Story”

Major 7th – A dissonant leap.
Minor 7th – A peaceful appogiatura-inclined leap.

Perfect Intervals

Perfect 4th – “Bridal March”; leaping a 4th.
Perfect 5th – “Twinkle Twinkle Little Stars” “Starwars Theme”; one of the most common intervals leaping a 5th from the original note.
Perfect Octave – “Over the Rainbow”; leaping up or down to the same note in another octave.

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  • 7 Effective Ear Training Exercises | Artiden December 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    […] the intervals and be able to sing (out loud or in your head) any interval when the name is given to you. (What […]

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