Music Studies: Intervals
Intervals are an essential part of music theory. They are the building blocks of melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions.
Intervals in music are the distance between two notes. An interval can be played simultaneously, as in a chord, or sequentially, forming a melody.
Intervals can be overwhelming at the beginning. Nevertheless, it is useful to learn them, because they give you a lot of support in the music you make. You will be able to sing melodies faster, you recognise and create chord patterns faster, and it will be easier to come up with harmonies on a vocal.
Each interval tells you how big the distance is between the two notes. The name, or number, comes from how many tonal distances they are apart.
Like chords, intervals have their own characters and sounds. For example, the major third of a major chord sounds happier than the minor third that occurs in a minor chord. Some intervals have no minor or major properties. These intervals (the fourth and the fifth) are then called perfect.
The intervals of a scale in C major are as follows:
C D E F G A B unison major second major third perfect fourth perfect fifth major sixth major seventh
The intervals of a scale in A minor are as follows:
A B C D E F G unison major second minor third perfect fourth perfect fifth major sixth major seventh
These tonal distances are diatonic tonal distances – the intervals you in the major of minor scales.
All twelve tonal distances in an octave are called as follows:
Semitone amount Interval
1 Minor second
2 Major second
3 Minor third
4 Major third
5 Perfect fourth
6 Augmented fourth / diminished fifth
7 Perfect fifth
8 Minor sixth
9 Major sixth
10 Minor seventh
11 Major seventh
Knowing the intervals can give you a big head start. You can do this simply on the piano, or with online tests.
A well-known, easier trick is to associate the intervals with the first two notes of familiar melodies:
- Small second: Jaw’s theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV8i-pSVMaQ
- Big second: Happy Birthday
- Minor Third: Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0J2QdDbelmY
- Major Third: When the Saints Go Marching In https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyLjbMBpGDA
- Pure Quarter: Star Wars – The Force Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcZ9kQ1h-ZY
- Augmented fourth/diminished fifth: The Simpson’s Theme https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfVBrpIhH60
- Perfect Quint: Can’t Help Falling in Love – Elvis Presley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGJTaP6anOU
- Minor Sixt: Nothing Compares 2 U – Sinead O’Connor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAOKzvL8dgk#t=165s
- Major sixth: My Way – Frank Sinatra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E2hYDIFDIU#t=6s
- Small seventh: The Winner takes it all – ABBA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92cwKCU8Z5c#t=127s
- Major seventh: Take on me – A-Ha https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djV11Xbc914
- Octave: Somewhere Over the Rainbow – Wizard of Oz https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSZxmZmBfnU
Intervals are so important in music theory that it might be difficult to progress without any knowledge of them. But once you’ve heard all the examples above, you’re almost halfway there!
To read more about Music Studies and how to improve the process of developing, creating and refining recorded music visit our knowledge base page about Music Studies Education.