What Are Intervals
Jul 28 2013, 01:55 PM
Theory Instructor
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What Are Musical Intervals

When first checking out musical theory, one of the terms that pops up time and again is “intervals.” Musical intervals are used to label the distance between two notes on the staff, or aurally, when played or written down.

Here are some examples of different intervals on the staff and in tablature.

These are the two main ways to write out intervals, melodically where one note is played after the first note, or harmonically where two notes are played on top of each other at the same time.

In today’s theory lesson, we’ll be taking a brief look at the different types of musical intervals, with links to more detailed lessons on each interval listed below.

Perfect Intervals

The first interval we’ll look at is the Perfect Interval. This interval occurs only on the 1st (Unison), 4th, 5th and 8th (Octave) notes of the scale.

So, if you take the 1st, 4th, 5th and 8th notes of a C major scale, those are all Perfect Intervals, as you can see in this example here.

Perfect intervals can be altered by lowering them a 1/2 step to produce Diminished intervals, as well as raised by a 1/2 step to produce Augmented intervals. Both of which are explained in more detail below.

Major Intervals

There are also Major intervals in music, such as the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the major scale, written out in C major in the example below.

So, if you look at the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the C major scale, and compare them to the root note C, they are all Major intervals.

Again, you can alter these interval by raising them a 1/2 step to produce Augmented intervals, lowering them by a 1/2 step to produce Minor intervals, and lowering them a whole step to produce Diminished intervals.

Minor Intervals

The next interval we’ll look at are Minor intervals. These intervals are built by taking the four major intervals, 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th, and lowering them by a 1/2 step.

So, if you have a major second interval above C, C-D, you simply lower the D by a half step to Db and you now have a minor second interval, C-Db.

Here is an example of that on paper.

Minor intervals can be altered by lowering them by a 1/2 step to produce Diminished intervals.

Diminished Intervals

Diminished intervals are built two different ways. The first is taking a Perfect interval and lowering it by a 1/2 step, meaning if you take a P4 interval such as C to F and lower the second note by a 1/2 step, Fb, you get a D4 interval, C-Fb.

The second way that you can use to build a Diminished interval is to lower a minor interval by a half step. So, if you have a minor third such as C-Eb, you can lower the Eb by a 1/2 step to Ebb and you get a D3 interval.

Augmented Intervals

The last interval that we’ll look at is the Augmented interval. Again, there are two ways that you can build Augmented intervals. The first way is to take any Perfect interval and raise it by a 1/2 step. So, if you have a P4 interval, such as C-F, you can raise the F to F# to produce an A4 interval, C-F#.

As well, you can take any Major interval, such as C-E M3, and raise the second note by a 1/2 step to build an A3 interval, C-E#.

Here is an example on an Augmented interval on the staff and in tab.

To explore musical intervals further, check out the following lessons from The Professor’s Music Theory Guide.

What Are Major Intervals

What Are Minor Intervals

What Are Perfect Intervals

What Are Diminished Intervals

What Are Augmented Intervals

Descending Major Intervals

Descending Minor Intervals

Descending Perfect Intervals

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This post has been edited by The Professor: Jul 28 2013, 02:03 PM

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