What’s An Interval In Music? – Pictures & Tables

What's An Interval In MusicAn interval is a commonly used word in music. Especially in music theory, it’s an essential word.

You don’t have to be clever to understand basic music theory, and you don’t have to be a phenomenal guitarist to understand how basic music theory is applied on guitar.

Playing two notes is music. Even when you play the same note twice, you’re playing music. But there’s a difference between playing two random notes and purposely playing two notes because you understand the relationship between those to notes.

That’s what this lesson will be all about. I’ll try to keep it as focused as possible so it won’t be too overwhelming. First things first, what is an interval in music?

What’s an interval in music?

What's An Interval In MusicInterval comes from the Latin word “intervallum”. Originally “intervallum” was used to as a military term. “Inter” means “between” and “vallum” means “a wall”. The term was used to indicate the distance between two walls in a Roman camp.

This has nothing to do with music, but I think this is visually important. You have wall A and wall B and the intervallum in the geometric distance between those points.

In music, this is the same, but we’re not talking about geometry but about pitch and tones. You have note A and note B, and the interval is the distance between those notes.

In chords, you have several intervals, just like the Roman camps had more than one wall. In this lesson, we’ll only focus on two notes, on intervals in their simplest form.

Notes

There are 12 notes in Western music. Starting from C, these are the twelve notes:

  • C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B.

Any of these twelve notes can be the first point of an interval and any note can be the second note of a starting point. This means there are twelve combinations possible.

These twelve combinations have specific names and are divided under eight “interval categories”.

  • Primes
  • Seconds
  • Thirds
  • Fourths
  • Fifths
  • Sixths
  • Sevenths
  • Octaves

We’ll be talking about all of these below, but it’s important to understand there is not just one type of, for instance, thirds. That’s why I call them interval categories.

Another important thing to remember is that intervals can be unnecessarily complicated. Once you start analyzing jazz or classical music you’ll see that an interval can have more than one name. This can be extremely overwhelming for beginning musicians. You need to know the basics before you start incorporating information like that.

So yes, some of these intervals have different names, but that’s none of your concern for now. When I think it’s important to mention the second name, I will do so.

Intervals

Below I will show you each interval on the guitar and will let you hear what each interval sounds like. C will always be the starting point, for consistency, but any note can be the starting point of an interval.

Prime

A prime is the simplest forms of all intervals. A prime is the distance between one note and the same note. It’s literally the same note played twice.

A prime looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This prime contains the notes: C and C

A prime sounds like this:

 

Primes can also be called a unison, which means the same thing.

Second

There are two types of seconds. Minor seconds and major seconds.

Minor Second

A minor second is one fret away from the first note. This means there’s one semitone between the notes.

A minor second looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This minor second contains the notes: C and C#.

A minor second sounds like this:

 

A minor second can also be called a semitone or a half tone.

Major Second

A major second is two frets away from the first note. This means there are two semitones between the notes.

A major second looks like this:

This major second contains the notes: C and D.

A major second sounds like this:

 

A major second can also be called a tone or a whole tone.

Third

There are two types of thirds. Minor thirds and major thirds.

Minor Third

A minor third is three frets away from the first note. This means there are three semitones between the notes.

A minor third looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This minor third contains the notes: C and Eb (D#).

A minor third sounds like this:

Major Third

A major third is four frets away from the first note. This means there are four semitones between the notes.

A major third looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This major third contains the notes: C and E.

A major third sounds like this:

Fourth

There are three types of fourths. For now, I think it’s important to remember only one: The perfect fourth.

A perfect fourth is five frets away from the first note. This means there are five semitones between the notes.

A perfect fourth looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This perfect fourth contains the notes: C and F.

A perfect fourth sounds like this:

Fifths

There are three types of fifths. Diminished fifths, perfect fifths and augmented fifths. I will focus on the first two the most, but there will be a little mention of the augmented fifths later on.

Diminished Fifth

A diminished fifth is six frets away from the first note. This means there are six semitones between the notes.

A diminished fifth looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This diminished fifth contains the notes: C and Gb (F#).

A diminished fifth sounds like this:

Perfect Fifth

A perfect fifth is seven frets away from the first note. This means there are seven semitones between the notes.

A perfect fifth looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This perfect fifth contains the notes: C and G.

A perfect fifth sounds like this:

Sixth

There are two types of sixths: Minor sixths and major sixths.

Minor Sixth

A minor sixth is eight frets away from the first note. This means there are eight semitones between the notes.

A minor sixth looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This minor sixth contains the notes: C and Ab (G#).

A minor sixth sounds like this:

 

The minor sixth is the same distance as an augmented fifth.

Major sixth

A major sixth is nine frets away from the first note. This means there are nine semitones between the notes.

A major sixth looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This major sixth contains the notes: C and A.

A major sixth sounds like this:

Seventh

There are three types of sevenths, I’m only going to mention the two most important types: minor sevenths and major sevenths.

Minor Seventh

A minor seventh is ten frets away from the first note. This means there are ten semitones between the notes.

A minor seventh looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This minor seventh contains the notes: C and Bb (A#).

A minor seventh sounds like this:

Major Seventh

A major seventh is eleven frets away from the first note. This means there are eleven semitones between the notes.

A major seventh looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This major seventh contains the notes: C and B.

A major seventh sounds like this:

Octave

An octave is the distance between one note and the same note twelve semitones higher. The difference between a prime and an octave is that a prime contains two notes that are exactly the same in pitch. An octave contains two notes that are the same in name but are played in a different pitch.

An octave looks like this:

What's An Interval In Music

This octave contains the notes: C and C.

An octave sounds like this:

Outro

I don’t think you should learn intervals by heart. By applying them practically, you’ll end up memorizing them a lot easier and also a lot more effectively.

To help you with that, here’s a table, which you can use:

What's An Interval In Music

I hope this lesson was helpful to you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.

Happy strumming,

Timo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *