Exploring Intervals

Exploring Intervals

The following post is a simple, clear explanation of the concept of intervals.


Simply put, an interval is the distance between two notes. Notes played in succession are melodic, whilst notes played simultaneously such as in a chord are harmonic.


We measure the distance between these notes in semitones, from the low to high.


Lets take a look at the 12 notes within the chromatic scale and explore this concept further.


A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab


Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 12.17.50


How about we use A to E as an example. On the A string we can count up the fretboard and calculate that the distance between these two notes is 7 semitones.

This method of calculation is correct in principle however we can classify intervals in a more efficient way. As follows :-


Semitone Distance Interval Notes Ascending example Descending example
0 Unison A – A
1 Minor 2nd A – A#/Bb Jaws (Theme) Joy to the World
2 Major 2nd A – B Frere Jacques Yesterday (Beatles)
3 Minor 3rd A – C Seven Nation Army Frosty the Snowman
4 Major 3rd A – C#/Db Oh, when the Saints Swing Low Sweet Chariot
5 Perfect 4th A – D Here Comes The Bride Oh, come all ye faithful
6 Tritone A – D#/Eb The Simpsons (theme) Enter Sandman (Metallica)
7 Perfect 5th A – E Star Wars (theme) Flintstones (theme)
8 Minor 6th A – F The Entertainer (Joplin) Love Story (theme)
9 Major 6th A – F#/Gb My Way (Sinatra) Man in the mirror (Chorus)
10 Minor 7th A – G Star Trek   (Theme) Watermelon Man (Hancock)
11 Major 7th A – G#/Ab Take on me (A-Ha) I Love You (Porter)
12 Octave (8va) A – A Somewhere over the Rainbow Willow Weep for Me (Etta James)

So in our example we would refer to the distance between A and E as a Perfect 5th. You might recognise this practically as a 5th or ‘power chord’ on the guitar.

Screen Shot 2016-11-21 at 12.18.02


Delving in to this further, by comparing the upper note (E) to the major scale of the lower note (A) we can establish the quality of the interval. As the upper note is found within the major scale of the lower note the interval is said to be diatonic.


Taking the A and therefore the key of A major as an example, the diatonic intervals are as follows: –


Semitone Distance Interval Notes
0 Unison A – A
2 M2 A – B
4 M3 A – C#
5 P4 A – D
7 P5 A – E
9 M6 A – F#
11 M7 A – G#
12 8va A – A




Notice how these interval names can be abbreviated too! You don’t want to get caught out.

Article written by Josh Heenan, of Omni Guitar. You can study with Josh at the Music City UK on Mondays, Tuesdays or Saturdays. Alternatively email omniguitartuition.com for details regarding private guitar lessons.

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