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 DistanceInterval Notes Ascending exampleDescending example
0UnisonA – A
1Minor 2ndA – A#/BbJaws (Theme)Joy to the World
2Major 2ndA – BFrere JacquesYesterday (Beatles)
3Minor 3rdA – CSeven Nation ArmyFrosty the Snowman
4Major 3rdA – C#/DbOh, when the SaintsSwing Low Sweet Chariot
5Perfect 4thA – DHere Comes The BrideOh, come all ye faithful
6TritoneA – D#/EbThe Simpsons (theme)Enter Sandman (Metallica)
7Perfect 5thA – EStar Wars (theme)Flintstones (theme)
8Minor 6thA – FThe Entertainer (Joplin)Love Story (theme)
9Major 6thA – F#/GbMy Way (Sinatra)Man in the mirror (Chorus)
10Minor 7thA – GStar Trek   (Theme)Watermelon Man (Hancock)
11Major 7thA – G#/AbTake on me (A-Ha)I Love You (Porter)
12Octave (8va)A – ASomewhere over the RainbowWillow 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 DistanceIntervalNotes
0UnisonA – A
2M2A – B
4M3A – C#
5P4A – D
7P5A – E
9M6A – F#
11M7A – G#
128vaA – 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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