13. Musical intervals

You’re absolutely sure this is important to learn in order to become a better musician, right?

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial we will be taking a look at simple music intervals and discussing what exactly they are and about their qualities. So, let’s have some fun.

2. Note durations explained

A musical interval is the difference in pitch between 2 notes. There are two types of such intervals:

  • simple – the ones we will be discussing in this tutorial, and their name comes from the fact that they are located within the same octave
  • compound – these ones are obtained by putting together two simple music intervals and they span two octaves

Simple music intervals consist of two components:

  • a number which indicates how many different tones the interval contains
  • a quality which gives us the level of consonance the interval has (no one’s gonna ask you about this so don’t worry)

Quality wise, an interval can be one of perfect, major, minor, augmented or diminished. The last two are out of scope for this series, so we’ll be focusing only on the first 3.

We have a total of 8 simple music intervals that we are going to discuss. The first one is called the prime and it consists of a single note. In terms of interval quality, a prime is perfect:

prime

Here it is played back:

Next up is the second, which is the difference between two consecutive notes. Seconds can be either major or minor. Tone/semitone wise, a major second contains 1 tone, while a minor second contains 1 semitone. Here are some examples:

second

And here they are played back:

Next in line is the third. Similar to seconds, thirds can also be either major or minor. Major thirds contain 3 tones, each separated by the other by 1 tone, while a minor third has its tones separated by a tone and a semitone respectively. Here are some examples:

third

And here they are played back:

As you can see, each and every interval is computed between two notes. The number giving us the name of the interval is based on how many pitches there are between the two notes, including them. In the case of the third, we have 3 tones: C, D and E.

The next interval is the fourth. Unlike seconds and thirds, fourths are perfect, quality wise. A perfect fourth consists of 2 tones and 1 semitone. A particularly interesting type of fourth is the tritone (which basically means it has 3 tones in it), which you’ll undoubtebly notice when we play some examples in a bit:

fourth

Here are the fourths played back:

Next up is the fifth musical interval. Similar to fourths, fifths are also perfect and they consist of 3 tones and a semitone. Here are some examples:

fifth

And here they are played back:

Our next interval is the sixth. Sixths can be either major (4 tones and 1 semitone) or minor (3 tones and 2 semitones). Here are some examples:

sixth

And here they are played back:

Our penultimate interval is the seventh. Sevenths can also be either major (5 tones and 1 semitone) or minor (4 tones and 2 semitones). Here are some examples:

seventh

And here they are played back:

And finally, we have the octave. Octaves are perfect and they consist of 5 tones and 2 semitones. Here is an example:

octave

And here it is played back:

Generally speaking, when someone mentions an interval they are most likely refering to it from a rising or ascending point of view. In other words, the two notes the musician thinks of have the trait that the first one has a lower pitch than the second one (e.g. C-E, F-A etc.).

As we’ll see in the next tutorial, we can think of intervals in a descending manner as well, with the first note having a higher pitch than the second one. This is why we’ve also learned about how many tones and semitones are in an interval. By using those numbers and lowering the pitch by the necessary amount of tones and semitones, we will get a descending music interval.

So, why are intervals important? Well, for many reasons. The first one refers to key signatures, as we’ll learn in more detail in the next tutorial. The next important one refers to chords. I won’t go into too much detail here, but let’s just say that the main difference between a major chord and a minor chord, both formed on the same note, lies in the quality of the rising third formed by using the root note.

Anyhow, that’s all for this tutorial. Next time we’ll be solving the final piece of the puzzle that is the musical sheet and we’ll finally understand how key signatures work. See you then.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close