Here we're going to work on basic music theory intervals. Ok, I didn’t actually realize until I started writing this, but apparently, I use them all the time without thinking about it. Whether it’s learning harmonies in my vocal lessons, working out new melodies, or tuning the strings on my instruments, intervals are everywhere, and you won’t be able to get around without them.
This is an easy question. An interval is just the distance between two notes. That’s it. The distance from A to G is an interval called a seventh. The distance from C to E is an interval called a third. The distance from F to B is an interval called a fourth. Get the idea?
There are actually two ways to play intervals: harmonic and melodic. Harmonic intervals are when you play the two notes at the same time, (like in a chord). Melodic intervals are when you play one note, then the other one, (like in a melody).
There are different types of sevenths, thirds, and fourths, but that’s all in another article.
Here’s why. Grab your favorite instrument and play any two notes. Seriously, right now, any two notes. You have just done one of three things. You either:
Unless you played the same note twice, you played an interval. Actually, I take that back: even if you played the same note twice you played an interval called a unison.
The point is that music is made of intervals, intervals, intervals everywhere! In order to get around in the world of musicians, you have to at least be familiar with the basics of these.
Ever heard the term parallel fifth or perfect fifth? How about the Diminished scale? What about an Augmented chord? Even the terms major and minor refer to the way we use music theory intervals.
-Tip: Practicing intervals is a great way to work on scales and intonation, and they make a great warm up exercise.
We name intervals by how far they are from the root note in a major scale. Here’s an example with a C Scale:
C D E F G A B C
R 2 3 4 5 6 7 R
If we go from the root to the third, that is an interval called a third. If we go from the root to the sixth, that is an interval called a sixth. From the root to the fourth is called... you got it: a fourth. That’s pretty much all there is to this basic interval stuff.
So if someone says “I’m going to sing a third above you,” they mean they are going to sing the harmony part that is the third scale degree above your note.
By the way, even though major scales only have 7 notes, that doesn’t mean we only have seven music theory intervals. You can add them up. From one note to the next note with the same name (C -> C) is an interval called an octave. We can even keep going from there.
C D E F G A B C D
This is an interval we call a ninth.
C D E F G A B C D E F G A
This is an interval we call a thirteenth, etc.
Anything bigger than an octave is called a compound interval. (Not really important, just in case you ever wanted to know.)
Here are a couple of things you can do to get more familiar with these.
C - D,
C - E, C - D - E,
C - F, C - D - E - F,
C - G, C - D - E - F - G,
We only measured intervals starting at the root note and going up. Two things here: