All About Music Theory Intervals

Sep 04, 2021

Ah, intervals.

Intervals are a core concept of music. They give us chords and harmony. They allow us to craft a melody that glides or jumps from note to note.

If you have a firm understanding of intervals, you will be better equipped to understand chords and melody.

So you could say intervals are pretty important.

 

Necessary Definitions

Interval: The distance between two notes

Semitone: The smallest interval we have in western music. Moving up a string by one fret on a guitar or going to the very next note on a piano are both examples of a semitone.

Semitone = Half Step

2 Semitones = 2 Half Steps = 1 Whole Tone = 1 Whole Step

 

The 2 Parts of an Interval 

Quality

There are 5 different qualities of intervals:

  • Perfect
  • Major
  • Minor
  • Augmented
  • Diminished

Perfect

Perfect intervals are so-called as they have nearly-perfect consonance. In other words, they sound REALLY pleasant and agreeable.There are only 4 perfect intervals: Perfect Unison (or Perfect 1st – aka the same note as the original), Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, and Perfect Octave (perfect 8th).

This leaves the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th that do not have a perfect interval. These numbers have major and minor intervals instead.

Major

1st, 4th, 5th and 8th all have perfect intervals, so the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th are left to split between major and minor.

The major interval is always 1 semitone higher than the minor. The major is also the “happier” sounding of the major and minor intervals.

Minor

Any interval that can be major can be minor. Take away one semitone from a major interval, and you have that minor interval.

Minor intervals tend to sound darker and more sad than major intervals.

Augmented

Augmented intervals are one semitone higher than a Perfect or Major interval.

Perfect + 1 semitone = Augmented

Major + 1 semitone = Augmented

Diminished

Diminished intervals are one semitone lower than a Perfect or Minor interval.

Perfect – 1 semitone = Diminished

Minor – 1 semitone = Diminished

So, if we put all this information together, you’ll notice that intervals always follow a pattern. With “->” representing going up 1 semitone, this is what we have:

Diminished -> Minor -> Major -> Augmented

Diminished -> Perfect -> Augmented

 

Number

The quality of interval is combined with the number of the interval. Usually, the number is simply the distance between letter notes.

Do you understand the alphabet? Good, because that’s all you need here. For example, how far away is G from C? C, (D, E, F), G. Since we count both the start and end note, this would be a 5th.

B from C? C, (D, E, F, G, A), B => 7th

E from C? C, (D), E => 3rd

 

3 Rules of Intervals

Next I’m going to give you 3 rules to remember that will help you think through intervals.

Rule 1:

Incrementing up by one quality will always be going up 1 semitone

Examples:

Minor 2nd -> Major 2nd = Up 1 semitone

Diminished 7th -> Minor 7th = Up 1 semitone

Augmented 6th -> Major 6th = Down 1 Semitone

Rule 2:

Incrementing up by one number will always be going up 2 semitones

Examples:

Minor 2nd -> Minor 3rd = Up 2 semitones

Perfect 4th -> Perfect 5th = Up 2 semitones

Major 6th -> Major 7th = Up 2 semitones

Major 3rd -> Major 2nd = Down 2 semitones

Rule 3:

All numbers have either perfect or both minor and major intervals, not both

Examples:

There is a Perfect 4th, there is not a minor or major 4th.

There is a major and minor 3rd, there is not a perfect 3rd.

Now, let’s put this all together in a chart:

Number of Semitones Perfect, Major, or Minor Intervals Augmented or Diminished Intervals
0 Perfect Unison Diminished 2nd
1 Minor 2nd Augmented Unison (Augmented 1st)
2 Major 2nd Diminished 3rd
3 Minor 3rd Augmented 2nd
4 Major 3rd Diminished 4th
5 Perfect 4th Augmented 3rd
6   Augmented 4th / Diminished 5th
7 Perfect 5th Diminished 6th
8 Minor 6th Augmented 5th
9 Major 6th Diminished 7th
10 Minor 7th Augmented 6th
11 Major 7th Diminished Octave (Diminished 8th)
12 Perfect Octave Augmented 7th

 

Do you see the patterns? Do you see the Rules we mentioned above?

Notice how every interval except that pesky 6-semitone interval can be defined as Major, Minor or Perfect.

Also notice how you can always define a range of 3-4 semitones by a single number.

Let’s take a 3rd for example. A minor 3rd is 3 semitones from our starting note. A major one is, like all major intervals, 1 semitone higher.

So the major 3rd is 4 semitones higher than our starting note.

But then we have Diminished and Augmented. Diminished is always one semitone lower than a minor, so 3 – 1 = 2 semitones above the start note would be a diminished 3rd.

Augmented is always 1 semitone higher than a major, so 4 + 1 = 5 semitones above the start note would be an augmented 3rd!

If we put that together, our “3rd” can stretch from 2 – 5 semitones, depending on it’s quality.

Also, notice that the diminished 3rd is the same as major 2nd and an augmented 3rd is the same as a perfect 4th!

Start Songwriting right now...

Get my free guide on 10 different ways to start writing a song!