Understanding musical intervals will make all other music studies much easier to grasp. This is the stuff that will set you apart from other players. You will be able to think creatively for chord and solo ideas.
Intervals are the building blocks of every scale and chord that exists.
Music Intervals – A Set of Steps
I think the best way to understand musical intervals is to picture a set of stairs with 12 steps, each step represents a note in the musical alphabet or a fret on the guitar.
One step equals a semitone or one fret. If you play every note on one string from the open position to the 12th fret you will have played the chromatic scale. See, you learned a scale learning about scale intervals.
Musical Interval Names
Every musical interval has a name so you know what to call it when talking with another musician or reading in a instruction book. This is the ABC’s of the music language.
These intervals are based on the C Note
This information below is vital to understanding scale, chord, melody and harmony structure for any type of music scale or music in general.
- C to C = Unison = two of the same note
- C to C♯/D♭ = Minor Second = 1 fret
- C to D = Major Second = 2 Frets
- C to D♯/E♭ = Minor Third = 3 frets
- C to E = Major Third = 4 frets
- C to F = Perfect 4th = 5 frets
- C to F♯/G♭ = Diminished 5th = 6 Frets = Tritone
- C to G = Perfect 5th = 7 frets
- C to G♯/A♭ = Minor 6th = 8 frets
- C to A = Major 6th = 9 frets
- C to A♯/B♭ = Minor 7th = 10 frets
- C to B = Major 7th = 11 frets
- C to C = Perfect Octave = 12 frets
- C to D(1 octave higher) = Major 9th = 14 frets
- C to F(1 octave higher) = Major 11th = 17 frets
- C to A(1 octave higher) = Major 13th = 19 frets
Types of Music Intervals
There are five types of intervals
- Major – 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th
- Perfect – unison, 4th, 5th and octave
- Minor – 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th
- Diminished – 5th and 9th
- Augmented – 5th, 9th and 11th
Note that the 11th isn’t in the diminished list because the 11th is the same note as the 4th and if you lower the 4th or 11th you have a major 3rd note.
The Major Intervals
The major musical intervals take place at the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes
- C to D is a whole step or 2 frets and is a Major 2nd
- C to E is 2 whole steps or 4 frets and is a Major 3rd
- C to A is 4 ½ steps or 9 frets and is a Major 6th
- C to B is 5 ½ steps or 11 frets and is a Major 7th
Major Interval Audio
I’m going to play the above major intervals as individual notes and together.
The Minor Musical Intervals
A minor interval is ½ step or fret lower than a major interval
Only Major intervals can become minor intervals
- A minor second is ½ step or 1 fret C to C♯/D♭
- A minor third is 1 ½ steps or 3 frets C to D♯/E♭
- The difference between a major and a minor chord is 1 note
- A minor 6th is 4 steps or 8 frets C to G♯/A♭
- A minor 7th is 5 steps or 10 frets C to A♯/B♭
Minor Intervals Audio
I’m going to play the minor intervals just like I did for the major ones.
The Perfect Musical Intervals
Perfect musical intervals are called perfect because both notes belong to each others scale or key
In other words C is a note in the F scale and F is a note in the C scale
There are only four of these
- The Perfect 4th is 2 ½ steps or 5 frets C to F
- The Perfect 5th is 3 ½ steps or 7 frets C to G
- The Perfect octave is 6 steps or 12 frets C to C
- Perfect Unison is 0 steps it’s two of the same note
Perfect Intervals Audio
I’m going to play the first 3 perfect intervals. The last one is two of the same note.
The Diminished Intervals
A diminished interval is ½ step or 1 fret lower than a minor or a perfect interval
Although the diminished minor can be a diminished interval they really don’t get used that much, it’s more for the perfect 5th and 9th intervals
You will note that I said 9th in my last paragraph, that is because to complete the intervals we must go two octaves, see below
We have to get a little into chord building to explain the rest of the intervals
Some of these numbers are not used for various reasons
- The 3 is referred to as major or minor
- The 8 is referred to as an octave
- The 10 is a 3rd an octave higher
- The 12 is a 5th an octave higher
- The 14 is a 7th an octave higher
- The 15 is a double octave
Are you catching on to the music math. Seven is the magic number. The 2 and 9 are the same note, the 4 and 11 are the same and the 6 and 13 are the same note.
The Diminished 5th and 9th
The 5th and 9th are really the only ones that get diminished, which means they get lowered by ½ step or one fret. You will also see the word flat or flatted or a minus sign like C7-9. This means to lower your 9th a half step
Diminished 5th and 9th Audio
We’ll do these the same as above
The diminished 5th notes are C to F♯
The diminished 9th notes are C to C♯ – not a pleasant sounding harmony much like the minor 2nd. It gives that out of tune sound
Diminished 5th and 9th intervals
The Augmented Intervals
An augmented interval is ½ step higher or 1 fret than a Major or a Perfect interval
The only ones that really get used here are the 5th, 9th and 11th
You will see a + sign or aug, an augmented 11th note is the same as a flatted fifth, they are the same note. In chords octaves do not matter, the note will have the same effect on the chord.
The difference between an augmented 5th chord and an augmented 11th chord is an 11th chord should contain a 7th and a 9th in it.
Augmented Intervals Audio
The notes for the augmented 5th are C and G♯
The notes for the augmented 9th are C and D♯
The notes for the augmented 11th are C and F♯
How Do I Use Musical Intervals?
Much of this information can be used for building chords, that’s what the 5,9 and 11 stuff is about. It is also used to understand scales. It is hard to explain without going into chord building, so if you are confused try checking out the major scale primer page.
Inverting Musical Intervals
Inverting an interval is simply placing the lower note one octave higher.
In other words if you have a major third interval like C to E and raise the C one octave like E to C you have a minor 6th interval instead of a major third.
Below are lists of how intervals change when inverted.
Hover over question mark for explanation
Perfect Interval Inversion
- Perfect Unison becomes a perfect octave
- Perfect 4th becomes a perfect 5th
- Perfect 5th becomes a perfect 4th
- Perfect octave becomes a perfect prime(unison)
The perfect intervals remain perfect
Major Interval Inversions
- Major 2nd becomes a minor 7th
- Major 3rd becomes a minor 6th
- Major 6th becomes a minor 7th
- Major 7th becomes a minor 2nd
The major intervals become minor
Minor Interval Inversions
- Minor 2nd becomes a major 7th
- Minor 3rd becomes a major 6th
- Minor 6th becomes a major 3rd
- Minor 7th becomes a major 2nd
The minor interval becomes major.
Diminished Interval Inversions
The only practical diminished interval will be the perfect 5th, the 4th would become a major 3rd and the others would only confuse you and me.
A diminished 5th becomes an augmented 4th
Augmented Interval Inversions
The only practical interval will be the perfect 4th, the 5th would become a minor 6th.
Don’t confuse this with the chord names an augmented 5th chord would not be called a C/minor 6th. It would still be C+ or C aug.
Thank You for visiting out Musical Intervals page.
I hope you found this page useful.