Updated: Jul 12
Intervals are a vital ingredient to our music.
They are the building blocks for how we connect scales and chords. They give the music color and shape with their interaction.
This is why in today’s article, we are looking over these topics:
What Is The Definition Of An Interval?
The answer to this is very simple the definition of an interval is the distance between two notes. Each of the distances between one note and the next are labelled a number with any flats or sharps where appropriate.
If I pick the note C and I jump from C to the note D it is a step away or two frets on the fretboard, because it is a step away its called a major 2nd (2).
If I picked E instead of the note D its two steps away from C and that makes it a major 3rd (3).
If I picked the note F instead of D its two and a half steps away and that makes it a perfect 4th (4)
Let’s change the note again to G its three and a half steps away making it a perfect 5th (5)
If it was A, it would be 4 and a half steps a way changing it to a major 6th (6)
And finally, if we pick B, it would be 5 and a half steps away giving the property of a major 7th (7).
It just so happens that all of these note choices are the note names of the C major scale and each interval named is the scale degree of a major scale.
If we alter any of these intervals to be flattened or sharpened, we get the other types of intervals for example:
Db/C# becomes a flat second (b2)
Eb/D # becomes a flattened third or minor 3rd (b3)
F sharp/Gb becomes a flat 5th or sharpened 4th (b5 or #4) it also can be commonly known as a Tritone as its three tones away from the root.
Ab /G# becomes a Minor 6th or augmented 5th (b6 or #5) (depending on the context)
Bb becomes a flattened 7th (b7).
These distances remain the same whatever note we start with and this is how we can recognise them by ear.
This is due to everyone having relative pitch i.e., the ability to learn the distance between two tones or frequencies.
What Are The Best Methods For Learning Intervals?
The way I was taught to learn intervals is to find music or something you are familiar with that generates the interval in question.
It could be two notes that resonate with you that are in a song you love, it could be an advert, anything as long as it is useful to recall that interval quickly.
A common method is to find a section of your favourite songs that have those two notes so you can refer to that as the distance.
The strongest one that comes to mind for me is when I think of a perfect 4th, I have two options firstly is the verse section in Nirvanas smells like teen spirit or the riff smoke on the water by deep purple as that’s made with two fourths. This method makes it super-fast to recall what the intervals are as you gain associations to the intervals you want to recall.
This helps for creating harmonies on the fly and thinking more melodically.
Another common method is to sing or hum from the root note and as you sing the first note “get a feel” for the distance when you have to match the next target note, then label that note the correct interval.
This teaches you how to feel the distance between two notes internally and more intuitively. This takes a bit of practice but a few minutes a day of singing or humming this method of practice really pays off to your own recognition of intervals.
Speaking of songs to help you with learning intervals here are my recommendations to learn your ascending intervals
How To Relate To Ascending Intervals In Popular Songs
Below will be a list of songs with one song per interval highlighting that interval in sound. You can find your own examples and this is usually the ideal way to make this work for you but here is my list to identify each interval.
Each song or reference will be timestamped on the embedded video. And the time will be listed if its in the middle of the song just in case any links break due to copyright.
Major 2nd = Rick Astley – Never Gunna Give You Up- the intro first few notes. (Sorry for the rickroll)
Minor 3rd = Steve Vai for the love of god - the first two notes.
Major 3rd = O-bla-di ob-bla-da The Beatles 0.27 seconds
Perfect 4th = Nirvana- Smells Like Teen Spirit- The verse sections 0.21 seconds
Tritone = The Simpsons Theme – when you hear the syllables Simp -sons.
Perfect 5th- Star Wars intro theme 0.08
Minor 6th = Paul Desmond- Theme from Black Orpheus - the opening line on the sax
Major 6th = Bob Marley and The Wailers – Three Little Birds.- Every time bob sings from coz to every is a major 6th
Minor 7th = Star trek the original theme just when the theme comes into play
Major 7th = Aha- take on me. The “take on” lyric is the major 7th interval (0.53 seconds in)
Octave = Somewhere over the rainbow- the some to where is the octave interval.
This should give you a good introduction to ascending intervals, there are of course descending intervals from the root downwards we will cover them in a separate article which you should look forward to reading!
Are there any songs that help you relate to the intervals? If so put them in the comment section below as I would love to hear them!
I hope for now that this article helps you develop your relative pitch.
Happy interval hunting!