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Learning Descending Intervals And Interval Inversions

Updated: 3 days ago

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.

Like we discussed in our prior article for Ascending Intervals we now are taking a look at descending intervals and how they differ, as well as looking at how intervals invert from each other.

This is why in today’s article, we are looking over these topics:

What Is The Definition Of A Descending Interval?

The answer to this is very simple the definition of a descending interval is the distance between two notes but with the first note being a higher register than the second.

Each of the distances between one note and the next are labelled a number with any flats or sharps where appropriate.

For example:

If I pick the note C and I jump from C down to the note B, it is a half-step away or one fret on the fretboard, because it is a half-step downwards from the root, we call it a descending minor 2nd.

If I picked A instead of the note B it is one and a half steps descendant from C and that makes it a descending minor 3rd.

If I picked the note G instead of B its two and a half steps descendant from C and that makes it a descending perfect 4th.

Let’s change the note again to F its three and a half steps descendant from C making it a descending perfect 5th.

If it was E, it would be 4 steps descendant from C changing it to a descending flattened 6th

And finally, if we pick D, it would be 5 steps descendant from C giving the property of a desecending flattened 7th.

It just so happens that all of these note choices are the note names of the C major scale and each descendant interval is an inversion of an ascending interval.

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Interval Inversions

In the article where we discussed ascending intervals we laid out the premise of how intervals are described in terms of note names and degrees of the major scale, with their flattened and sharp counter parts.

in this article we are going to discuss the importance of interval inversions as an ascending interval can be inverted into a different interval when descending.

Its super useful to know which interval can be inverted to the other type of interval as music can be alot about which perspective you hear the tonal center.

Learning your inversions is also useful for ear training purposes.

Think of intervals as two possibilities, they could be an ascending interval or desceding interval depending on which note you call the root, here is a list of possibilities in each their ascending and descening form:

Ascending Minor 2nd can be a descending Major 7th

Ascending Major 2nd can be a descending flattened 7th

Ascending Major 3rd can be a descending Major 6th

Ascending Perfect 4th can be a descending Perfect 5th

Ascending Augmented 4th (#4) can be a desceding Diminished 5th (b5) aka Tritone

Ascending Perfect 5th can be a descending Perfect 4th

Ascending Augmented 5th (#5) can be a descending Diminished 4th (b4)

Ascending Minor 6th can be a descending Major 3rd

Ascending Major 6th can be a descending Minor 3rd

Ascending Minor 7th can be a descending Major 2nd

and lastly,

An ascending Major 7th can be a descedning Minor 2nd

after knowing these interval inversions through knowledge we need to know how they sound which brings me onto the next topic


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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 Descending 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 it's in the middle of the song just in case any links break due to copyright.

Descending Minor 2nd - Fur Elise - Beethoven - the intro

Descending Major 2nd - Yesterday - The Beatles (when yesterday is sung)

Descending Minor 3rd - Hey Jude - The beatles (the first few intervals on hey to jude)

Descending Major 3rd - Swing Low Sweet Chariot (swing low words from swing to low)

Descending Perfect 4th - O Come all Ye Faithful - Mariah Cairey (the first descending interval)

Descending Tritone - Black Sabbath- Black sabbath (0.27)

Descending Perfect 5th - The Flintstones Theme

Descending Minor 6th - The Entertainer - Scott Joplin - (when the main theme starts playing with the alternating notes)

Descending Major 6th - Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond (when he sings sweet to car in the chorus)

Descending Minor 7th - The Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock- (The interval in the main theme)

Descending Major 7th - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Frank Sinatra (when he sings have to your)

Descending Octave - Bulls On Parade - Rage Against The Machine (intro riff)

I hope this article has introduced you well to the concept of descending intervals and the concept of interval inversions as these will be essential in your growth as a musician.

I'd love to hear any songs that these intervals remind you of in the comments!

Happy Interval Hunting!

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