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Intervals

Again, the basics

We already know three very simple intervals: half step, whole step and octave. But there are a lot more, and to know these intervals is very very important for chords.

What follows now is a very dry and bothering part of chord theory. I do know that. Nevertheless, you have to get very familiar with it, there is no other way. The only hint I can give you is to apply this as often as possible. Try to think in intervals. At first you have to learn these things by heart, then use them as often as you can and some day you will be that familiar with it so you cant remember the problems at the beginning. This is what happened to me and millions of other musicians. Dont worry.

Snakes and ladders

The distance between two notes is called an interval. This defines a kind of relationship. Another name for a two note set is diad. These intervals have nothing to do with scales in general, they are just definitions. I would like to present you something more easy and interesting but here it is: The Interval Table #1:

Distance in half steps

Interval Name

Symbol

0

unison

0

1

minor 2nd

b2

2

major 2nd

2

3

minor 3rd

b3

4

major 3rd

3

5

perfect 4th

4

6

diminished 5th

b5

7

perfect 5th

5

8

augmented 5th or minor 6th

#5/b6

9

major 6th

6

10

minor 7th

m7

11

major 7th

7

12

octave

8

So an interval defines the distance between two notes and that's all. The interval direction is always from the lower to the upper note (except unison, of course). Two notes or intervals having the same value but different name are called enharmonic. The augmented 5th and minor 6th are enharmonic. A diminished 5th and an augmented 4th would also be enharmonic, the same is valid for the notes F# and Gb or Cb and B.

Learn this table by heart. I am really very sorry, I dont see any other solution. Make ten copies of this table, put in under your pillow, put it on the dashboard of your car, read it during breakfast.

But let's have a closer look to make it a little bit easier. Let's figure out the names, where they come from and later how to find the intervals on the fretboard of your bass.

Intervals and scales

Let us take our C major scale and see the notes and the corresponding intervals. We also introduce a new numbering scheme for the scale with roman numbers:

Interval Half steps Scale position
From C to ...

same C

unison

0

I

D

major 2nd

2

II

E

major 3rd

4

III

F

perfect 4th

5

IV

G

perfect 5th

7

V

A

major 6th

9

VI

B

major 7th

11

VII

C

octave

12

VIII

Ahhh, there seems to be a relation between scales and intervals. In fact there is no specific relation and in some cases the interval names and scale positions are misleading. But this a good way to remember the interval names.

Grouping intervals by names

There is a second way to remember the intervals:

Perfect intervals

These are unison, perfect 4th, perfect 5th and octave.

Major intervals

Major 2nd, major 3rd, major 6th, major 7th

Minor intervals

Minor 2nd, minor 3rd, minor 6th, minor 7th

Augmented/diminished intervals

Only valid with chords for the 5th. Augmented means one half step higher, diminished means one half step lower then the perfect fifth. Minor 6th and augmented 5th are the same notes. When building the basic chords we will see what these notes are.

On the fretboard

Knowing the intervals in theory is very important. Getting them on the fretboard is even more essential.

Here is a table of intervals on the bass fretboard, using A as the lowest note, playing the lowest note first:

unison

minor 2nd

major 2nd

minor 3rd

G -----
D -----
A --0--
E --5--

G -----
D -----
A -0-1-
E -----

G -----
D -----
A -0-2-
E -----

G -----
D -----
A -0-3-
E -----

major 3rd

perfect 4th

diminished 5th

perfect 5th

G -----
D -----
A -0-4-
E -----

G -----
D --0--
A --0--
E -----

G -----
D --1--
A --0--
E -----

G -----
D --2--
A --0--
E -----

minor 6th

major 6th

major 7th

minor 7th

G -----
D --3--
A --0--
E -----

G -----
D --4--
A --0--
E -----
G --0--
D -----
A --0--
E -----

G --1--
D -----
A --0--
E -----

octave

G --2--
D -----
A --0--
E -----




Even more intervals

More intervals can be found beyond the octave border. So here: Interval Table #2:

Half steps Interval name Comment Symbol

0

unison 1

1

minor 2nd b2

2

major 2nd 2

3

minor 3rd b3

4

major 3rd 3

5

perfect 4th 4

6

diminished 5th in scales also named #4 b5

7

perfect 5th 5

8

augmented 5th/minor 6th if #5 or b6 depends on chord structure #5, b6

9

major 6th 6

10

minor 7th b7

11

major 7th 7

12

octave (8 = 1)

13

flat 9th b9

14

9th 9

15

sharp 9th == minor 3rd just b3 one octave up #9th == b3

16

major 10th == major 3rd just 3 one octave up 10 == 3

17

11th 11

18

augmented 11th #11

19

perfect 12th == perfect 5th just perfect 5th one octave up 12 == 5

20

flat 13th b13

21

13th 13

So all intervals are relative values. Sometimes it is not very easy to find out the correct note for an interval. For example: the augmented 5th for root = Bb, wait a minute, ... eeeh, ...

Why not use a Chord Clock for this? Have a look at our little helpers and return with your browser's BACK button.

"And why does this table end with the 13th?" Because interval names are only defined for two octaves.

Well, this is what you have to know about intervals. And you should know the intervals very well. Please take your time with this chapter before you continue with Basic Chords.

Exercises

You want some exercises? Here are some exercises:
1.) Try the intervals in the table on your bass. Find the specific sound and mood of these intervals. Get used to this sound. LEARN THE INTERVALS!!!
2.) You have to develop an ear for intervals. This is most important for transcribing and writing songs.  A good source for material to perform ear training are intros from songs. Take the first two notes of a tune and identify the interval used. Do it with and without instrument. Use songs where you dont need the CD or a tape, use songs you have in your head.

Examples: Rhapsody In Blue (this was the daily joke ...:-), Smoke On The Water/Deep Purple, Bouree/Jethro Tull, Paranoid/Black Sabbath, etc.

3.) Play Interval Games: Take two dice selecting half note intervals, name the interval, play it.
4.) Step 3 reversed: take a constant note (e.g. D), go the selected number of half steps down. Name the interval now, taking the lower note as interval base always.