Intervals level 1
In this guide...
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We've already discovered semitones and tones between adjacent notes, so we'll start with a quick recap on those. Next we'll take a look at the intervals between notes that are not adjacent.
A quick recap
Let's begin with a quick reminder of some things we've learned in the previous study guide, and start with a list of the natural notes:
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
Remember that there are gaps "between" some of these notes, which allow us to have sharp and flat versions of the natural notes.
Tones and semitones
The gap between a natural note and its sharpened or flattened version is an interval called a semitone, and the reason that there is no sharp (or flat) note between B and C or between E and F is because these natural notes are already a semitone apart, and so there is no "room" for a sharp or flat between them.
The interval between two natural notes which is large enough to contain a flat or sharp is called a tone. Therefore, there are tones between these pairs of natural notes:
- C and D
- D and E
- F and G
- G and A
- A and B
An interval doesn't just have to be a semitone or a tone. In fact, we can describe the gap between any two notes with a system of describing intervals that is very important to the study of music theory.
Let's consider the list of natural notes again, and this time let's number them:
If C (number 1) is the first note, we can see that D is the 2nd note that we come to, and that E is the 3rd. We can therefore say that D is an interval of a 2nd above C, and that E is an interval of a 3rd above C. Similarly, we can construct the intervals of a 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th.
Carrying on with this, we can describe any interval between C and a note above in the same way, as shown in this example:
If the interval between C and B is a 7th, what about the interval between C and the C above? Is that an "8th"?
The interval between two notes an "8th" apart is given a special name: an octave. It is not correct to use the term "an 8th", so you'll need to remember the word "octave" - fortunately, you'll come across it a lot, so it's an easy one to remember!
Here are some examples of octaves:
Similarly, if the interval between C and D is a 2nd, what about the "interval" between C and itself? Is that a "1st"?
This is another special case. The interval between any two notes that are the same is called a unison. Just as with the octave and "8th", it is not correct to call this interval a "1st", so you'll also need to remember to say "unison" instead.
You'll also come across the word "unison" frequently - for example, we might say that two people are "singing in unison", when we mean that they are singing the same notes at the same time - in other words, the interval between them is always a unison!
Do you remember the word "equivalents" from the flats and sharps study guide - describing, for example, how C sharp is equivalent to D flat?
This can lead to an important trap! C sharp is not the same note as D flat, it is simply equivalent. Therefore the interval between these two notes - even though they sound the same - is not a unison.
Remember that equivalent notes are written differently even though they sound the same.
C sharp is a "type of" C, and D flat is a "type of" D, and we know that the interval between C and D is a 2nd. Therefore, the interval between C sharp and D flat is also a "type of" 2nd. We'll discover exactly what kind of 2nd in a later study guide, but for now, watch out for this trap!
So far we have just looked at intervals starting on C, in the C major scale. We can use this system for any scale. Here are the intervals in the scales of G major, D major, and F major.
Always remember to count up from the lower note when describing an interval, even if the first note in the pair is higher. Both of the following intervals are a 3rd:
If you don't count up from the lower note, in the example above you might wrongly conclude that the second interval (B to G) is a 6th!
Are you sure you've understood everything in this study guide? Why not try the following practice questions, just to be sure!