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Intervals
The distance between two notes.

This lesson is mostly a vocabulary lesson. We are simply naming the distances between notes. Unfortunately, it introduces quite a lot of jargon for such a simple concept. However, these terms are so commonly used that they're difficult to ignore.

Click the play buttons to see and hear each interval.

 

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Interval Name Notes Up Wave Ratio
Perfect Unison 0 1:1
Minor Second 1 16:15
Major Second 2 9:8
Minor Third 3 6:5
Major Third 4 5:4
Perfect Fourth 5 4:3
Tritone 6 25:18
Perfect Fifth 7 3:2
Minor Sixth 8 8:5
Major Sixth 9 5:3
Minor Seventh 10 9:5
Major Seventh 11 15:8
Perfect Octave 12 2:1

 

Why are they named like this?

I know, I know. It looks like this makes no sense. Just remember whenever you hear one these terms, they're just trying to refer to a particular relative note. You can start the next section now, but if you still have questions scroll further down...

Why are there two seconds, two thirds, two sixths, and two sevenths?

This is because the most common scales in Western music have only seven notes. The goal of this naming scheme is for only one of each numbered interval to appear in any given scale. For example, a scale will have either a Major Second or a Minor Second, but not both.

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Ultimately this makes counting easier when looking at a scale instead of all 12 notes. Take the Minor Scale above as an example. It contains:

  • Perfect Unison
  • Major Second
  • Minor Third
  • Perfect Fourth
  • Perfect Fifth
  • Minor Sixth
  • Minor Seventh
  • Perfect Octave

Unfortunately, it doesn't make it any easier to know which Second, Third, etc. to use off the top of your head.

Why are there Major and Minor intervals in the Minor Scale?

I'm sorry but the Music Theory Gods have severely abused the words "Major" and "Minor". They mean different things in different contexts.

There are Major intervals in a Minor Scale. There are Minor Chords in a Major scale. There are Major intervals in a Minor chord. It's Major (Minor) Mayhem!!

Here, for intervals, they simply distinguish the duplicate interval names (two seconds, two thirds, etc.)

Tritone?

This is the Devil's Interval. It was banned in Renaissance church music. Seriously. It appears in very few scales and has the hardest sound (and a complicated ratio to match). If it is used, it can be called an Augmented Fourth or a Flatted Fifth, but it is very rarely used.

What makes an interval Perfect?

You'll notice that the "Perfect" intervals have some of the simplest ratios. This means they sound "great". Better than the other intervals. (Some might even say perfect!) Try playing them to hear for yourself.

Now I have to be careful. Music Theory experts will be quick to say that I shouldn't say one interval sounds good while another sounds bad. "It's all subjective and contextual", and they're right. This will be the topic of our next lesson.

Next Consonance & Dissonance

Replacing the terms "good" and "bad" when talking about harmonies and music.

Next Section


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