You are on page 1of 10

Small Intervals

An "interval" is the space between two notes. Shall I be obvious? A small
interval is a situation where there are two notes close together! There are three
small intervals to be dealt with in this lesson: semitone, whole tone, and toneplus-semitone.

We have already dealt with the semitone in lesson 3. Now you need to know
that there are two types of semitones. Both sound exactly the same, but they
are written differently. Take a look at this example:

Both of these semitones sound exactly the same. Play them on your instrument.
From your knowledge of semitones, you know that if you were to play both
examples on a musical instrument, you would play the same notes! In other
words, the point here is that G# and Ab are exactly the same pitch. But here's the
difference: we would say that in the first example, "G-sharp is a DIATONIC
semitone lower than A". In the second example, we would say "A-flat is a
CHROMATIC semitone lower than A".
So there are two types of semitones: DIATONIC SEMITONES and CHROMATIC
SEMITONES. Here are quick definitions:
The smallest interval in our "western" music culture, in which the
two notes are spelled using different letter names. (A, G-sharp)
The smallest interval in our "western" music culture, in which the
two notes are spelled using the same letter name. (A, A-flat)
Here are some more semitones, correctly labeled:

Looking at this view of a piano keyboard. To write whole tones. you would add a sharp to the second note in order to make it a whole tone higher: There is one other place on the keyboard where there is no black note between white notes: between 'B' and 'C'. In this case. we begin by ensuring that they've been placed on the staff correctly. the other must be on the line above or below it. This distance of two semitones is called one whole tone. these two notes are only one semitone apart. But as you can see from the diagram of the keyboard above. just because two notes are placed on a staff in this manner. if necessary. Whole tones are written on the staff so that if one note is on a line.(You will learn in later lessons that a diatonic semitone is also called a minor 2nd) WHOLE TONES A whole tone equals the distance of two semitones. If one note is written on a space. The rule about placement of the notes on the staff is only part of the procedure. for example: The 'E' is on the line directly below the 'F'. Here are some written whole tones: .there is no black note in between them. don't automatically assume they are whole tones. Here's a quick definition: WHOLE TONE An interval which is the distance of 2 semitones. So a whole tone above 'B' would be 'C#'. You must now adjust the second note. the other must be on the space above or below it. you can see two notes indicated by dots: The 'G' and the 'A' are one whole tone away from each other due to the fact that there is a note in between them: the G-sharp. Take this interval. However. or A-flat.

the other note must be on a line above or below it. If you're still a little rusty. the other note must be in the space above or below it.) TONE-PLUS-SEMITONE A tone-plus-semitone is the distance of three semitones. We'll go through the process of writing a major scale step by step (no pun intended). go back to Lesson 7. You must then adjust the second note so that the proper interval exists. Please note that when we say 'tone'. do not assume that because you have placed the notes correctly on the staff that they are automatically a tone-plus-semitone apart. (You will learn in later lessons that a whole tone is also known as a major 2nd. Make certain that you fully understand the difference between tones and semitones. and you'll see that writing scales is actually a fairly simple process! I .Notice that whole tones are written on adjacent lines or spaces. But we'll get to that in a moment.) Major Scales A scale is a series of notes that proceed up or down by step. ('Step' means by tone or by semitone). Understanding scales depends on your knowledge of tones and semitones. If one note is in a space. Here are some written tone-plus-semitones: (You will learn in later lessons that a tone-plus-semitone is also known as an augmented 2nd. And just as with the situation regarding whole tones. A major scale proceeds by following a certain pattern of tones and semitones. TONE-PLUS-SEMITONE An interval which is the distance of 3 semitones. On paper. it must be written so that if one note is on a line. we mean 'whole tone'.

the first interval in the pattern. It will help you to clearly visualize the entire process. any note below the middle line 'B' should point its stem upward. Therefore. tone. Major scales follow a certain pattern of tones and semitones. Here is that all-important pattern: Tone . ascending. Remember. but not necessarily a major scale. Then place an 'F' on the staff. and we can go on.Semitone .Tone . the 'F' above middle 'C'. is correct. STEP 2: Write a note on each line and space. Writing an F-Major Scale in the treble clef: STEP 1: Draw a treble clef on a staff.Tone . If they don't. The 'B' itself can go either way.Tone . What is the distance between these two notes? It is a whole tone. We start by looking at the first two notes. 'Tone'. using quarter notes.Semitone We now have to examine the intervals between each and every note to see that they conform to this pattern.Tone . On we go! . Now let's look at the 2nd and 3rd notes. so that conforms to the second interval requirement. we can use accidentals (sharps and flats) to make them conform. the 'G' and 'A'. The distance between these two notes is a whole tone. ascending for one octave. STEP 3: You've now written a scale. We are going to write an F-major scale in the treble clef. 'F' and 'G'.would recommend getting a piece of staff paper and writing out the steps as you see them demonstrated here for you. any note above the middle line 'B' should point its stem downward.

Just keep going. No problem! We'll just lower the B to a Bflat. the B-flat is the only accidental that we have to use.Our next notes to examine are the 3rd and 4th notes. Now we are going to learn how to name intervals that are larger than a second. Make sure that you write your scale using the process mentioned above. big or small. All the different major scales use their own set of accidentals. and now it's a semitone. It is the only major scale that has one flat. the method we use to name larger intervals actually applies to all intervals. has one flat. THEN make your adjustments if necessary. Start with one octave of notes. In the next lesson.the semitone. You will find that in this scale. the 'A' and 'B'. Here is the complete correct F-major scale: An F-major scale. whole tone. you'll learn how to make a proper key signature from the accidentals that are used. Here's what we've got so far: We show whole tones with a square bracket and semitones with a slur (curve). as you can see. This forms a whole tone. There are two components to the name of an interval: . In fact. But our major-scale pattern says that there should only be a semitone between these two notes. you learned how to name "small" intervals. Intervals In Lesson 7. and the toneplus-semitone. checking each interval between all notes in the scale. These were intervals that occupied the space of a "second" .

Let's look at the perfect intervals first. So much for the easy part! There are several different kinds. and the non-perfect ones. The second component . but more on that a little later. "hollow" or "bare". "Is there a D# in a G-major scale?" No. you can see that the 'D' is five notes higher than the 'G'. it is a perfect 5th. and 7. the number. The other intervals. etc.4. If an interval is determined to be a fifth. For example. Back to the perfect ones. then the interval will be perfect . But what if the answer was 'No"? What if instead of the above example. If you examine the example above. Therefore. of intervals. we had one of the following: or Would the number of the interval be the same? Absolutely.5 or 8). 4. these intervals will be described as either "harsh" (2 or 7) or "sweet" (3 or 6). They are the ones described as being major or minor. There are four intervals that can be described as being perfect: 1. we might say "perfect fifth" in describing a certain kind of fifth. The 'P' stands for 'perfect'. all intervals will fall into two main categories: the perfect ones. The number is very easy to determine. in this case the letter 'P'. 3. Depending on the number. diminished that. there are three possibilities: . tells us the quality of the interval.they're something different. So they're not perfect . 5. With the perfect intervals (1.The first component. Therefore. "Is there a Db in a G-major scale?" No. because the top note is still five notes above the bottom note. and 8. You have heard these terms before in conversation with musicians: major this. we need to ask ourselves an important question in order to determine what kind of fifth the interval is: "Is the top note in the major scale of the bottom note?" If the answer is "yes". the question you would ask is "Is the top note ('D') found in a 'G' major scale? You know from the previous scale lesson that the answer to that is "yes". tells us the distance between the two notes. Intervals that are perfect have a certain sound that is variously described by musicians as "pure". 6. Click on the play-bar beside the interval above and listen to the hollow sound produced by the Perfect 5th.a "perfect fifth". like the one above. But how do we actually determine the quality of an interval? For our purposes here. are non-perfect ones. 2. the interval shown above is a 5th. Assigning a '1' to the bottom note and counting upward until reaching the top note. or qualities. ask yourself the question. But are they still perfect intervals? Well.

so the interval is a major 3rd. We can show that by writing either '+3' or 'M3'.say.6 or 7). But what kind of '3'? This interval is a third. Easy! Now consider the following interval: What number would be placed under it? A '3'. Indeed. an 'F' on the bottom and an 'Ab' on the top. That's because D# is one semitone higher than 'D'. and then count upward until reaching the top note. But you still have to ask the same question: "Is the top note ('A') in the major scale of the bottom note ('F')"? Checking your Scale Reference . of course. and so we go to the next larger interval. That would be one semitone smaller than a major 3rd . That's because Db is one semitone lower than 'D'. because if you consider the bottom note to be '1'. then the answer would be "Augmented 5th". What if the interval were different . the answer to the question is yes. then the interval is major. then the answer would be "Diminished 5th". If the answer to the question is "yes".3. the 'A' would be three notes higher. then the interval is perfect. and so we go to the next smaller interval. you can see that the answer is "yes". If it is "too small" to be yes (such as is the case with the Db). there are four possibilities: Notice the rectangle drawn around the word "major". or something else. But what does that mean? With the non-perfect intervals (2. That is there to remind us that if the answer to the question "Is the top note ('A') in the major scale of the bottom note ('F')" is yes. and so we know that it is not going to be a perfect interval.This diagram shows those three possibilities. It's going to be given a name like "major" or "minor. If it is "too large" to be yes (such as is the case with the D#). this is why there is a rectangle drawn around the word "perfect".

For each semitone smaller. go one word to the right of the word in the rectangle.5 or 8). Then the interval becomes easier to figure out: "Is there an E-flat in a B-major scale?" No. So to sum up. In this case. They are 3rds because the distance from the lowest note to the highest note is 3. or '-3'). Then. the four intervals are: diminished 3rd. for example!) Do not be concerned about those issues at this point. and augmented 3rd.4.6 or 7]. That would result in an E-flat on top and a B on the bottom.3. What do you do if the bottom note is a note for which we don't have a major scale? For example what about this one: We don't have a B-sharp major scale. count upward until you reach the top note. or MAJOR (if the number is 2.3. For now.5 or 8]. taking into consideration whether it is a [1.would be a minor 3rd ('m3'.6 or 7) IF NO: It will be one of the other words as described above.4. Write that number down underneath the interval. But looking at those four intervals. Therefore. E-flat makes this a diminished 4th. raise both notes the same amount to get back to the original notes. Later lessons will deal with double flats (and double sharps as well). or [2. the only interval for which the answer is "yes" would be the one with the 'A' on top. By raising both notes the same amount. "Is the top note in the major scale of the bottom note?". Here. are the four possibilities with the interval of a 3rd: There are several things about this example that would actually require some indepth explanations (the double flat. no matter what accidental is in front of the note. And so the answer to the above example is: Diminished 4th. that's the one we would call the major 3rd. imagine in your mind that you just lowered both pitches by a semitone. minor 3rd. then. there are two steps to naming an interval. there's an E-natural. go one word to the left of the word in the rectangle. major 3rd. if you ask yourself the question. for each semitone larger. 2) Ask yourself "Is the top note in the major scale of the bottom note?" IF YES: The interval will be PERFECT (if the number is 1. Use the following guide for abbreviations: . Here they are: 1) Starting with the number '1'. it is important that you realize that all four of the intervals shown above are considered '3rds'. the interval stays the same size. From left to right.

and count upward until you reach the top note. and so this is a major sixth. because the 'G' was the note you were given. If you are given a 'G. so we raise the 'C' to a 'C-sharp'.Major: + or 'M' Minor: . just proceed in the manner described above: If you are given this: and told to write a note a minor 6th above it. the process is similar. 2) Ask yourself. You'll get this: Then ask yourself the question. Do not change the given note. we raise the 'C'. start on that 'G' and count down from 5 until you reach 1.or 'm' Perfect: P Augmented: Aug or 'X' Diminished: dim or 'o' When it comes to writing a note that is a certain interval above a given note. Simply count down from the given note. We want a minor sixth.) Here are several intervals all correctly labeled*. "Is there a 'G' in a B-flat major scale?" The answer is "Yes". (In this case. 'Is there a 'G' in a 'C' major scale"? The answer is "Yes". starting on the number of the interval. simply count up six notes (the bottom note is '1'). Remember to follow the two steps: 1) Start on 1. You'll now be on the note 'C'. and now the interval is a minor 6th: If you are asked to write a note that is a certain interval below a given note. So what do we do? We lower the 'G' to a 'G-flat'. "Is the top note in the major scale of the bottom note?" .' and told to write a note that is a diminished fifth below it. We want to make the interval smaller(to make it diminished). so this is a perfect fifth. Ask yourself the question. Study each one and be sure you fully understand the process involved in naming intervals before doing the test.