This article may contain compensated links. Please read the disclosure for more info.
What are music intervals?
An interval is simply the distance between a note and the note next to it. Intervals are one of the most important “building blocks” in music. Other important "building blocks" are scales and chords.
Why do I need to know about intervals?
There are many reasons to learn about intervals. For example:
Good news is- learning to master intervals is easy, especially for pianists!!!
Take a look at this keyboard.
Pick any white key. That key is one (1). The key next to it is 2, and so on.
The interval from 1 to 2 is called….. A second!! Choose another. F for example- from F to A is the interval of 1-2-3...a third!! Yes!
The white keys on a piano keyboard represent the basic 7 notes in the music alphabet; A,B,C,D,E,F,G.
From one white key to another you will find all the different basic piano intervals.
The basic intervals are: unisons, seconds, thirds, fourths, fifths, sixths, sevenths and octaves.
Larger intervals are called compound intervals, since they can be seen as an octave plus a second = a ninth; an octave plus a third = a tenth, and so on.
Here you can see all the piano intervals on the white keys (no sharps (#)or flats(b) ). See how they look both on the piano keys as well as with notation:
This is all very easy, and you can quickly learn this as you play the piano. Practice playing and saying the interval names out loud.
The two notes of the music intervals are played either simultaneously, which is called a harmonic interval, or one at a time which is called a melodic interval:
Too easy, huh? Ready for a bit of a challenge? OK!
Not all intervals are the same. That is, they don't come only in different sizes, but in different "qualities" as well.
We have major, minor, augmented, diminished and perfect to choose from. No- you can’t choose! There are rules:
All Unisons and Octaves are always perfect (if you haven’t altered one of the notes with a sharp or a flat):
All the Fourths on the white keys on the piano keyboard (or notes without sharps or flats) are ALL perfect, EXCEPT between F and B.
The Fourth between F and B is "bigger" than normal, it is augmented.
This interval that is 3 whole steps is also called a Tritone.
All the fifths on the white keys are perfect, EXCEPT the fifth between B and F, which is smaller than the others, it is diminished.
This fifth is also 3 whole steps, and is also called a "Tritone". It sounds the same as the augmented fourth, since it is actually the same interval between the tones!
Seconds are intervals that we also call steps; either whole steps (tones) or half steps (semi tones).
On the piano keyboard it is
easy to see that most white keys next to each other (step) have a black key in between them, except from between E-F and B-C.
Whole steps have a black key in between, (or two black keys with a white in between) and half steps are the smallest step from one key to the very next, black or white.
Thirds are the intervals of either two whole steps, called a Major Third (which by the way gives the color major that makes the “happy” sound in a chord or a scale.)
Thirds can also be one and a half step, which is called a Minor Third ( and gives the “sad” sound in
a chord or a scale).
Sixths are simple to figure out if they are major or minor, just by “flipping over” or inverting to a third! In this example the C is moved an octave lower. If the third is major, the "inverted" sixth is the opposite; minor.
This works the same with sevenths; flip over (invert)a minor seventh, and you get a major second, and the other way around.
Still easy? Ready for some more?
We can make these “natural” (no sharps or flats) music intervals even bigger or smaller by using sharps and flats!
So, a second, third, sixth and seventh can become: minor, major, augmented or diminished, but never perfect.
A unison, octave, fourth and fifth can become: perfect, augmented, diminished (or double-), but never major or minor.
The shapes and patterns of the music intervals are easy to learn to recognize. Practice the intervals on the piano as you say the interval names out loud.
To be able to analyze the music intervals you learned that the sizes are (on the white keys, or using notes without any sharps and flats):
By adding accidentals (sharps and flats) you can change the size of an interval.