Identifying Musical Intervals

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Learning musical intervals is easy. Here you will learn to identify and understand simple intervals. This will help you when playing and reading music, and when learning music theory.

Musical Intervals

An interval is the distance from one note to the next. 

Knowing about intervals, and being able to quickly identify intervals as patterns, helps both with playing and reading music. 

Intervals can be played either one note after the other; called a melodic interval, or played at the same time; called an harmonic interval.

Naming Musical Intervals

An Interval is described in two ways:

  1. By Number
  2. And by Quality

First you need to identify the number, or how many steps there are from one note to the next (this is what we'll learn here).

Step two is to identify the quality. (This will be covered in the next lesson.)

Measuring the distance from one note to the next is very easy.  Simply count!

What is a Whole Tone in Music?
What is a Whole Tone in Music?

Here is a list of basic music intervals:

  • From one note to another, if they are on the same place, is a Unison. (Yes, it's actually an interval too!)
  • From any note, to the next up or down, is a Second.
  • From any note, up or down, skipping one note in between, is a Third.
  • Skipping two notes, is a Fourth.
  • Skipping three notes, is a Fifth.
  • Skipping four notes, is a Sixth.
  • Skipping five notes, is a Seventh.
  • Skipping six notes, is an Octave. Why not call it an Eighth? Yes you could, but it is more common to call it an Octave (Which is Latin for 8th).

These intervals up to an octave are called Simple Intervals, because they are, (duh), simple! :)

Larger intervals, after the octave, are logically called a ninth, tenth, eleventh and so on.

But in music theory and learning about intervals, it is less interesting, since after the octave the intervals simply repeat themselves in the order above, but with an added octave. 

So, a ninth is actually an octave plus a second. A tenth an octave plus a third etc.

These larger intervals are called compound intervals.

How to Quickly Figure Out Musical Intervals

There is a little trick to learning how to quickly identify and remembering musical intervals.

First of all; after you learned to count (above) - stop counting!

Instead look at the "shape" of each interval.

One interval you can quickly learn without counting is the Unison, since it is so easy to spot (two notes that are the same):

Next, take a closer look at these intervals; 2nd, 4th, 6th and Octave (2,4,6,8).

Can you see what they have in common?:

Yes! One note in the interval is a line note, and the other a space note. They have an "uneven" look. But the numbers? They are even! (2,4,6,8)

  • So, the group of intervals with even numbers have an un-even look.

See, it's pretty easy to identify each interval without counting!

Now let's take a look at the other group. 3rd, 5th and 7th. (Above 3,5,7)

Yep, only three- since the Unison is too easy to learn, and we did that already.

See how in each of these intervals, both notes are either space-space or line-line.

  • So, un-even numbers... have an even look!

Identifying Musical Intervals in 2 Steps

Now you see how easy it was to understand the basic, simple intervals.

  1. The first step in learning intervals was identifying the number as we did here, counting and visually.
  2. The next step is to learn how each interval can be major, minor, perfect, augmented and diminished. This is called Interval Quality

Go to Music Interval Quality >>

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  • What is a Whole Tone in Music?

    The whole tone and semitone are the two smallest intervals in western musical tradition. But small is not insignificant! Learn more about the whole tone here.

  • The Semitone or Halfstep

    A semitone, or a halfstep is the smallest interval used in the Western music tradition. This little tiny interval is actually rather powerful.

  • Musical Intervals Explained for Beginners

    Musical intervals are the distances between notes. They are the skips and leaps in a melody, create the pattern of a scale, and building blocks for chords.

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