Identifying Musical Intervals

This article may contain compensated links. Please read the disclosure for more info.

Learning musical intervals is easy if you know some simple tricks. Here you will learn how to identify and understand simple intervals. Learning to quickly identify intervals will help you when playing and reading music and when learning music theory.

Musical Intervals

What is an interval in music?

Simply put, in music, an interval is the distance in steps from one note to the next.

Why do I need to know about intervals?

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

Melodic and Harmonic Intervals

200pxharmonic-melodic-interval.jpg


If we play intervals one note after the other; it is called a melodic interval (like a melody).

Or if the notes are played at the same time (creating harmony), it is called a harmonic interval.

Naming Musical Intervals

Music intervals

An Interval can be described in two ways:

  1. By Number
  2. And by Quality

Step one; 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!

This is a List of Basic Music Intervals

1. Unison

  • From one note to another, if the notes are on the same note, it's called a Unison. (Yes, it's actually an interval too!)
Interval Unison

2. Second

  • Starting from any note, to the next note up or down, it's called a Second (2nd).
Interval of a Second

3. Third

  • From any note, up or down, counting 1,2,3 (skipping one note in between) is a Third (3rd).
Interval of a Third

4. Fourth

  • Skipping two notes in between (count 1,2,3,4), is a Fourth (4th).
Interval of a Fourth

5. Fifth

  • Skipping three notes in between (count 1,2,3,4,5), is a Fifth (5th).
Interval of a Fifth

6. Sixth

  • Skipping four notes in between (count 1,2,3,4,5,6), is a Sixth (6th).
Interval of a Sixth

7. Seventh

  • Skipping five notes in between (count 1,2,3,4,5,6,7), is a Seventh (7th).
Interval of a Seventh

8. Octave

  • Skipping six notes in between (count 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8) is called 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).
Interval of an Octave

Notice that when you have an Octave, the notes are the same; in this case a C and a C.

Simple Intervals & Compound Intervals

These intervals, reaching 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 we can also observe that the larger intervals repeat in the same order as above, just with the added octave. 

So, a ninth is actually an octave plus a second. A tenth is an octave plus a third etc. These larger intervals (more than an octave) are called compound intervals.

How to Quickly Figure Out Musical Intervals

There is a little trick to learning how to quickly identify and remember musical intervals:

  • First; after you know to count (as we did 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):

Unison

Now it gets interesting! Let's take a closer look at these specific intervals; 2nd, 4th, 6th, and Octave (2,4,6,8). Can you see what they have in common?:

Music intervals

Did you notice that one note in the interval is a line note, and the other is 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 has 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 both notes are either space-space or line-line in each of these intervals?

  • 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, by counting, and visually.
  2. The next step is to learn how each interval can be either major, minor, perfect, augmented, or diminished. This is called Interval Quality.  Ready to learn more?

Go to Music Interval Quality >>

You might like these

  • 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.

    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.

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

    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 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.

    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.