Intervals – Theory

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It all starts with the major scale

The major scale is the starting point for the intervals we define in Western music.

The major scale is built from the following formula which describes the distance between the 7 notes in the major scale:

  • T T S T T T S

where:

  • T = a tone = 2 frets on the guitar
  • S = a semitone = 1 fret on the guitar

Using this formula, we can start on any root note and build a major scale.

Example 1

Let’s start on C as our root note, and apply the above formula:

  • we first go up 1 tone, and get to D,
  • going up another tone we get to E,
  • going up a semitone we have an F,
  • another 3 tones takes us to G, A and B
  • the final semi-tone brings us back round to C again.

Therefore, we now know that the C major scale is built of the notes:

  • C, D, E, F, G, A, B

Example 2

If we use Eb as the root note and apply the same formula:

  • we go up 1 tone to F,
  • going up another tone we get to G,
  • going up a semitone we have an Ab,
  • another 3 tones takes us to Bb, C and D
  • the final semi-tone brings us back round to Eb again.

Telling us that the Eb major scale is built of the notes:

  • Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D

Reference Names

When we have a root note, we can describe a scale in terms of the actual note names as we have done above.

However, as the scale can begin on any root note, we use reference names for the notes in a scale.

The reference names of the notes in the major scale are:

  • 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

We can use these relative names to talk about and get information about the major scale

Let’s look at some examples:

Example 1

If we are asked for the 4th of C major:

  • In the example above we established that notes in the C major scale are: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
  • We want the 4th so we get the 4th name of the scale
  • The 4th of C is F

Example 2

If we’re asked for the 4th of Eb major, we use the same logic:

  • The notes in the Eb major scale are: Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D
  • The 4th is Ab

More Examples

  • The 7th of C is B
  • The 2nd of Eb is F
  • The 6th of C is A.

What about the rest of the notes

In western music, there are 12 notes in an octave. So far, we have named 7 of them.

As the major scale is the starting point in western music, the reference names for the remaining intervals are based on the major scale names:

No. Symbol Name
1 Root Root
2 b2 Flat Second
3 b3 Flat Third
4 3 Third
5 4 Fourth
6 #4 / b5 Sharp Fourth / Flat Fifth
7 5 Fifth
8 #5 / b6 Sharp Fifth / Flat Sixth
9 6 Sixth
10 b7 Flat Seventh
11 7 Seventh
12 Octave Octave

Note that a couple of the notes have two names – one name based on the note above and one based on the name below.

The reason for this is beyond the scope of this article, but if you’d like to know more, please take a look at my book here.

Why do we need to know intervals

Scales, modes, chords and arpeggios are all defined by the intervals they contain.

If we know the intervals that each contain then we have the ability to built any scales, arpeggio, etc, starting from any note, anywhere on the fretboard.

This kind of knowledge is power over the fretboard and the music you make.

Of course, before you can build the desired scale, arpeggio, etc, you will need to know where the intervals lie in relation to your root note.

This is what this app is aimed at teaching you.

The App

This app is aimed at getting you to instantly find the relative intervals on the fretboard when starting on any root note on any string.

A random note is highlighted on the fretboard and you are asked to find an interval in relation to that note.

Intervals on the fretboard:

Now that you know the theory, let’s look at some diagrams which show the intervals.

The diagrams show the intervals when starting on 2 different root notes

So that it doesn’t look too complex, both examples are split into two diagrams:

  1. The major scale intervals
  2. The remaining intervals

Major scale intervals with roots on the bottom E string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the first root note are blue

Intervals_Major

The remaining intervals with roots on the bottom E string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the first root note are blue

Intervals_Others

Major scale intervals with the root on the G string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the root note are blue
  • Intervals in the octave below the root note are yellow

Intervals_Major2

The remaining intervals with the root on the G string:

  • Root note and it’s octave are red
  • Intervals in the octave above the root note are blue
  • Intervals in the octave below the root note are yellow

Intervals_Others2

You can see from the diagrammatic examples that the relative positioning of the intervals is different when starting on different root notes.

This may lead you to think that there is much to learn.

However, do not worry – as you work out the intervals starting on different roots, you will find that there are many patterns which do repeat.

For example, when starting on the bottom E and A strings, the shapes are the same.

I will not give diagrams for all the shapes here as I believe it would be more beneficial for you to work them out yourself.

Outro

You now have enough information to start using the second app in my series – Intervals.

FriendlySanj – Find Out More

Download the App


Android app on Google Play
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