Musical Intervals

Musical Intervals

The difference in pitch between two notes is called the interval. You will mainly come across this as musicians in 2 ways:

1. Harmony – when two or more notes are played at the same time. The difference in pitch between them is called the interval
2. Melody – when one note is played after the other. Again, the difference in pitch between them is called the interval.

The Easy Way To Work Out Simple Musical Intervals

People think that you have to be really good at music theory to have any hope of working out intervals – thankfully, this is not true. You can easily work out the basic musical interval between 2 notes by simply knowing your alphabet from A to G!
Have a look at this example below:

Musical Interval A to C

I am going to work out the interval between A and the C above it.
All I need to do is write down the letters of the music notes as an alphabet:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

Now I just need to count the number of notes from A to C (including A and C)

A-B-C
1-2-3

There are 3 notes so the interval is a third. It really is that simple.

Let’s try a slightly more tricky one – let’s work out the interval between D and A.

Musical Interval D to A

Using the same technique I count the letters from D to A.

D-E-F-G-A
1-2-3-4-5

There are 5 notes so the interval between D and A is a fifth.

Let’s have a look at one more example.
Let’s work out the interval between F and D.

Musical Interval F to D

Now, this seems a bit more tricky because our alphabet of notes only goes up to G so how do we get from F up to D?
Simple, we keep going past G and start at A again:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

Using the extended alphabet above we can see that the number of notes between F and the D above it is 6 so the interval is a sixth:

F-G-A-B-C-D
1-2-3-4-5-6

So, it doesn’t matter what the bottom note is we can easily count up and work out the interval.

Working Out Compound Music Intervals

Hopefully you can see how easy it is to work out intervals up to an 8th (by the way, an interval of an 8th is called an Octave and any interval up to it is called a simple musical interval). However, sometimes you will want to work out an interval greater than an octave (referred to as an extended musical interval or a compound musical interval). Thankfully, this is again straightforward. Have a look at this example below:

Musical Interval D to G

All we are going to do is extend the alphabet technique we have been using.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

Counting through the alphabet we can see that there are 11 notes from D to the G in the octave above it. So, the interval is an eleventh.

D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G
1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11

Next time we’re going to have a look at specific musical intervals.

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