• # How to Correctly Identify Intervals Part 2

in Theory

Last month, you learned the fundamentals to determining the name of an interval. Just to recap, here’s the chart I posted in my last online classroom lesson.

 Number of letters counted Generic interval name 1 unison 2 second 3 third 4 fourth 5 fifth 6 sixth 7 seventh 8 octave (eighth)

Notice, with generic intervals, we’re not concerned with sharps, flats, key signatures or anything. We are just concerned with the simple alphabet.

How many ever letters it takes to create the interval is the name of the generic interval. It’s that simple.

Now, here’s where we move on.

With the generic name alone, we cannot fully build chord structures because it’s too broad. For example, all of these are thirds:

C to E
Cb to Eb
C# to E#
C to Eb
Cb to E
C to E#

…I think you get the point.

By the way, I’m not trying to confuse you. All of the notes above are real. Yes, there is a Cb and an E#. You won’t see them often in the top 12 key signatures found on the circle of fifths chart, but they do EXIST!

The point is that you can’t just say third if you want me to play a particular set of notes. While third is a way to DETERMINE what to name an interval, more specificity is needed to really know what exactly to play.

This is where we get into specific intervals.

You’ve probably heard the use of specific intervals a lot. These are names like “major thirds,” “major seconds,” “perfect fifths,” and others.

The “titles” you see in front of the intervals are what we call QUALIFYING TERMS. They change generic intervals into specific ones, which tell you exactly which notes to play (unlike the long list of THIRDS I described above).

Now counting specific intervals is a little different than counting generic intervals.

Recall that generic interval counting simply involves the number of letters (or notes) it takes to create the interval. From C to E, we’d count C as 1, D as 2, and E as 3, which means that this is a third interval.

With specific intervals, we will be counting differently. I’ll make it easier for you…

This is my own analogy. This isn’t meant to get you into the Julliard school of music but it’ll help ya!

Generic intervals, to me, are shapes.

Unisons are certain shapes.
Seconds are another set of shapes.
Thirds are shapes.
Fourths, fifths, sixths, and sevenths are different shapes.

Now, by just knowing that second intervals are CIRCLES, for example, doesn’t tell me what color the circle should be… or how big the circle should be. All I know is that they’re circles. Of course, I’m making up the whole “circles” thing. Don’t go around telling people that I said seconds are circles. :)

Now, you wouldn’t call a square a circle, so it’s very important to know that seconds are circles, right?

Then comes specific intervals. We take all the circles (that would be all “second” intervals) and now we further separate them.

Some circles are bigger. Some are smaller. In music, we’d call this minor seconds versus major seconds.

You get it?

Specific intervals tell us EXACTLY what’s going on. They don’t undo the “generic” techniques we learned — they simply add to it.

It is impossible to have a generic second but then get a major third from the same interval. So, it is important that whatever you determine during “generic” naming holds true when you are using qualifying  terms to create specific intervals. Ok?

There are different qualifying terms. I’ll list them:

Perfect

Major

Minor

Diminished

Augmented

How do we know which one of these terms is suppose to go with our interval? It’s simple.

We count half steps.

(If you’re new, a half step is also known as a semitone. It is pretty much the smallest interval. From key to key is a half step. C to C# is a half step. E to F is a half step. Notice I’m not skipping any notes. If you skip a note, you aren’t moving in half steps. You’d actually be moving in whole steps. In this case, we want HALF STEPS ONLY!)

Also, here’s a poem that’ll help you remember half steps vs whole steps:

Half steps are from key to key
with no keys in between,

Whole steps always skip a key
with one key in between.

Before we do some quick exercises, it is important to know that the counting DOES NOT START on the first note like it did with generic counting. We are counting the actual steps now.

Picture going up a stairs. In this case, we aren’t counting the ground floor. We will, however, be counting the actual steps it takes to get to the upper floor. Same applies here.

Let me show you below:

How many half steps are in between C and E?

C to Db is 1 (notice I start counting the half step in between C and the next note).

Db to D is 2

D to Eb is 3

Eb to E is 4

Answer: There are 4 half steps between C and E.

Note: Over time, you start to get really good at counting half steps pretty fast and will even make up your own little tricks. For now, stick with my basic version above and you’ll never get the wrong answer.

How many half steps are in between F and Bb?

F to Gb is 1

Gb to G is 2

G to Ab is 3

Ab to A is 4

A to Bb is 5

Answer: There are 5 half steps between F and Bb.

The table below shows the interval names and the number of half steps associated with each type of interval.

 Interval name No. of half steps unison 0 minor second 1 major second 2 minor third 3 major third 4 perfect fourth 5 (tritone) (6) perfect fifth 7 minor sixth 8 major sixth 9 minor seventh 10 major seventh 11 octave (eighth) 12

Notice from the chart above:

The terms “major” and “minor” are reserved for second, third, sixth, and seventh intervals.

The term “perfect” is reserved for unison, fourth, fifth, and octave intervals, though you really don’t hear it a lot with unison and octave. So, fourths and fifths, for sure, get the “perfect” term. You won’t ever hear perfect second or perfect third because the perfect term only goes with unison, fourth, fifth, and octave, as I noted above.

Later, you’ll learn about augmented and diminished terms. They have purposes as well.

Here’s the tricky part though.

You now know that an interval with 4 half steps separating the notes is called a major third. An example of this would be C to E. This is the same interval that helps to create the major chord.

Let’s look at an interval like C to Eb.

What would this be called? Just count up the half steps:

C to Db is 1
Db to D is 2
D to Eb is 3

3 half steps = minor third

Keep in mind that your answer must also pass the “generic interval” test. Is C to Eb a third?

C is 1
D is 2
E is 3

Yes, it passes!

C to Db is 1
Db to D is 2
D to D# is 3

Hmmm, it has three half steps. Three half steps means a third sure enough, but would this pass the “generic test?”

C is 1
D is 2

According to what we know about naming intervals, this should be a second. ANY C to ANY D is a second — no doubt about it!

This is where you will need to use the qualifying terms: Augmented and Diminished.

Augmented means to make bigger.
Diminished means to make smaller.

In this case, we have a second that is three half steps apart. Since we can’t call it a third, we will have to call it an augmented second… in other words, a “second made bigger.”

So basically, when an interval is a half step larger, it is said to be augmented.

When an interval is a half step smaller, it is said to be diminished.

I’m going to quiz you on this but first, let’s do a practice question together.

What is a major third up from D?

Step 1: Determine generic interval:

D is 1
E is 2
F is 3

So far, I know that a third up from D is going to be SOME kind of F. I don’t know which F at the moment but because I have a good education in “generic intervals,” I know that a third up from D can be nothing other than some kind of F.

Step 2: Determine specific interval:

Once we’ve determined some kind of F, we need to figure out what kind of F it would need to be to create a major third interval.

From our chart above, we know that major third intervals always have 4 half steps in between the lower and upper note.

So start at D:

D to D# is 1
D# to E is 2
E to F is 3
F to ____ is 4

This is the big question. Do we say F# or Gb? Well, since we’ve already done step 1 and we know we’re looking for SOME KIND OF F, it would make absolutely NO SENSE to choose Gb. Therefore, the answer is F#.

Answer: From D to F# is a major third interval.

Now, this gets so much faster over time. Trust me. You’ll be identifying intervals in seconds as you rehearse these concepts more and more.

Let’s complete these questions:

1) A perfect fifth up from B
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2) A perfect fifth down from C

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3) A minor third up from Eb

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4) A major sixth up from A

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5) A major third down from G

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6) A perfect fourth up from F

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7) A major second down from C

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8) A minor seventh up from A

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9) A major sixth down from D

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10) A minor third down from F

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1) A perfect fifth up from B

Generic:

B is 1
C is 2
D is 3
E is 4
F is 5

Specific:

B to C is 1
C to C# is 2
C# to D is 3
D to D# is 4
D# to E is 5
E to F is 6
F to F# is 7

Answer: B up to F# is perfect fifth

2) A perfect fifth down from C

Generic:

C is 1
B is 2
A is 3
G is 4
F is 5

Note: Counting down generically is the same thing. Just count alphabet backwards.

Specific:

C to B is 1
B to Bb is 2
Bb to A is 3
A to Ab is 4
Ab to G is 5
G to Gb is 6
Gb to F is 7

Answer: C down to F is a perfect fifth

3) A minor third up from Eb

Generic:

E is 1
F is 2
G is 3

Specific:

Eb to E is 1
E to F is 2
F to Gb is 3

Answer: Eb up to Gb is a minor third

4) A major sixth up from A

Generic:

A is 1
B is 2
C is 3
D is 4
E is 5
F is 6

Specific:

A to A# is 1
A# to B is 2
B to C is 3
C to C# is 4
C# to D is 5
D to D# is 6
D# to E is 7
E to F is 8
F to F# is 9

Answer: A up to F# is a major sixth

5) A major third down from G

Generic:

G is 1
F is 2
E is 3

Specific:

G to F# is 1
F# to F is 2
F to E is 3
E to Eb is 4

Answer: G down to Eb is a major third

6) A perfect fourth up from F

Generic:

F is 1
G is 2
A is 3
B is 4

Specific:

F to Gb is 1
Gb to G is 2
G to Ab is 3
Ab to A is 4
A to Bb is 5

Answer: F up to Bb is a perfect fourth

7) A major second down from C

Generic:

C is 1
B is 2

Specific:

C to B is 1
B to Bb is 2

Answer: C down to Bb is a major second

8) A minor seventh up from A

Generic:

A is 1
B is 2
C is 3
D is 4
E is 5
F is 6
G is 7

Specific:

A to A# is 1
A# to B is 2
B to C is 3
C to C# is 4
C# to D is 5
D to D# is 6
D# to E is 7
E to F is 8
F to F# is 9
F# to G is 10

Answer: A up to G is a minor seventh

9) A major sixth down from D

Generic:

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

Specific:

D to C# is 1
C# to C is 2
C to B is 3
B to A# is 4
A# to A is 5
A to G# is 6
G# to G is 7
G to F# is 8
F# to F is 9

Answer: D down to F is a major sixth

10) A minor third down from F

Generic:

F is 1
E is 2
D is 3

Specific:

F to E is 1
E to Eb is 2
Eb to D is 3

Answer: F down to D is a minor third

We’re done for this lesson. I hope you enjoyed it! Coupled with last month’s newsletter, you should have a good knowledge of intervals and will never quote a major or minor chord wrong again.

Remember:

Major chord = Major third plus perfect fifth interval

Minor chord = Minor third plus perfect fifth interval

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#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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Cb to E wouldn’t that be a fourth rather than a Third?

Could you give an example of an Augmented Interval that follows the principle of having less half steps than the number of intervals?