• Finally, The Devil’s Interval Made It To Church

    in Experienced players,Gospel music,Piano,Theory

    You arrived on this page because you want to know about the devil’s interval.

    If you belong to the league of musicians who haven’t come across the term devil’s interval before, and can’t wait to find out what it is and how it finally made it to church, read on.

    A Note On Fourth Intervals

    An interval is the relationship between two notes played/heard together or separately.

    Our focus in this lesson is on fourth intervals, formed by the relationship between two notes that are four letter names apart from each other. For example, from the first letter of the English alphabet (A) to the fourth letter (D) is a fourth.

    Here’s A-D:

    …encompassing four letter names – A, B, C, and D:

    …on the piano.

    Perfect Fourth Intervals

    Fourth intervals are pleasant (aka – “consonant”) when heard. The first two syllables of the hymn “Amazing Grace” is a good example what a fourth interval is.

    “Check it out…”



    The interval between G:

    …and C:

    ….is a perfect fourth interval:

    …encompassing four notes (G to C):

    Let’s quickly form fourth intervals on the piano from A.

    A to D:

    B to E:

    C to F:

    D to G:

    E to A:

    F to B:

    G to C:

    “Give Me Your Undivided Attention…”

    All the fourth intervals we formed are perfect fourth intervals save one. A perfect fourth interval is formed by the relationship between the first and fourth tones in any major key. So, let’s find out among the fourth intervals, which of them is not a perfect fourth interval.

    A and D:

    …are the first and fourth tones respectively in the key of A major:

    B and E:

    …are the first and fourth tones in the key of B major:

    C and F:

    …are the first and fourth tones in the key of C major:

    D and G:

    …are the first and fourth tones in the key of D major:

    E and A:

    …are the first and fourth tones in the key of E major:

    F and B:

    …are NOT the first and fourth tones in the key of F major:

    G and C:

    …are the first and fourth tones in the key of G major:

    All the fourths are perfect fourth intervals – save F and B, which sounds imperfect. Let’s take a look at the imperfect fourth interval.

    The Imperfect Fourth Interval

    The fourth interval between F and B:

    …appears larger than the regular perfect fourth interval. In the key of F:

    …a perfect fourth interval from F:

    …is Bb (which is the fourth tone in the key of F):

    Due to the fact that F-B:

    …is a half step larger than F-Bb:

    …F-B is known as the augmented fourth interval.

    The augmented fourth interval is larger than the perfect fourth interval, and when it was first discovered several centuries ago it had an intolerable level of harshness that made musicians of that time and age call it the devil’s interval.

    The augmented fourth interval had three whole steps in-between…


    first whole step.


    second whole step.


    third whole step.

    …consequently, it is called the tritone.

    If we make the perfect fourth intervals we formed earlier larger by a half step, then we’ll have other tritones as well.

    A to D#:

    B to E#:

    C to F#:

    D to G#:

    E to A#:

    G to C#:

    A Contrast Between The Tritone In Medieval And Modern Times

    The tritone has been called so many names by musicians of all generations. In this segment, we’ll be looking at the perception of the tritone in the past and present.

    “How Dare You Play The Devil’s Interval In Church”

    The tritone was discovered several centuries ago when trained musicians were basically church men.

    I’m talking about a generation where music was considered as a sacrifice unto God.

    I’m talking about the dark ages (between 400-1400 AD) commonly referred to as the Medieval times.

    In Medieval times, church musicians did their best to make sure that their music was acceptable unto God. Hence, their music was primarily based on pleasant and agreeable intervals and chords because they were considered to be pure and perfect.

    They did their possible best to avoid harsh and unpleasant intervals which they considered to be imperfect.

    All perfect fourth intervals were used in church music save the tritone (an imperfect fourth interval) found between the F and B:

    …which was attributed to the devil because of its instability. The use of the devil’s interval was forbidden in the church from the Medieval ages till the 19th century when musicians gradually started incorporating it into their music for effect.

    In a nutshell, it was improper to play the tritone (a devilish interval) in church. Those who played the devil’s interval in church risked being excommunicated from the church.

    “The Devil You Know Is Better Than The Angel You Don’t Know

    When musicians of previous generations attributed the tritone to the devil, little did they know that a time would come when the tritone will gain acceptance.

    In modern times, the dissonances of yesterday have become the consonance of today. Musicians over the years have invested time to study and understand the properties, qualities, and application of the devil’s interval.

    The devil’s interval has finally made it to church. If you listen to gospel music, you’ll hear tons of tritonic chords used with subtlety and understanding.

    The devil’s interval has finally made it to church. One of the easiest keywords to attract church musicians with, is the tritone!.

    Through the knowledge of the nature of the tritone, the church and church musicians have embraced and harnessed the tritone they once forbade.

    Final Words

    The tritone is the third and seventh tone (aka – “skeleton“) of the dominant seventh chord. Consequently, the tritone is the interval that influences the overall sound of dominant chords.

    The tritone F-B:

    …consists of the seventh and third tones of the G dominant seventh chord:

    We’ll talk about the resolution of the tritone in another lesson. See you then!

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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