• # How to Correctly Identify Intervals Part 1

in Theory

I’ve seen this subject taught by many people. Sometimes, it gets confusing for the starter. Sometimes, it makes perfect sense.

As always, it is my goal to break down this concept so clearly that EVERYONE will be able to understand it with minimal questions.

First, let’s define the term “interval.”

What is an interval in music?

It’s simple.

A music interval is the relationship between two notes (…basically, the distance between notes).

There are two main types of intervals.

Melodic intervals (also known as “linear intervals”) and harmonic intervals (also known as “vertical intervals”).

A melodic interval is the distance between two notes played separately, one after the other.

If I play a C, then an E, then an F, these would be melodic intervals because I’m playing each note separately, one after the other.

If melodic intervals describe the relationship between two notes played successively, then harmonic interval must describe the relationship between two notes played simultaneously, or at the same time.

So, to recap:

Melodic = the distance between notes played separately
Harmonic = the distance between notes played at the same time

The rules I’m going to show you apply BOTH to melodic and harmonic intervals. I just thought it’d be beneficial to cover the “basics” before teaching you the rules of the game.

Moving on…

You already know that the musical alphabet borrows from the first seven letters of the English alphabet – A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Regardless of the type (melodic or harmonic), there are two ways to name intervals: generic and specific.

We will cover generic now and specific next month.

When you think in terms of generic intervals, you are not concerned with sharps and flats. In fact, when counting generic intervals, you totally ignore sharps and flats and simply use the alphabet (the note names).

REMEMBER: The correct name of an interval depends on the names given by its two notes. This will be important later, as you’ll learn.

It’s simple.

Starting with any letter of the alphabet (which will be considered the “lower” note of the interval), simply count up each letter until you reach the “higher” note.

Now, you’ll need to include the first letter in your count as well as the last letter. Also keep in mind that after “G”, you start back over with “A” as you’d normally see on a regular piano.

So, if I wanted to figure out the interval between A and C, I’d simply count the letters of the alphabet from A to C, including both the starting letter and the ending letter in my count.

A is 1
B is 2
C is 3

This means that the interval from “A” to “C” is a third.

(Now, if you already understand a little bit about intervals, don’t be confused. I haven’t specified whether it is a major third or a minor third. When talking generic intervals, we are not concerned with major, minor, perfect, augmented, or any of that right now. We are simply concerned with what type of interval it is. This is the key to CORRECTLY identifying intervals).

Now, since it takes 3 alphabet letters to make up this A-C interval, it would be incorrect to label this a second… or to label this a fourth. Believe it or not, many people do this EVERY DAY! Real-life examples may not be as simple as the demonstration above (from A to C) but if you’ve ever called F# to Bb a major third or even the beginning of a major chord, you’ve incorrectly labeled intervals and chords before!

Don’t worry, I’m the first to admit I have!

Now, let’s go with my example above (F# to Bb). First of all, because we’re currently dealing with the GENERIC interval, we’d totally drop any sharps or flats. We don’t need them. If we can’t determine the UNDERLYING interval, how can we correctly label the specific interval (which you’ll learn later).

So, let’s count the alphabet letters:

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

So from F# to Bb is certainly a fourth. Later on, we’ll determine specifically what kind of fourth it is.

If you’re familiar with major chords, you know that FOURTHS don’t make up major chords.

A major chord is built on a major third interval and a perfect fifth interval.

In other words, from C to E is a major third and from C to G is a perfect fifth. Get rid of the duplicate C and you have: C + E + G. This is the c major chord, of course.

Basically, what I’m saying is that it would be impossible to form a major chord with F# and Bb because as we’ve just determined, this interval is a FOURTH.

Just based on generic intervals, how then can we correct this problem?

How can we make F# to Gb a major third, which can then be correctly used in forming the famous “major chord?”

It’s simple. Just change one of the notes. Either conform the bottom note to the top note or the top note to the bottom. Right now, there can’t be any KIND of F and any KIND of B together or you’ll always get a fourth.

So, let’s transform F#-Bb into a third interval.

OPTION #1:

Keep the F# and change Bb to A#.

Now we have F# and A#. This creates the same exact sound we’re looking for in the major chord and is now labeled correctly.

But let’s count it to make sure this is a generic third interval.

Remember, in counting generic intervals, it is not necessary to worry about sharps and flats. You are ONLY dealing with alphabet letters.

F is 1
G is 2
A is 3

So F# to A# is now confirmed as a third interval. Later on, we’ll determine whether this is a major third, a minor third, or otherwise. This is what we call specific intervals. Right now, we’re still in the generic!

OPTION #2:

Keep the Bb and change the F#.

Now we have Gb instead of F# (remember, Gb and F# both make the same sound so nothing is changed about what you hear). They are enharmonic.

Uh ohh… new term.

Enharmonic just simply means two notes that are equivalent of each other but have different names. C# and Db are enharmonic.

To make it even simpler… you’d say “four” and “for” and even “fore” the same way, right? But you spell them differently. They are NOT the same. If you use one for the other, even though they sound the same, you may steer a conversation in a whole different direction.

What if I wrote a note to someone saying, “I’ll need you for today.” That means, I will be needing your assistance today.

What if I wrote to the same person, “I’ll need you four today,” that means something totally different. The person will say, “what four… I don’t have three other people to help, just myself.”

The point is:

In music, these things are important. If you use a Gb when you’re suppose to say F#, then you could be calling a chord or interval something that it’s not.

Back to work:

If you change F# to Gb and keep the Bb, you have: Gb and Bb

Let’s confirm that this is, in fact, a third interval:

Drop the flats and sharps. Not needed.

G is 1
A is 2
B is 3

It confirms.

So F# > A# is a third and Gb > Bb is a third.

Do you see where I’m going with this? All this stuff is vital.

Let’s do one more and I’ll give you a chart that’ll summarize all generic intervals.

What is the name of the interval that describes E to D?

___________________________

Answer: Let’s count.

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

E to D is a seventh. What specific kind of seventh? We’ll find out later. But for now, just know that understanding GENERIC INTERVALS is the key to correctly identifying specific intervals.

Since the generic name of an interval is not concerned with flats and sharps, you can pretty much say:

From some kind of E to some kind of D is a seventh interval.

It could be D to E.
It could be Db to E.
It could be D to Eb
It could be Db to Eb.

These are all sevenths, generically. Later on, we’ll learn how to actually count the number of half steps in between the interval. This will tell us SPECIFICALLY what kind of interval (like major seventh, minor seventh, augmented seventh, etc).

Here’s a chart that’ll make your understanding of this a whole lot easier:

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

Let’s apply this to the real piano.

Right now, I’ll quiz you on harmonic and melodic intervals as well as generic intervals.

Keep in mind that harmonic intervals are tones played at the same time and melodic intervals are tones played one at a time. The generic name of the interval is simply the number of letters it takes to create the interval.

For each situation below, give the type and name of the interval:

1) Playing a C and E together
__________________________________________

2) Playing a D and G separately
__________________________________________

3) Playing an F# and B separately
__________________________________________

4) Playing a Db and Bb together
__________________________________________

5) Playing a B and D together
__________________________________________

6) Playing a C and the same C immediately after
__________________________________________

7) Playing D and E separately
__________________________________________

Ok, let’s check our answers:

1) Playing a C and E together:

C is 1
D is 2
E is 3

Answer: Harmonic, Third Interval

2) Playing a D and G separately:

D is 1
E is 2
F is 3
G is 4

Answer: Melodic, Fourth Interval

3) Playing an F# and B separately

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

Answer: Melodic, Fourth Interval

4) Playing a Db and Bb together

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

Answer: Harmonic, Sixth Interval

5) Playing a B and D together

B is 1
C is 2
D is 3

Answer: Harmonic, Third Interval

6) Playing a C and the same C immediately after

C is 1

Answer: Melodic, Unison Interval

7) Playing D and E separately

D is 1
E is 2

Answer: Melodic, Second Interval

Now, let’s do one more quiz. This time, I will only list seconds and thirds.

Correctly identify whether the following intervals are seconds or thirds:

1) Db / Eb

2) C / E

3) Db / F

4) C# / E#

5) Gb / Ab

6) Gb / A#

7) E / G#

9) Db / F#

10) B / C#

Ok, now let’s see how well you understand GENERIC INTERVALS. The answers are listed below:

1) Db / Eb

D is 1
E is 2

Answer: Second

2) C / E

C is 1
D is 2
E is 3

Answer: Third

3) Db / F

D is 1
E is 2
F is 3

Answer: Third

4) C# / E#

C is 1
D is 2
E is 3

Answer: Third

5) Gb / Ab

G is 1
A is 2

Answer: Second

6) Gb / A#

G is 1
A is 2

Answer: Second

7) E / G#

E is 1
F is 2
G is 3

Answer: Third

9) Db / F#

D is 1
E is 2
F is 3

Answer: Third

10) B / C#

B is 1
C is 2

Answer: Second

This concludes this month’s lesson. Next month, we’ll dig deeper into specific intervals and how to correctly identify chords and more!

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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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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 chawk

This post was very educational. Again I have the 300 pg course. I also have worked the lessons. It just seems these lesson that you have on your blog is much more understandable.

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2 MS

Thank you for making music theory enjoyable and easier to learn.

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3 Innocent Seraphin

Thank you; you are certainly making learning fun. I shall take your course as soon as I
purchase a keyboard-funds are scarce these days but I mean to do it.
Rich blessings
Frank

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4 Johan

This was useless. Identifying intervals on paper is easy. Learning to hear them is what people need.

Reply

5 Forrest Politte

How to Correctly Identify Intervals Part 1 | Hear and Play Music Learning Center … Oh yea wow I enjoy this program this one blog. This is the first time We came across it still I Cherished it.. Clearly will certainly be back, you actually got lots of posts in right here :D ok returning to labor finally :-)

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6 Gareth

I agree with Johan, Pretty useless. Most people who write this stuff starting playing an instrument form when they were kids, often 5 years old. The theory is pretty easy, being *able* to identify a note via ear is a different matter, that’s what people need help with.

In my experience the people who started playing from 5 upwards have no idea how difficult this is for adults. Try learning Russian as a kid, no problem, no try it when your 32.

Reply

7 Geneva

I agree with Gareth people starting playing an piano when they were kids
the theory is easy , it’s difficult for adults. i enjoyed this lesson it very interesting
going over these Interval and learn them. my problem is fill-in chord i play Basic
need to make my chords fuller

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11 nancy

Two thumbs up! Thank you.

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14 Dave

Hi; On question number 6, Gb/A#
It’s a major third, not a second.

Also Thanks for your help!

Reply

15 Dave

I know now I was wrong in the post I made above.
so would Gb to A#. be a double augmented secound?

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16 shome kim

This is the best experience I have had on any music website. Everything is made so easy and simple to any novice. Great work bro.

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17 Graham

This is a BRILLIANT website. Best ever explantion! Thank you soooooo much!

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18 Thien

Love it. Your explanation is so much simpler than the music theory class that I just recently finished. Thanks.

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