• Melodic Progressions vs. Intervals

    in Piano,Theory

    melodic progressions image

    We’ve redefined semitones and wholetones as melodic progressions in a previous post. If you haven’t seen that lesson, click here.

    You’ve learned that:

    • From C to C♯ is a semitone
    • From C to D is a wholetone

    At the end of this article, you’ll see a table similar to the one below and should be able to complete it.

    Similarities Differences
    Melodic Progressions
    Intervals

    Now, let’s look at melodic progressions and intervals closely.

    THE SEMITONE

    Since you are already familiar with the semitone progression, let’s discover the interval associated with it.

    Melodic Progression

    The semitone divides an octave into twelve equal parts. The progression from one note to an adjacent note is a semitone progression and this makes it the shortest melodic progression in tonal music. Below is an example of the semitone progression.
    melodic progressions C and C sharp

    C-C♯ above is a melodic progression. The melodic progression between the notes above is a semitone.

    However, when we want to describe the distance between the notes above, that’s when intervals come into the picture. The notes above can also be perceived as an interval. However, when we are considering these notes as intervals, there’s much more to it than what we covered in melodic progressions.

    Intervals

    Intervals deal with the description of the quality and size of the relationship between any two notes. You see, there’s much more to that than melodic progressions. There are two common enharmonic spellings of the intervals we’ll perceive from the semitone progression above:

    C-C♯
    melodic progressions C and C sharp

    C-D♭
    C and D flat

    This is clearly the same melodic progression but two different intervals. What other “not-so-friendly” enharmonic spellings of the same melodic progression can you come up with?

    Here are some…

    B♯-D♭
    B sharp and D flat

    B♯-C♯
    B sharp and C sharp

    There’s much more to intervals than melodic progressions.

    The intervals above share one thing in common – the upper and lower notes of these intervals are a semitone apart.

    The difference in spelling can give one melodic progression various widths and qualities.

    Width: The width of an interval is determined by the number of letter names it encompasses. The width of an interval can be quantified using ordinal numbers like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th … 12th, 13th, 14th, etc.

    An interval that encompasses one letter name is a unison.
    C and C sharp

    The interval C-C♯ encompasses just one letter name – and that’s C. Therefore, C-C♯ is a first, unison or prime.

    An interval that encompasses two letter names is a second
    C and D

    The interval C-D encompasses two letter names – and that’s C and D. Therefore, C-D is a second.

    An interval that encompasses three letter names is a third

    C and E flat
    The interval C-E♭ encompasses three letter names – and that’s C, D and E. Therefore, C-E♭ is a third.

    An interval that encompasses four letter names is a fourth etc
    C and F

    The interval C-F encompasses four letter names – and that’s C, D, E and F. Therefore, C-F is a fourth.

    Quality: The quality of an interval is determined by the scale step involved. The quality of an interval can be qualified using adjectives like Perfect, Major, Minor, Diminished and Augmented. Below is a table of the distribution of quality between scale steps.

    *This tells us what interval is created between the first tone of the scale and the given scale step:

    Scale-Step Quality
    1st Perfect
    2nd Major
    3rd Major
    4th Perfect
    5th Perfect
    6th Major
    7th Major

     

    Intervals like minor, augmented and diminished intervals are formed from pitch modification of Major and Perfect Intervals. E.g. – Minor intervals can be derived by lowering Major intervals by a semitone.

    Now that we have an idea of what intervals entail – width and quality – let’s calculate the width and quality of the two common enharmonic spellings of the semitone progression: C-C♯ and C-D♭:

    C-C♯

    C and C sharp

    C-D♭

    C and D flat

     

    Width

    Here’s the first one:

    C and C sharp

     

    C-C♯ – encompasses one letter name – C.

    The interval – C-C♯ is a 1st, unison or prime.

    For the second enharmonic spelling – C-D♭, we have:

    C and D flat

    C-D♭ – encompasses two letter names – C & D.

    The interval – C-D♭ is a 2nd.

    Now, let’s talk about quality.

     

    Quality

    For C-C♯,

    C and C sharp

     

    C-C♯ is an augmented prime/unison. This is because its upper note is a semitone higher than the 1st scale step [C] on the Major scale of C.

    (C-C♯ and C-D♭)

    For the second enharmonic spelling – C-D♭, we have:

    C and D flat

    C-D♭ is a minor second. This is because its upper note is a semitone lower than the second scale step [D] on the Major scale of C.

    If we put quality and width together, we’ll have the interval between the enharmonic spellings of a semitone progression.

      C-C C-D
    Quality Augmented Minor
    Width 1st 2nd

     

    Using C-C♯ and C-D♭ (the two common enharmonic intervals) as reference, the semitone progression is an interval of:

    • an augmented prime/unison (in the case of C-C♯)
    • a minor second (in the case of C-D♭)

     

    WHOLETONE

    The wholetone divides an octave into six equal parts. Two semitone progressions make one wholetone progression.
    C and D

    C-D above is a melodic progression. The melodic progression between the notes above is a semitone.

    However, when we want to describe the distance between the notes above, that’s when intervals come into the picture. The notes above can also be perceived as an interval. The interval above is:

    C-D

    The upper and lower notes of this interval are a wholetone apart. Let’s calculate its width and quality and attribute it to wholetone progressions

    Width

    C-D – encompasses two letter names – C & D. The interval – C-D is a 2nd.

    Quality

    C-D is a Major second. This is because its upper note is the second scale step [D] on the Major scale of C.

    The wholetone progression spans an interval of a:

    • a Major second

     

    Quick Contrast

    Before we take anymore steps further, let’s have a quick contrast between intervals and melodic progressions.

    Semitone is the shortest melodic progression. It spans an interval of an augmented unison or minor second.

    Wholetone spans an interval of a Major second.

    DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MELODIC PROGRESSIONS AND INTERVALS

    Now that we’ve covered the relationship between melodic progressions and intervals, let’s look at the difference between the two.

    Melodic Progressions are the building blocks of scales

    In HearandPlay 120 – All You Need To Know About SCALES, we defined a scale as a melodic progression. This means that melodic progressions are the building blocks of scales.

    The intervallic formula of the Major scale [W W H W W W H] is derived from the melodic progression of wholetone and semitone.

    It’d be wrong for us to represent this as the intervallic formula of the Major scale:
    Maj 2nd Maj 2nd min 2nd Maj 2nd Maj 2nd Maj 2nd min 2nd

    This gives us the same result as using melodic progressions W W H W W W H, however, it is inappropriate.

    Intervals are the building blocks of chords

    Intervals are the building blocks and skeleton of chords. A knowledge of intervals will completely put chords at your grasp. In HearandPlay 140 – Chords, we’ll cover All You Need To Know About Chords.

    Intervals define and outline the notes of a chord.

    • The Major 7th Chord will contain the seventh scale step [Major 7th].
    • The Major 6th Chord will contain the sixth scale step [Major 6th].

    It’s improper, for example, to say ‘C Major Tritone’ when you identify an interval whose size is the same as the tritone progression. It’s acceptable to use intervallic equivalents like diminished 5th [or flat 5]. All these and more are demystified in HearandPlay 140 – Chords.

    Melodic Progressions are useful in scale construction while Intervals are useful in chord construction.

    Final Words

    These are not ideas that have been open to you and me before now. Classically-trained musicians know these things. What is the difference between these two questions:

    1. What note is a semitone above C?
    2. What note is a minor second above C?

    Question #1 – What note is a semitone Above C?

    Answer: A semitone above C is either C♯ or D♭

    C♯
    C sharp

    or

    D♭
    D flat

    Considering that both answers are correct is a clear pointer to the fact that melodic progressions are not sufficiently precise to describe distances. We are lost in ambiguity and lack of precision.

    Let’s answer Question #2…

    Question #2 – What note is a minor second Above C?

    Answer: A minor second above C is D♭

    D♭
    D flat

    With intervals, only one option is correct. There is precision. The art of guessing which enharmonic spelling at random is eliminated. No more contemplating if it’s C♯ or D♭.

    We’ve grown past the stage of asking questions like “If it sounds the same, why am i bothered?” Well, when we start covering Scales, Chords, Chord Progressions and some Advanced Jazz Chord Changes, you’ll see these things take center stage.

    I know these things may not be easy but they are appropriate. Invest in the HearandPlay Fundamental Series today to Unlearn and Relearn.

    Until next time.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Jolene kobe

    I really enjoyed this blog. It was very helpful.

    Reply

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