• Using Color Patterns to Master Perfect Fourth Intervals in All Keys

    in Chords & Progressions,Piano

    perfect fourth intervals

    The importance of perfect fourth intervals in music cannot be denied — especially in chord voicings and progressions.

    We even dedicated a whole lesson recently to fourth voicings – chords built with perfect fourth intervals.

    Owing to the fact that thirds are usually used in chord formation (tertian harmony) and there are still people who find fourths challenging, I’ve decided to share my ideas on how to master perfect fourth intervals in a flash.

    Perfect Fourth Intervals – Defined

    The perfect fourth is the distance between the first and fourth tones of the major or minor scale.

    The C major scale:

    …has C and F as its first and fourth tones.

    The C minor scale:

    …also has C and F as its first and fourth tones.

    Here’s what a perfect fourth looks like in the keys of C major and minor:

    Perfect fourth is the term used to describe the distance (aka – “interval”) between the first and fourth tones of the major and minor scale.

    Further reading: Six Characteristic Features of Intervals.

    The Circle of Fourths

    If you’ve followed this blog for sometime now, then you’ve surely come across this circle:
    circleoffiths1
    All the notes (aka – “pitch classes”) in music are represented on this circle. Going in a clockwise direction on this circle will produce a circle of fourths in the “descending” direction on the keyboard.

    Note: Descending on the keyboard has to do with moving leftwards.

    C to G:


    …is a descending fourth.
    G to D:

    D to A:

    A to E:

    …are all moving in fourths in a descending manner (to the left).

    Going in the counter-clockwise direction shows notes that are “ascending” in perfect fourths.

    C to F:

    F to Bb:

    Bb to Eb:

    Eb to Ab:

    Ab to Db:

    Db to Gb:

    Gb to Cb:

    …and so on.

    Introduction to Color Patterns

    One of the ways of mastering perfect fourths in all keys is by color patterns.

    Color pattern refers to the color of the finger key of an idea on the keyboard. The perfect fourth interval in the key of C:

    …is built off C and F. The color pattern of this interval is “white-white” because:

    C is a white finger key.

    F is a white finger key.

    The perfect fourth interval in the key of F:

    …is built off F and Bb.

    The color pattern of this interval is “white-black” because:

    F is a white finger key

    Bb is a black finger key

    The beautiful thing about color patterns is that you focus on color and size as opposed to the regular way of memorizing spellings (C and F, F and Bb, etc.).

    You’ll appreciate this more as we progress. Meanwhile, let’s look closely at the four color patterns of perfect fourth intervals found on the piano.

    Color Pattern #1 – “White-White”

    The perfect fourth intervals covered in this segment are all white in color, and there are six of them:

    A and D:

    B and E:

    C and F:

    D and G:

    E and A:

    G and C:

    All intervals built on white notes on the piano have this color pattern, except for F. So, this is pretty much the color pattern of white notes.

    Color Pattern #2 – “White-Black”

    There’s just one white note perfect fourth interval that has an upper black note, and that’s the perfect fourth interval on F.

    F and Bb:

    Every other white note perfect fourth interval belongs to color pattern #1.

    Color Pattern #3 – “Black-Black”

    The perfect fourth intervals covered in this segment are all black in color, and there are four of them:

    Ab and Db:

    …which can also be spelled as G# and C#.

    Bb and Eb:

    …which can also be spelled as A# and D#.

    Db and Gb:

    …which can also be spelled as C# and F#

    Eb and Ab:

    …which can also be spelled as D# and G#

    All intervals built on black notes on the piano have this color pattern except for Gb. So, this is pretty much the color pattern of black notes.

    Color Pattern #4 – “Black-White”

    There’s just one black note perfect fourth interval that has an upper white note, and that’s the perfect fourth interval on Gb:

    Gb and Cb:

    …which is also spelled  as F# and B.

    Other black note perfect fourth intervals belong to color pattern #3.

    Mastering Perfect Fourth Intervals On The Piano

    Now that you know about color patterns, let me take you to the final level of mastery by narrowing these fourths down.

    There are three things you must know before we end today’s lesson:

    1. Perfect fourth intervals formed on white notes belong to color pattern #1.
    2. Perfect fourth intervals formed on black notes belong to color pattern #3.
    3. Perfect fourth intervals formed on F and Gb notes are an exception to the first two statements and belong to color patterns #2 and #4, respectively.

    This means that there are basically two common color patterns: #1 (“white-white”) and #3 (“black-black”).

    Rule of Thumb

    Permit me to phrase these three statements into what I call the law of perfect fourth mastery using color patterns:

    To form a perfect fourth interval on a white note, keep color pattern #1 (“white-white”) in mind. When forming a perfect fourth interval on a black note, keep color pattern #3 (“black-black”) in mind. F and Gb (F#) are an exception to this rule.

    “Can I tell You Why F and Gb/F# Are An Exception To My Rule of Thumb?”

    Let me end today’s lesson by explaining why F and Gb are exceptions.

    Please take note: White notes on the piano are called naturals while black notes are called accidentals.

    Why F is an exception…

    Using the major scale of C as a reference:

    Four scale steps from any natural (white note) is usually a perfect fourth. For example,

    Four scale steps from A (in the key of C major) is D:

    …a perfect fourth.

    *Did you notice that A and D belong to color pattern #1 (white-white)? The same thing is applicable to the rest.

    Four scale steps from B (in the key of C major) is E:

    …a perfect fourth.

    Four scale steps from C (in the key of C major) is F:

    …a perfect fourth.

    This is true for every other natural, save F.

    Four scale steps from F (in the key of C major) is B:

    …an augmented fourth.

    The term augmented suggests that this fourth is larger than the perfect fourth.

    In the circle of fourths, a fourth from F:

    …is Bb:

    This is because Bb is the fourth tone of the F major scale:

    Considering that the interval between F and B (an augmented fourth):

    …is larger than the perfect fourth, shrinking it to F and Bb:

    …will produce a perfect fourth interval. However, this will change the color pattern of the perfect interval formed to white-black.

    In a nutshell, a perfect fourth interval has a different color pattern because of the augmented fourth interval (aka – “the devil in music“) between F and B.

    Why Gb is an exception

    A perfect fourth from Gb is Cb.

    Most times, we expect a black note each time the terms “sharp” and “flat” are used. But in reality, this is not always the case.

    The flat symbol lowers any letter name by a semitone. Effecting this on C:

    …by lowering it a semitone will produce Cb:

    Cb is not one of those black notes. It’s on the same finger key and produces the same note (pitch) as B.

    A perfect fourth interval formed from Gb has a different color pattern because Cb is a white note.

    Final Words

    While forming perfect fourth intervals on the keyboard, here are the two exceptions in terms of color patterns:

    The rest are easy to form.

    Below are all perfect fourth intervals in half steps (chromatically):

    Movement from “white-white” to “black-black” will take us from C to Db:

    In the same vein, from “black-black” to “white-white” will take us from Db to D:


    Moving from “white-white” to “black-black”:


    …”black-black” to “white-white”:


    …and here’s the almighty F:

    …don’t forget the color pattern.

    Gb is a half step above F and is a reverse of the F color pattern:

    G:

    …to Ab:

    …is “white-white” to “black-black”. It goes on and on:



    …until C is reached:

    This may take a little practice though, but in less than ten minutes, I guarantee you’ll master perfect fourth intervals completely.

    Hope this helps.

    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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