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Music Theory for Singers - Interval Types

This is part two of Intervals, for the first part click here.

intervals and their types

So we've established that intervals are the distances between notes. We know that there are 1sts through 8ths/unisons through octaves and that you can go beyond. We know that the numbers increase the more lines or spaces are between the numbers.


So lets try to figure out the interval types. The words minor and Major describe notes being closer together or farther away. A minor interval is slightly nearer than a major interval. Perfect intervals have a different type of sound when played so are given a different name. Additionally they do not have major or minor versions, so you cannot have a perfect 2nd or a major 5th. They simply do not exist. The tritone is similarly a unique sound and has no variations.


If you look at a piano, you see both white notes and black notes. If you were to start at the white note on the far left of the below image and move right one white note at a time, all of the intervals would be Major intervals. There are several black notes in between though, this is where the interval types come in.

piano for intervals

When you look at the first image, you can see that there are two types of 2nds and two 3rds, but only one 4th and 5th as well as only one unison and octave. This is because of the arrangement of the major scale as you can see in the separation of white notes and black notes on the piano above. Starting at the far left white note, the immediately adjacent black note to the right would be a minor 2nd away. The adjacent white note to the right, however, is a Major 2nd away from the far left white note. The sound difference is subtle if you aren't used to listening for it. It the difference between the "Jaws Theme" and "Happy Birthday."


So we have minor intervals, which are closer together, and Major intervals, which are farther apart. Then we have Perfect intervals with a unique hollow sound and the Tritone with a uniquely dissonant and crunchy sound. This works in either direction. If you are trying to figure out how far apart two notes are to be exact, I suggest beginning by counting one at a time. So from the far left white note on the piano to the black note on the left of the group of three black notes we would count each white and black note in order and find - minor 2nd (m2), Major 2nd (M2), m3, M3, Perfect 4th (P4), Tritone! That distance is a tritone. Make sure to count from the top and not the bottom of the keyboard as you don't want to skip a black note on accident. If you have extra questions or need extra help, sign up for lessons with me! I have taught music theory at a collegiate level and can handle any question you throw at me.

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