Intervals

List of intervals - Music theory

Intervals

What's an Interval ?

An interval is the distance between two notes, each one is represented by a number (1,2,3,4,5,6,7...) and a prefix related to its quality ("M" for major, m for minor, "P" for perfect, "d" for diminished and "A" for augmented). There are 5 different qualities. An interval can be melodic, when the tones are successive (played one after the other) and harmonic, if the notes are stacked (played simultaneously). Knowing the name of each interval is very important for any musician, they are essential elements of music theory. Intervals are very useful to understand how chords and scales are built. This article shows you how to make the difference between them.

Interval names - Simple and compound

This chart shows the names of the most used intervals while at the same time demonstrating the relation between a simple interval and its related compound interval. You must know that a simple interval is less than an octave and a compound interval is larger than an octave.

Simple interval Number   Compound interval Number
Second 2   Ninth 9
Third 3   Tenth 10
Fourth 4   Eleventh 11
Fifth 5   Twelvth 12
Sixth 6   Thirteenth 13
Seventh 7   Fourteenth 14
Octave 8   Double Octave 15

 

Interval qualities

Intervals are divided into 5 qualities :

  • Major (2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th)
  • Minor (2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th)
  • Perfect (4th and 5th)
  • Diminished (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th)
  • Augmented (2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th)

The major prefix is only used for seconds (2), thirds (3), sixth (6) and seventh (7). Major intervals are usually labeled with a "M". The minor prefix is also used for seconds (2), thirds (3), sixth (6) and seventh (7). Ijn this case, minor intervals are labeled with a small "m". Perfect intervals are labeled with a "P". They include the fourth (4th) and the fifth (5th). They are so-called because of their perfect consonance. The augmented quality is especially applied to perfect intervals (fourth and fifth) and sometimes to seconds and thirds. It means that they are augmented with a semitone. Augmented intervals are labelled with an "A" or sometimes with "Aug" or "+". Diminished intervals are created when a fourth is lowered by a half-step (semitone) although more rarely 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th and 7th are concerned. They are labeled with a small "d" and abbreviated "dim" and even written with a "o".

This overview chart provides you a reference point to determine the different possible qualities.

  Minor Shortened Major Shortened Perfect Shortened Augmented Shortened Diminished Shortened
Second 1 semitone m2 2 semitones M2     3 semitones A2 1 semitone d2
Third 3 semitones m3 4 semitones M3     5 semitones A3 1 semitone d3
Fourth         5 semitones P4 6 semitones A4 4 semitones d4
Fifth         7 semitones P5 8 semitones A5 6 semitones d5
Sixth 8 semitones m6 9 semitones M6     10 semitones A6 7 semitones d6
Seventh 10 semitones m7 11 semitones M7     12 semitones A7 9 semitones d7

 

  • NON EXISTANT
  • RARELY
  • EXISTANT

Inverted, enharmonic and complementary intervals

What's an inverted interval ?

A simple interval can be inverted by raising the lower tone an octave or lowering the lower tone an octave. In other word, this is an interval whose lower tone is switched with the highest. For example, when a minor second interval (C and D) is inverted it becomes a major seventh interval (D and C). Here is a list of the intervals and their inversions.

Interval Inversion
m2 (minor second) M7 (Major seventh)
M2 (Major second) m7 (minor seventh)
m3 (minor seventh) M6 (Major sixth)
M3 (Major third) m6 (minor sixth)
P4 (perfect fourth) P5 (perfect fifth)
A4 (Augmented fourth) d5 (diminished fifth)
d5 (diminished fifth) A4 (Augmented fourth)
P5 (perfect fifth) P4 (perfect fourth)
A5 (Augmented fifth) d4 (dimished fourth)
m6 (minor sixth) M3 (Major third)
M6 (Major sixth) m3 (minor third)
m7 (minor seventh) M2 (Major second)
M7 (Major seventh) m2 (minor second)

What are complementary intervals ?

Two intervals are complementary when the addition of these two intervals gives an octave. This is the addition of an interval an its inversion. By referring to the chart above, you can see that m2 (1semitone) and its inversion M7 (11 semitones) are complementary. 1 + 11 = 12 semitones needed to get an octave.

What are enharmonic intervals ?

Enharmonic intervals have the same sound, but are named differently. The most known are the augmented fourth and the diminished fifth. These intervals divide the octave into two equal parts. That's what we call "the tritone" which is built with three whole steps (6 semitones).

 Augmented second (A2) Minor third (m3)
diminished seventh (d7) Major sixth (M6)
Major third (M3) Diminished fourth (d4)
Minor sixth (m6) Augmented fifth (A5)
Augmented fourth (A4) Diminished fifth (d5)

 

Consonant and dissonant intervals

Intervals can be consonant or dissonant. Consonant intervals are stable, pleasant and agreeable. Dissonant intervals are tense and have to be resolved to consonant intervals. Consonant intervals can be divided into two groups : perfect and imperfect. Dissonant intervals can divided into two categories: sharp and soft.

Consonnant intervals

Perfect consonnat intervals Imperfect consonnant intervals
Unisson Major 3rd
Octave Minor 3rd
Fifth Major 6th
  Minor 6th

 

Dissonant intervals

Mildly dissonant intervals (soft) Strongly dissonant intervals (sharp)
Major second Minor second
Minor seventh Major seventh
Perfect fourth  
Augmented fourht  
Diminished fifth  

Auditive impression

Stability

These intervals are described as stable.

  • Unison
  • Octave
  • Perfect fifth (P5)
  • Perfect fourth (P4)

Color / Quality

These intervals gives the color and the quality to chords.

  • Major third (M3)
  • Minor third (m3)
  • Major sixth (M6)
  • Minor sixth (m6)

Tension

These intervals brings tension and instability.

  • Major second (M2)
  • Minor second (m2)
  • Major seventh (M7)
  • Minor seventh (m7)
  • Augmented fourth (A4)
  • Diminished fourth (d4)
  • Augmented fifth (A5)
  • Diminished fifth (d5)

Ear training and development

Here are some ideas of work to develop your musical ear and interiorizing the intervals :

  • Memorize the names of the intervals.
  • Recognize, sing and play through a recording or a dictation.
  • Recognize, sing and play an interval starting from any note.
  • Work three forms of intervals : Melodic ascending, melodic descending and harmonic.
  • Play scales by intervals. 
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Stef Ramin on

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