Intervals on Guitar - Shapes and Theory
Whether simple or compound intervals are a very important part of music theory. Knowing them allow understand how scales, arpeggios and chords are built. Intervals are useful tools to visualize the notes and understand their relationships on the guitar fretboard. This lesson with downloadable pdf, guitar shapes and theory will help you better figure them out and play them on guitar.
An interval is the distance between two notes, it is labelled by a number and a quality. Intervals can be harmonic and melodic. A harmonic interval is when two notes are played together whereas the notes of a melodic interval are played successively.
There are five qualities of intervals namely :
- Perfect (P).
- Minor (m or b).
- Major (M or sometimes represented by a triangle ∆).
- Diminished (dim. or bb).
- Augmented (aug. or #).
An interval number represent the position of a note from the root (R) or any other note. These numbers are : 1 (unisson), 2 (second), 3 (third), 4, (fourth), 5 (fifth), 6 (sixth), 7 (seventh), 8 (octave). Exemple : E is the third of C (the third note after C), G is the fifth, etc. This intervals are called "simple intervals".
It is possible to count past 8, this is what we call compound intervals, they span more than one octave :
- 9 (ninth) actually second + octave.
- 10 (tenth) third + octave.
- 11 (eleventh) fourth + octave.
- 12 (twelfth) fifth + octave.
- 13 (thirteenth) six + octave.
Exemple, A is the thirteenth of C.
Simple intervals :
You see that a second can be major (2) or minor (b2). A third can be major (3) or minor (b3). A fourth can be perfect (P4) or augmented (#4). A fifth can be perfect (P5), diminished (b5) and augmented (#5). A sixth can be minor (b6) or major (6). A seventh can be minor (b7) or major (M7).
- 1 - Unisson (Root.
- b2 or m2 - minor second.
- 2 or M2 or ∆2 - Major second.
- b3 or m3 - minor third.
- 3 or M3 or ∆3 - Major third.
- 4 or P4 - Perfect fourth.
- #4 or aug4 - Augmented fourth.
- b5 - or dim5 - Diminished fifth.
- 5 or P5 - Perfect fifth.
- #5 or aug5 - Augmented fifth.
- b6 or m6 - minor sixth.
- 6 or M6 or ∆6 - Major sixth.
- b7 or m7 - minor seventh.
- 7 or M7 or ∆7 - Major seventh.
- 8 or 8va - Octave.
Compound intervals :
The most used compound intervals are the b9, 9, #9, 11, #11, b13 and 13. They are used to enrich / extand a chord or an arpeggio.
- b9 or m9 - minor ninth.
- 9 or Maj9 or ∆9 - Ninth.
- #9, 9+ or aug9 - Augmented ninth.
- 10 - Tenth.
- 11 - Eleventh.
- #11 - aug11 - Augmented eleventh.
- 12 - Twelfth.
- b13 or min13 - Minor thirteenth.
- 13 - Thirteenth.
Perfect Fourth (4 or P4)
A perfect fourths is built with two tones (2 steps) and one semitone (1 step). It are used in quartal harmony for building chords in fourths for comping over jazz modal tunes.
The fourths are also used for practicing scales, chords and arpeggios following what we call the "cycle of fourths" (aka circle of fifhs).
Augmented Fourth (#4 or aug4) / Diminished fifth (b5 or dim5) / Tritone
An augmented fourth is built with three tones, it is one more half-step than a perfect fourth. It can also be seen as the diminished fifth.
This interval is also known as "Tritone interval" or "Devil's Interval". It is found in dominant chords, m7b5 chords and diminished chords and obviously the basic element in tritone substitutions.
Minor Sixth (b6 or m6)
A minor sixth interval is built with eight half tones (or four whole tones) producing a melancholic sound easily recognizable in the harmonic minor scale for example. It is rarely found in chords.
Minor Seventh (b7 or min7)
A minor seventh interval is made of 10 half tones. This is an important interval in jazz music very used to turn basic triads into jazz chords as m7, Maj7, dom7, m7b5 and dim7.
Octave (8 or 8va)
An octave is the interval between two notes of the same name. It is made of twelve half tones. It is an interesting part of jazz language, a technique popularized by Wes Montgomery which consists in playing simultaneoulsy two notes separated by on octave.
Augmented Eleventh (#11)
An augmented eleventh interval is an 11th interval with a supplementary semitone, in other way it's an augmented fourth + one octave. It serves to alter (bring tension) a chord. Examples with 7#11 and maj7#11 chords.
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