Intervals on guitar 1

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.

What Is An Interval in Music?

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.

Harmonic and melodic intervals

What is Interval Quality?

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 #).

What is Interval Number?

An interval number represent the position of a note from the root/tonic (R/1) 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.

List of intervals - Simple and Compounds

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 - 1 semitone from the root.
  • 2 or M2 or ∆2 - Major second - 2 semitones from the root.
  • b3 or m3 - minor third - 3 semitones from the root.
  • 3 or M3 or ∆3 - Major third - 4 semitones from the root.
  • 4 or P4 - Perfect fourth - 5 semitones from the root.
  • #4 or aug4 - Augmented fourth - 6 semitones from the root.
  • b5 - or dim5 - Diminished fifth - 6 semitones from the root.
  • 5 or P5 - Perfect fifth - 7 semitones from the root.
  • #5 or aug5 - Augmented fifth - 8 semitones from the root.
  • b6 or m6 - minor sixth - 8 semitones from the root.
  • 6 or M6 or ∆6 - Major sixth - 9 semitones from the root.
  • b7 or m7 - minor seventh - 10 semitones from the root.
  • 7 or M7 or ∆7 - Major seventh - 11 semitones from the root.
  • 8 or 8va - Octave - 12 semitones from the root.

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 = Minor second plus an octave.
  • 9 or Maj9 or ∆9 - Ninth = Major second plus an octave.
  • #9, 9+ or aug9 - Augmented ninth = Augmented second plus an octave.
  • 10 - Tenth = Major third plus an octave.
  • 11 - Eleventh = Perfect fourth plus an octave.
  • #11 - aug11 - Augmented eleventh = augmented fourth plus an octave.
  • 12 - Twelfth = Perfect fifth plus an octave.
  • b13 or min13 - Minor thirteenth = Minor sixth plus an octave.
  • 13 - Thirteenth = Major sixth plus an octave.

Intervals On Guitar

Notes on the Guitar Neck

Here are two neck diagrams that will help you locate the notes on the guitar and give a name to the intervals. The first shape includes sharp notes whereas the second shows the flat notes.

Notes on the guitar
Notes on guitar neck

Simple Intervals

Minor Second (b2 or m2)

A minor second interval is built with one half-step (H) corresponding to one fret on the guitar. It is a semitone closer to the root than a major second.

Major Second (2, M2 or ∆2)

A major 2nd interval is made of two half-tones (or one whole tone). It spans two frets on the guitar.

Minor third (b3 or m3)

The minor third interval consists of one whole step (W) and two half-steps (H) or three frets on guitar. It defines the minor quality of chords, scales and arpeggios.

Major Third (3, M3 or ∆3)

A major third span four frets on guitar. It is made of 4 semitones (or 2 tones) and defines the major quality of any scale, chord or arpeggio.

Perfect Fourth (4 or P4)

A perfect fourths is built with two tones (2 steps) and one semitone (1 step). It is 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.

Perfect Fifth (5 or P5)

The perfect fifth is a very important interval made of seven semitones (or three tones and two semitones). When playing the fifth and the root together we get what is called "a Power Chord" very used in rock music but much less in jazz.

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.

Major Sixth (M6, 6 or ∆6)

A major sixth interval contains nine half tones, so nine frets on the guitar.

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.

Major Seventh (M7 or ∆7)

A major seventh interval contains one half tone more than a minor 7th interval. Once again it has an important role in jazz chord sounds.

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.

Compound Intervals

Minor 9 (b9, min9, m9)

Here are the most important compound intervals found in jazz guitar. The first of the serie is the minor 9th interval wich can be seen as a minor 2nd plus an octave. It is present in 7b9 chords.

Ninth intervals (9, M9 or ∆9)

A ninth interval is a major second intervals + one octave. It is generally used to extand seventh chords making them major ninth chords.

Augmented Ninth (#9, aug9 or 9+)

An augmented ninth is a minor third (or an augmented second) plus one octave. It is found in 7#9 chords.

These three neck diagram show the relationships between 9th and altered ninth intervals

Eleventh Intervals (11)

An eleventh interval is actually a perfect fourth intervals + one octave. It is present in dom11 chords and in quartal harmony.

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.

The three following shapes help understand the relation between the root/tonic (R), the fourth (4), the augmented fourth (#4), the eleventh (11) and the augmented eleventh (#11) intervals.

Minor thirteenth (b13)

The minor thirteenth is actually the octave of the minor sixth (b6). It is found in 7b13 chords

Thirteenth (13)

A thirteenth interval is a sixth interval plus one octave.

Here are two shapes that show how look thirteenth intervals on guitar. You can see that the 13th is a half-step above the b13.


Intervals on guitar chartIntervals on guitar chart (1.2 Mo)

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