Music Intervals

Working out music intervals is easy once you know how, and this page tells you how! The key to working out intervals is to learn about them step-by-step. Having some knowledge of scales is essential and if you don't already know how to work out a major scale you need to learn. I am working on a page about scales at the moment so there will be a link here soon!

At the simplest level

an interval is the distance between two notes.

So to begin with, all you need to do is count!

How to calculate an interval

To find the interval between 2 notes just find the pitch of the lowest note and start counting until you reach the top note. When counting intervals you always start from the bottom note and count both notes. E.g., to find the interval between C and G, begin on C and count up the scale until you reach G.

music interval perfect 5th

E.g. C(1) D(2) E(3) F(4) G(5)

So the interval between C and G is a fifth.

See how easy the first step is? Here is another example

In the example above we count

D(1) E(2) F(3) G(4) A(5) B(6)

So the interval from D to B is a sixth.

If the interval is an 8th it can be written as an octave. If an interval notes are at the same pitch it is called a unison To start with all intervals will be an octave or less. Compound intervals (bigger than an octave) come later!

This first step doesn't take any sharps or flats in the scale into account, it merely calculates the distance between the notes, but as one of my piano students often remarks “baby steps”. When studying music theory this is particularly true. Having a clear understanding of the basics is crucial when things become more complicated later on. In fact, a clear understanding of basics means that the “complicated parts” are easy as well! Note the words “clear understanding," for me this is very different from a “good knowledge”. In music theory a “good knowledge” is not as important as a “clear understanding”

Take this Simple Intervals Quiz to check your understanding of music theory intervals.

The quality of music intervals

In addition to a number (distance) intervals also have a quality. This distinguishes intervals which are not part of the major scale. The 5 qualities of intervals are major, minor, perfect, augmented and diminished. Double augmented and double diminished intervals are not common. To begin with we will look at 3 of these qualities. Major, Minor and Perfect Intervals.

Click here to read more about the quality of a music interval

A Clear Path To Learning Music Theory

essential music theory book learn to read music

For more help check out my new theory book Essential Music Theory: Learn To Read And Appreciate Music Vol. 1 available for iPad and Mac OS.

  • A simple step-by-step course that takes you from complete beginner to grade 2 music theory
  • Multi-faceted learning - audio, video, mind maps, clear musical examples 
  • Built in quizzes to check your understanding

Click here for more information.

Or get it on the iBooks Store!

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