Intervals: I'll try to be brief!

  1. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    This subject has come up recently, and I'd like to put some basic information in one place.

    To keep this simple, let's talk about a C major scale. No sharps or flats, just C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. On a keyboard, just white keys.

    C to D is called a "second." Not an interval used often in chording, it's just the note above the first note of the scale. If you play the two together it's dissonant: the notes sound like they are fighting, and the urge is to change one, which "resolves" the dissonance. The first chord in "Chopsticks" is a second.

    C to E is a third, two steps above. Playing or singing in thirds has a sweet sound, and it is used often in folk music. Play the C on the A string (low second finger, 3rd fret) with the open E string. That is a third.

    C to F—fourth. As I said elsewhere, "Here Comes the Bride" has a fourth between the first and second note.

    C to G: the fifth. How mandolin strings are tuned. Also, the first notes in "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" (or the ABC song, or "Baa Baa Black Sheep," but I digress!) The C major chord, or triad, contains the third and the fifth: C, E, and G. The old chestnut "Kumbaya" starts with these three notes, to help get it in your head what they sound like. (Or pull out your mandolin and play them!)

    C to A is a sixth, C to B a seventh, and C to the C above is an octave.

    When we talk about I, IV, and V chords, we are talking about major triads. In the key of C, I of course, is C, so the chord will contain C, E, and G. A IV chord (again, in C major) is built on the fourth note of the C scale: F. An F major triad is F, A, C. The V chord is built on the fifth of the C scale, which is G. The G major triad contains G, B, and D.

    Now, here's the beauty of IV and V chords: they are made up of notes in the C scale. F major has one flat, Bb, and G major has one sharp, F#. C major scales don't use flats and sharps, but luckily for us, an F major triad doesn't contain a Bb (it is the fourth of a F scale, and we just use the third and fifth in a major triad). Same with G major: the F# is the seventh, and doesn't show up in the 1-3-5 (G, B, D) chord.

    There are a few other terms you will run across. Inverted chords: most of the chords we play are inverted. This just means that the notes are not in order bottom to top. True for just about every chord in the book. 1, 3, and 5 are all there, but not in that order.

    A C7 chord has 1-3-5-minor 7 intervals: C, E, G, and Bb. Cmaj7 uses the B natural found in the major scale. The seventh, C to B or Bb, is another dissonant chord, and a C7 or Cmaj7 chord really, truly wants to resolve.

    If an interval is augmented, it's a half-step higher than normal. A diminished interval is lowered by a half step.

    I'll stop spewing information here for now. I'd love to go into the mathematics of this, which explains why some intervals sound better than others—it's absolutely fascinating to me, but maybe not to you. Then there's the tritone, the devil's chord, illegal in the middle ages . . . Another time.
  2. Sleet
    Louise, thanks for taking the time. Are you a teacher by profession? This group has become such an interesting educational place.
  3. choctaw61
    Yes Louise,thank You! This is sooo helpful.It's also a reason I joined this group. Hoping to learn these type things.I took about nine months of lessons on guitar recently.The instructor wanted me playing songs which I did to. The thing is I was wanting a foundation on the why's. Which I never got.(I learned some songs,but not the why's) if that makes sense.See there's a great story in the bible about two men laying a foundation. One on a rock,the other in sinking sand. Which survived the winds of the storm,obviously the one on the rock. A weak foundation hinders us in every aspect of live.Including music.I'm desirous of a strong foundation so as not to be limited.Again thank You!
  4. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Great analogy with the parable, Choctaw!
  5. BJ O'Day
    BJ O'Day
    Thanks Louise. Your explanation cleared up a bit of confusion for me. I had a misconception about the IV and V chords.
  6. SOMorris
    Thank you Louise!
  7. FredK
    Louise, this is a great explanation. I had theory when I was young and playing the organ; then later off and on with other instruments. It helps to understand why music is written the way it is. It also helps when you want to add a little flavor to the piece your playing. Since I've taken up the mandolin, my interest in theory has gone through the roof and I've been spending time studying what should have been more internalized when I was younger. Thank you very much for taking the time to set this out.
  8. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Thanks for taking the time to explain this, Louise
  9. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Hope this helps us all develop a common vocabulary. I know there are some in this group who have played guitar or other instruments for ages, and for whom this is all second nature. Others have almost no music background. The beginning mandolin books I have used or looked at tell you what to do, but not why. I'm one of those people who always needs the "why." As Choctaw puts it, building a strong foundation.
  10. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    I'm one of those people who always needs the "why."

    That makes two of us
  11. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Louise, I appreciate your effort in helping us non-musicians (until recently, anyway) understand the theory behind the music. I'm still trying to wrap my head around some of it.
  12. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I just spent about 10 minutes looking for this thread. After reading it, I think it won't hurt to move it back to the forefront. Maybe this should be done once each quarter.
  13. OneChordTrick
    Thanks that's really clear and really helpful!

    Explained in a few lines what I've been struggling to get my head round!
  14. Guitfiddle Mike
    Guitfiddle Mike
    Thanks Louise NM for the lesson and Sherry C for the newbie bump!!!
  15. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Boy, I wish we had a bulletin board. This should go there, the one I did on basic note-reading could go there, Henry's treatise on how to post video should go up, the recent one listing umpteen sources to download music could get posted there. I think there are good ones on pentatonic scales, fingering for scales. We have assembled a wealth of knowledge, and I wish there was a way to keep it all together and easily accessible.
  16. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I agree, Louise. That would be an excellent resource.
  17. OneChordTrick
    Louise do you have link to your post on basic note reading? My challenge this year is to learn to read standard notation and that sounds like it would really help.

  18. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Here it is, OneChord.

    Mel Bay has a book or two on reading standard notation, aimed at mandolinists. Here's one, and I think there are more. I've ordered a few books from Mel Bay and have been really happy with them.
  19. OneChordTrick
  20. Kevin Stueve
    Kevin Stueve
    Noticed that Louise's description doesn't cover minor chords. A minor chord is made up of the 1 the flatted 3rd, and the 5th.
  21. sportsnapper
    @OneChordTrick Pete Martin has a number of pdf books that you might like to look at here
    Easy Music Therory for Fiddle and Madolin goes into depth about scale construction, but no so much about basic notation.

    If you want to confirm what you've learnt, there's some free practice papers from the Associated Board here (withe the answers as well!) and there's a quiz too...
  22. OneChordTrick
    @sportsnapper Thanks! I've got the Fiddle and Mandolin book, now just need to start reading it. I'll look out the ABRSM papers as well, think that my son may have some old copies as well.
  23. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Time for a bump
  24. HonketyHank
    Intervals. Hmmm. Sometime in the last year or so I came to the conclusion that learning the intervals between notes is more important than learning the notes themselves if your goal is to learn how to play what you hear in your mind. Yes, notes do make the tune, but if we rely on notes to tell us how to play a tune, we have to learn 12 versions of the same thing, each starting on a different tone. Bill Monroe is alleged to have answered a query about what key a certain tune was in by saying "What key? It's in the key of this here," and plucked a note somewhere in the middle of the fretboard. What if that was a G-flat? Does that make any difference? Not if you know intervals. But if you are trying to remember (or even just read) the notes, the key of G-flat is not exactly a Newbie key.

    In my practice, I sometimes change the key of whatever tune I am trying to play and then see how fast I can get my fingers to adjust to the new positions required to carry the tune properly in the new key. I think this is good for my 'ear training', and I am getting better at it. Basically it is all about learning how to make intervals that I hear in my mind while trying to play the tune.

    Shifting gears here:

    Talking about intervals triggered another set of thoughts for me. Diatonic scales. Mark G. and I recently had a PM conversation in which I said it had been only a week or so since I learned really what a diatonic scale actually is. We had thrown the phrase around a good bit over in the Woodshed group and I basically figured a diatonic scale was like Do, Re, Mi, Fa, etc. But I always had the vague feeling that I didn't REALLY know what made that series of tones a diatonic scale. So I Googled "diatonic scale". Now I know. Well, maybe not, but I do know at least a level or two deeper down the rabbithole of music theory what makes a scale a diatonic scale:

    A diatonic scale is an ascending series of seven notes followed by a repetition of the first note one octave higher.

    So. Intervals. A diatonic scale is defined by its intervals and by the sequence of those intervals.
    The intervals between adjacent notes in a diatonic scale is always a half tone (one fret) or a whole tone (two frets).
    A diatonic scale must have exactly two half tone intervals and exactly five whole tone intervals.
    Let's represent a whole tone with the numeral "2" and a half tone with the numeral "1"; then the intervals between notes in a diatonic scale must follow this sequence, in exactly this order: 2212221. Two octaves of that scale would be 22122212212221. I made the higher octave red for a reason that will be clear in a minute.
    The diatonic scale that is represented by the intervals 2212221 is what we call a major scale.
    But while this sequence of 2212221 is what defines a diatonic scale, there others which use the same sequence but start at a different position within that sequence. So a set of notes having intervals of 2122212 is also a diatonic scale because these intervals are in the proper sequence as can be seen when looking at two octaves:
    21222122122212. The underlined intervals are exactly in the proper sequence.
    This last example is a diatonic scale. If we sing it, it won't sound like a major scale. It will sound like Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do, Re. In fact, this diatonic scale has a name. It is called the "Dorian Mode". If we start on Mi instead of Re, we will have yet another diatonic scale having a sequence of 1222122. It is called the "Phrygian Mode". By extension of these examples we can see that there are exactly seven types of diatonic scales; each of those seven have names to designate them. Our major scale is called "Ionian Mode". Our natural minor scale is called "Aeolian Mode".
  25. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Henry, that sounds deep and frightening, but it's really not ... what it is, is just a whole lot of information compressed into six small paragraphs.

    The tension between diatonic and chromatic is what makes music as we know it possible. And this has to do with intervals. Intervals are everything in music! OK, not everything, but definitely the most important, basic thing about music.

    For that reason, my own approach in teaching music theory is to memorize the definition(s) of the major scale. Anyone armed with that rudimentary knowledge can use it to understand the rest of music theory.

    This approach doesn't work for everyone, because we all think and learn differently, but it works for me and countless others. In a nutshell,

    1. Learn the chromatic scale (the twelve notes of Western music) introduces the half-step interval
    2. Learn the definition of a major scale, and apply it by making up some major scales. Application of whole and half-step intervals to make a scale through eight tones (7 notes plus octave)

    With that knowledge, most people will have little trouble working out intervals, modes, pentatonic scales, blues scales, chords, chord extensions, diatonic harmony, etc. etc. etc. over time if they love studying music as well as playing it.
  26. Guitfiddle Mike
    Guitfiddle Mike
    You guys are all awesome. I may not quite see the light yet but I have found the entrance to the tunnel. Thanks to y'all!!!!!
  27. FredK
    This info is very timely. I followed this thread when it first came out and the recent comments are very insightful. Theory is a big thing for me right now. Knowing how and why things are done helps in creating the right sound for each piece.

    I decided a few months ago to dig into music theory with intent to understand and apply. My music theory education ended when I got out of college 40 years ago. So, I purchased a music theory workbook and supplemented that by studying online materials (check out Communicasound on YouTube). Apart from relearning the Bass Cleff (my nemesis from the early days of playing organ), the basics came back to me quickly so I've focused on the more advanced material. Putting it together on the mandolin (scales, intervals, modes, etc.) as opposed to a keyboard or guitar has been interesting, challenging and fun. It has helped me understand more about the music I play since I've focused more on playing by ear than by sight. Last night, I worked hours on some tunes, scales and a lot of fingering until the muscles in the back of my fretting hand started to cramp. I wanted to do more but there comes a time to stop and rest. That's when I come to the Cafe and glean from everyone else. Good stuff!
  28. Posterboy
    I have used Functional ear trainer in the past as a supplement to help train myself to recognise intervals.
  29. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Henry, your first paragraph holds a huge helping of truth; it's all about intervals. As you said, that's what playing by ear or transposing is all about. Most the time it's probably completely unconscious, but it's there.

    I'd venture that a large part of reading standard notation is also seeing and playing intervals. I know that was true for me when I was playing violin, and some passages were up in "nosebleed territory," where you're so far up you can't count ledger lines or recognize note names. It's all about the intervals. Even in less extreme circumstances, think we recognize the pattern of notes as intervals as much as we think about note names, etc. All the more reason to get an understanding of them.
  30. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Bump time
  31. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    I need to revisit Louise's post. Maybe someone else does also.
  32. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Bump for Sherry
  33. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Thanks, Louise! I've now printed this and hopefully won't lose it.
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