A Quick and Easy Guide to Guitar Intervals || George's Corner
I get a lot of questions from GuitarZoom students about guitar intervals. So I thought I’d put together a quick post to clear up what they are and how to to use them in your guitar playing.
In music, guitar intervals is the distance between two pitches or notes. These two notes may be played successively as a melodic interval (such as two adjacent pitches in a melody), or simultaneously as a harmonic interval (such as in a chord). Which means, intervals are the basis of chords as well as melodies. If you look at this example, you will see how guitar intervals determine this simple melody:
Or determine a chord with all its qualities:
They can be divided by size into simple and compound intervals.
1) Simple intervals span one octave at most – eg. 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th.
2) Compound intervals span more than one octave – e.g. 8th + minor 2nd = minor 9th, or 8th+ major 3rd = major 10th, etc.
All simple intervals can also be divided into two groups:
1) intervals that could be either minor or major: 2nd, 3rd, 6th, 7th.
2) intervals that could be diminished, perfect, or augmented: 4th and 5th.
Minor 2nd is the first and second notes of a scale, the distance of one half step or one fret, e.g. C – Db (3rd fret on 5th string and 4th fret on the same string). Major 2nd is the first and second notes of a scale, the distance of one whole step or two frets, e.g. C – D (3rd fret on 5th string and 5th fret on the same string).
Minor 3rd is the first and third notes, the distance of one whole step and one half step or three frets, e.g. C – Eb Major 3rd is the first and third notes of a scale, the distance of two steps or four frets, e.g. C – E
For the 6th and 7th you need to learn to invert intervals, which means if you want to find major 6th upward, it’s easier is to find minor 3rd downward (that’s the same note) and then transfer it to the upper octave; and vice versa for the minor 6th upward, you need to find major 3rd downward, and then again transfer the note to the upper octave.
If you want to find major 7th upward, you need to find minor 2nd downward (the same note) and transfer it to the upper octave; and vice versa for the minor 7th upward, you need to find major 2nd downward and again transfer the note in upper octave.
Maybe this seems too complicated, but it’s the fastest way to find each interval!
4th and 5ths are intervals which can be described as having three states, let's say one middle and two altered. The middle state is perfect and could be raised (altered) one half step (one fret) by intervals and become augmented, and if you reduce the distance of the perfect interval one half step it become diminished.
Perfect 4th is first and fourth notes of a scale, the distance of two and a half steps or five frets, e.g. C – F. Augmented 4th is first and fourth notes of a scale, the distance of three steps or six frets, eg. C – F#. Diminished 4th (rare but possible) is the first and fourth notes of a scale, the distance of two whole steps or four frets, e.g. C – Fb (Fb is enharmonic with E note, e.g. C-Db-Eb-Fb).
Perfect 5th is the first and fifth notes of a scale, the distance of three and half steps or seven frets, e.g. C – G Diminished 5th is the first and fifth notes of a scale, the distance of three steps or six frets, e.g. C – Gb Augmented 5th (also rare but possible) is the first and fifth notes of a scale, the distance of four steps or eight frets, e.g. C – G#
*You may have noticed that the perfect 4th and diminished 5th are the same distance but between different notes: C – F# (first and 4th notes), and C – Gb (first and fifth notes). Also, the diminished 4th and the major 3rd are the same distance, but the diminished 4th is the distance between the first and fourth notes (C – Fb) and the 3rd between the first and third notes (C – E).
There are also shortcuts for 4th and 5th intervals as well. Namely, each perfect 4th and 5th are natural notes except the 4th on note F (here it’s augmented) and the 5th on note B (here it’s diminished), so if you flat the upper note it becomes diminished and if you make it sharp, it becomes augmented.
But if you want to find the upper 5th note with an accidental (e.g. G# or Gb) you should find the upper 5th of note G and then add the accidental to both notes, e.g. G – D => G# – D# or Gb – Db, D – A => D# – A#, F – C => F# – C#, etc.
For the perfect 4th on note A, the perfect 4th upward is D, and if you need to find perfect 4th upward of note A#, you also need to do the same: A – D => A# – D# or Ab – Db, etc.
These are two exceptions: on note F for the 4th, and on note B for the 5th; these two you should memorize and then add a sharp on root F for the 4th, the upper note becomes natural: F – Bb => F# – B, or if adding a flat on root B for the 5th , the upper note becomes natural as well: B – F# => Bb – F.
If you’re ready to apply intervals to play killer rhythms and solos, check out our course Music Theory Made Easy and Music Theory For Life Masterclass.