Teach Yourself Music Theory – 28.) Interval Characteristics

Previously, we have talked about naming and grouping intervals.

Another characteristic we can classify intervals by is if they sound “good” or “bad” to the ear.

Now, this topic is VERY subjective. However, in theory, we have rules to classify the intervals.

An interval (melodic or harmonic) that generally sounds pleasing to the ear and stable is called consonant. Any interval that doesn’t sound “right,” has a need to resolve, classes sonically, or is outside diatonic tonality* is called dissonant.

Within consonance, there are perfect consonances that feature the perfect intervals, and there imperfect consonances that feature everything else.

If this sounds confusing, do not worry. These are labels to help understand the sonic quality of intervals as well as their stability/resolving motion.

Perfect Consonances

  • P1 or Unison
  • P5
  • P8

Imperfect Consonances

  • m3
  • M3
  • m6
  • M6

Dissonances

  • m2
  • M2
  • Tritone
  • m7
  • M7
  • Any diminished interval
  • Any augmented interval

Noticed how the P4 wasn’t included in any of these lists. That is because in the pre-historic times before the Renaissance the P4 was considered a perfect consonance. Then into the Renaissance era, the P4 was regarded as a dissonance. Now, scholars have evaluated the P4 interval again and pretty much made it a wild card.

Listen to the intervals and see if you agree with their classification.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 27.) Digging Deeper Into Intervals

If you are still not comfortable with the topic of intervals, I suggest reviewing previous posts. Otherwise, let’s go for a quick refresher:

An interval is the distance between two different pitches/notes. The two different notes can either occur at the same time (called a harmonic interval) or consecutively one after another (called a melodic interval).

Another way to classify intervals is by the span. Simple intervals are those that span an octave or less in length between any two pitches. Those that are of a greater distance than an octave are called compound intervals.

Previously, we have only named up to an octave. To name compound intervals, do the following:

  • Take out the octave(s) distance apart
  • Decide what is the leftover simple interval quality
  • Name it (i.e. M2 )
  • Then at a 7 to the value ( M2 +7 = M9 )

Intervals can also be classified by being grouped into their inversion relation; meaning, that when you take two notes and invert them by either having the lower note go above the higher note… or having the higher note go below the lower note, you produce another interval.

Let’s practice this concept. Start by writing middle C on a staff followed by the E4 pitch above it. Notice that this interval makes a M3. Now, take the middle C and move it up an octave to C5. You have now inverted the pitches, creating a m6 interval. So, M3 and m6 are inversionally related.

Practice writing two different pitches and naming the interval. Then, invert them and find the new interval.

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Tip #142 – Mindfulness of Harmonic Intervals in Two-Part Density

Two-Part Density, as we have talked about before, is two different melodic lines (either in counterpoint or in compliment to each other) played together at the same time.

For those that are nitpicky about everything that they write, here is a way to look at your two-part density in mindful reflection of what note to choose.

First, are the two notes chord-tones to the harmony (either the root, third, fifth, or seventh) or tension tones? Mixture of both?

Second, do the harmonic intervals between the two melodic lines give the desired effect?:

  • Unions – overlapping consonant blend
  • Seconds – dissonant
  • Thirds – consonant, especially if it is a chord-tone
  • Perfect Fourth – hollow, and slightly dissonant
  • Perfect Fifth – hollow, consonant
  • Tritone – very dissonant
  • Sixths – consonant, especially if it is a chord-tone
  • Sevenths – dissonant, but can work well if it is a chord tone

Being conscious of these two ideas of chord-tones and interval effect can help strengthen your two-part density writing.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 5.) General Guide To Intervals

An interval is the distance between two different pitches/notes. The two different notes can either occur at the same time (called a harmonic interval) or consecutively one after another (called a melodic interval).

The smallest, and most basic, interval used in Western music is the semitone/half-step. A semitone is the distance traveled from one key on a piano to the next adjacent key. Combining two semitones together make a whole-step. Half- and whole-steps make up a lot of the fundamentals understanding different aspects of music.

Now, what do we call intervals that aren’t two notes right next to each other? Below is a graph that I’ll explain:

The first process of finding the name of any interval is counting how many semitones it is made of. Start with the lowest note of the pair and count on the keyboard how many semitones are traveled to reach the higher pitch. From there, look at the letter names. How far apart are they? Remember: the letter names go in a repeating ascending order of – A B C D E F G A B C D … From there, you can find on the graph above what to name the interval.

So, say you went from middle C to G3. G3 is lower than middle C (otherwise known as: C4), so let’s count up from there. Middle C is five semitones above G3. Counting letter names we get: G A B C , which means a distance of three letter names were traveled. From all this information, we can conclude that this is a perfect fourth of P4 in abbreviation.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.