Every pro guitarist knows that intervals are the building blocks of music. Whether you want to be able to understand music theory jargon like flat thirds and augmented fourths, want to know how chords are built, or want to play melodies by ear – mastering guitar intervals is essential.
In this short post, we will get into what guitar intervals are, what names they are called, how they are used in chords and scales, and what to do with them.
Let’s get started, shall we?
What Is An Interval?
The small distance between two notes is the half step – which is just the distance of a note from a corresponding note in the chromatic scale or notes a fret apart, and the whole step – which is the distance between two notes that are, well, two frets apart on the guitar.
So, one fret equals one semitone (half-step), and two frets equal a tone (whole-step).
We can think of intervals as a bunch of half steps and whole steps that have a distinct sound. I think the greatest advantage to learning guitar intervals is – you can eliminate much guesswork thinking about what sounds right, and what makes a melody feel the way it does, especially in the context of exotic scales.
It’s a simple music concept, but can help tremendously with chord construction, learning scales, and understanding harmonies.
You should learn the names of the intervals. For example, starting on the note C:
|Augmented 4th or Diminished 5th
|#4 or b5
In the above table, notice how we only write the corresponding number if it’s major, i.e., the major 2nd, and major 3rd intervals are written as just 2 and 3 while the minor intervals are written with a flat symbol (eg. b7 for the minor seventh interval)
So, C to E is a major 3rd interval, C to G is a perfect 5th interval, and C to B is a major 7th interval.
So, now that we know the distance between C and E is called a major third, we have two ways of playing this interval. We can play them one after the other – and create a melodic interval, or we can stack one on top of the other and create a harmonic interval. If you’re playing scales, you’re essentially building melodic intervals – and if you’re playing rhythm, you’re just playing chords that stack up intervals.
The reason you want to know something like this is because – as you play advanced things like arpeggios and chord melodies, it really helps to know what notes lie in a particular scale, and knowing guitar intervals will make it very easy for you to play solos over any track.
Personally, I like numbering guitar intervals instead of calling them out by names – that way, I can just think of Myxolydian as major with a b7, or Lydian as a major scale with a #4 – it’s more convenient for me.
It also works great for transposing. Let’s see this with an example:
Consider this melody: D G B A in the key of C. If we need to transpose this to the key of – say E, we can simply do so by looking at the intervals.
The intervals in our original melody are: 2 5 7 6
So, in the key of E, it would be F# B D# C#.
Guitar Intervals in Chords and Scales
Knowing intervals, you can easily build scales and chords. We will look at a few examples so you are comfortable with the concepts.
The major chord consists of the following intervals:
Root – major 3rd – perfect 5th
The maj7 chord can be played by playing the 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 intervals. Notice that I’ve left out the fifth in the shape shown below – it’s very common to leave out the 7th and just play the root, third, and seventh when playing seventh chords.
To play the minor chord, you just lower the 3rd degree. The minor chord has the intervals: 1 – b3 – 5.
You can play min7 chords by adding a lowered 7th to the minor triad. The intervals in min7 chords are:
R – b3 – 5 – b7
Again, I’m leaving out the fifth in the shape shown below.
Major Scale Intervals
The major scale consists of the following guitar intervals:
Root – major 2nd – major 3rd – perfect 4th – perfect 5th – major 6th – major 7th – octave
Minor Scale Intervals
The minor scale can be derived from the major scale by lowering the 3rd, 6th, and 7th intervals which gives us minor 3rd, minor 6th, and minor 7th intervals.
So, the resulting guitar intervals are:
Root – major 2nd – minor 3rd – perfect 4th – perfect 5th – minor 6th – minor 7th – octave
Minor Blues Scale Intervals
I like to think of the blues minor as a minor pentatonic scale with a flat fifth.
The minor pentatonic is: 1 b3 4 5 b7
So, adding the flat fifth, the minor blues scale becomes:
1 b3 4 b5 5 b7
Similarly, we can derive modes from the major and minor scales as well.
I like to think of the Lydian scale as a major scale with a raised 4th, and the Myxolydian as a major scale with a lowered 7th. You can look at the shapes below and notice the altered guitar intervals.
Notice how the Lydian has a b5 instead of the 4 interval. Most players would call this a #4 (tritone).
Notice how the Myxolydian has a b7 instead of the major 7th interval – this is what gives Myxolydian its characteristic nostalgic feeling.
The Dorian is just a minor scale with a raised 6th – can you guess what the guitar intervals will be?
Dorian mode has the intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Intervals are super important, and by practicing to hear musical intervals, you can train your ear to pick up melodies with ease. Just remember, it takes some time to get used to how each guitar interval sounds, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right in a day!
Once you understand intervals, you will be able to understand things like how 3nps major scales are constructed, and what makes double harmonic major scale sound the way it does. It does take some research on your part as well, but now you’re equipped with the knowledge of intervals!
Now that you know a fair bit about intervals, I would suggest you look at the circle of fifths – it’s just a tool to help you remember what the fourth and fifth intervals in each key are.
What is a guitar interval?
An interval in guitar means the difference between two notes. Learning intervals is essential for both ear training and being able to understand music.
What are whole steps and half steps?
A whole step is two frets on the guitar, and a half step just means notes on the same string that are a fret apart.