Major 6th Intervals: A Music Theory and Ear Training Guide

By Jade Bultitude
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As a fundamental building block of music theory, major 6th intervals can play a significant role in shaping melodies, harmonies, and musical progressions. Whether you’re a budding musician, a music student, or simply curious about the inner workings of music, understanding major 6th intervals is essential for expanding your musical vocabulary.

In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics or the Major 6th interval, give you examples to listen to and help you recognise it by ear.

Major 6th Interval Songs

Here are some famous examples of major 6th intervals in popular songs. There really are too many to choose from as any two notes that are a 9 half-steps (semitones) apart are classified as a Major 6th interval. I have gone for pieces where the Major 6th contributes to a memorable part of the song.

‘My Way’ – Frank Sinatra

Here the first two notes (G – E) are an ascending Major 6th. This is because E natural is the 6th note of the G major scale. This interval sets the tone of the song as it begins may of the verse lines.

Interestingly, they’re opening notes of the second line ‘My friend’ start with a MINOR 6th of A to F natural.

frank sinatra my way, major 6th interval labelled

‘Man in The Mirror’ – Michael Jackson

As you can see from the image below, the B to D gives us a descending major 6th. This interval forms the first two notes of the chorus of the song.

michael jackson- man in the mirro, major 6th interval labelled

The Holly and the Ivy

The opening line ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ contains two major 6ths. These really lift the melody right at the start of the song.

the holly and the ivy major 6th interval labelled

Jingle Bells

‘Jingle Bells’ has an ascending Major 6th from D natural to B natural right at the start of the song. This is a major 6th as B natural is the 6th note of the D major scale.

jingle bells major 6th interval labelled

What is a Major 6th Interval?

Firstly, the definition of an interval is the distance between two notes. We could play the notes at the same time, a harmonic interval, or one of the other, a melodic interval. So how can we describe the distance between two notes.

harmonic and melodic intervals

Using whole steps and half-steps (tones and semitones)

We could describe an interval in terms of the number of half-steps for the lower note to the upper note. For a major 6th we have to go up nine half-steps or four and a half whole-steps to create the interval.

piano major 6th interval examples

Using scales to name intervals

Simply put, scales are patterns of half-steps and whole-steps. In the major scale, the 6th degree will be nine half-steps above the root note. This interval is therefore call a Major 6th.

f major scale ascending, major 6th interval labelled

Ear Training and Intervals

To develop as a musician you’ll want to be able to recognise intervals by ear. This is where ear training comes in, as the more you practice, the better your’ll get.

My recommendation for this is Tonegym as they have a comprehensive and fun program for training your ears. It’s what has gotten the best results with for my own students.

In the ‘tools’ section of their site, Tonegym even have an interval memorizer that allows you to learn every type of interval.

For an in-depth look at ear training, here’s my full review of Tonegym.

departurer opt tonegym

Examples of Major 6th Intervals

Here is a table which shows Major 6ths across a whole octave. Remember that to name an interval ask yourself, ‘Which degree of the lower note’s scale is the higher note?’

ascending major 6th intervals
descending major 6th intervals

Major 6th Interval Qualities

We can describe the sound of intervals using a numbers of adjectives. An interval can sound ‘stable’ or ‘grounded’ like a perfect 5th, or it could sound ‘dissident’, ‘neutral’ or even ‘sinister’.

The interval of a major 6th evokes a sense of stability and openness. It can be described as a harmonically rich interval, as it encompasses a considerable distance on the musical staff.

In terms of emotions, the major 6th interval tends to create a feeling of tranquility and contentment. The interval’s stability is often associated with a certain level of resolution and completeness, offering a strong foundation within a melodic context.

When used in melodies, the major 6th interval can lend a sense of elegance and sophistication. It often exhibits a soaring quality, that captures attention and creates a memorable musical line. This interval is frequently used in various musical genres, including classical, jazz, and pop.

How to Identify Major 6th Intervals by Ear

The best way to start identifying Major 6th intervals is by listening to reference songs like the ones above. This will give you a reference point to look back at when listening to new pieces.

The solfege system can also help as ‘do-la’ is a major 6th interval (C to A).

solfege notes major 6th labelled

ToneGym- The Ultimate Ear Training App

ToneGym allows you to improve your ear with a range of games, interactive and competitions.

Or check out our complete review of ToneGym.

ToneGym, three dashboards, computer

How to Play Major 6th Intervals on Your Instrument

If you are a pianist then playing a Major 6th couldn’t be easier. Moving up nine keys (or nine half-steps) will give you a Major 6th. Check out the examples below.

major 6th interval on piano, up 9 half steps

Major 6th intervals on guitar are also simply to play. The shape below can be slide up a down the neck to play major 6th intervals starting and ending in any note.

major 6th interval on guitar

What’s next….?

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Jade is a flute player and music educator with a passion for educating the next generation of musicians. She is a Masters Graduate from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Jade has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.