Major, Minor and Perfect Intervals: A Music Theory Guide

By Jade Bultitude
Last Update:

Without intervals Western music would not exist as it does today. So understanding them is crucial to developing you understanding of music theory. In the article, we’ll give you a rock solid foundation in the main three types: major intervals, minor intervals and perfect intervals.

What is an interval?

An interval is defined as the distance between two notes. We could play the notes at the same time, a harmonic interval, or one after another, creating a melodic interval.

harmonic and melodic intervals

Naming intervals

But how can we describe the distance between two notes? Well the simplest way would be to say how many half-steps or whole steps are between the 2 notes.

Take the interval C natural – E natural. Looking on the piano you can easily see that these notes are 4 half-steps (semitones) apart OR 2 whole steps (tones).

C - E is a Major 3rd

But wait, this isn’t going to help me with major, minor and perfect! What do all those mean? Well, you’d be right. The other ways to label intervals are according to their quality. And for this we need to think about scales.

Let’s look at an example.

Interval of 3rd, A natural, C sharp, major 3rd

Now this interval is a 3rd. We know it’s a 3rd because it C is the 3rd degree of the A major scale.

A Major Scale A to C sharp

We can work out the number of the interval simply by ignoring any accidentals and asking ourselves, ‘What degree of the scale is the top note?’ In this example we have A….B…C so the 3rd degree. A – G would be a 7th, A – B a 2nd… and so on.

But what type of interval is it: major, minor or perfect? It is actually a Major interval, a Major 3rd to be exact.

If a note is in the major scale of the lower note (and is a 2nd, 3rd, 6th or 7th) then it is a major interval.

Major Intervals, Minor Intervals, Perfect intervals

Here is a handy table used to so that you know which intervals can be major/minor and which are perfect intervals.

Table of intervals 2nd to 8ve with labels of major, minor and perfect

Major intervals and Minor Intervals

Let’s look at an example of a major interval and how to name it.

C natural, D natural, Major 2nd, interval

What is the number of this interval? 

That’s correct, it is a second! Now ask yourself, is D natural in C major? 

C major scale, degrees of the scale, c major, scale

The answer is YES. Therefore this is a Major 2nd.

How can we turn this into a Minor 2nd? Bring it down a semitone!

A semitone lower than D is Db!

Remember this cannot be C sharp otherwise you actually change the intervals number!

C natural, D flat, Minor 2nd

What about this interval?

C natural, A flat, 6th, interval of 6th, minor 6th

What is the intervals number?

C major scale, degrees of scale, c major, scale

That’s correct, C-Ab is a 6th! Now, is Ab in C major? No it is not… we have an A natural in C major. 

piano, keyboard, A natural, A flat, semitone lower

As you can see Ab is a semitone lower than A making this a MINOR 6th

Last example… 

B flat, D natural, minor 6th

Now this interval we need to be really careful…

Remember that we must work out an interval from the LOWEST note… which is the lowest note?

That’s correct, it’s the D! So let’s write out the D major scale…

D major scale, D major, scale

What is the interval between D and Bb? That’s correct it’s a 6th… but is Bb in D major? No it is not… we have a B natural in D major! Bb is a semitone smaller than B natural, making this a MINOR 6th!

A Final example

Let’s look at the below interval.

G natural, B natural, major 3rd, interval

What is this intervals number (distance between the notes)?

Let’s write out the scale. Remember, we always work the interval out by going from bottom to top, so we need to write out the scale of G major…

G major scale, degrees of the scale, scale

As you can see, B is the 3rd note of G major and this makes the interval a 3rd. In order to work out whether this is a major or minor interval we need to see if the top note is in the scale of the bottom note… so is B natural in G major?

The answer is YES! This makes the interval a MAJOR 3rd!

A minor 3rd is one semitone smaller than a major 3rd… let’s look at the piano

keyboard, piano, G natural to B natural, interval of 3rd, 3rd, B flat

One semitone smaller than B is a Bb meaning that the below interval (G-Bb) is a minor 3rd!

G natural, B flat, Minor 3rd, interval

Perfect intervals

These are the intervals of a 4th, 5th and 8ve! For these three intervals, we use the word perfect.

Remember ‘perfect’ is used because 4th, 5th and 8ve how a very stable consonant sound to them.

You can also remember them because the do not change in the major and minor scales.

Let’s compare G major and G minor scales…

G major scale, 4th, 5th, 8ve, scale, G major
G minor scale, G minor, scale

As you can clearly see, the 4th, 5th and 8ve are all the same! (Just be sure to ignore the major 2nd interval which is present in the both the major and natural minor scales.

An example Perfect Intervals

Let’s have a look at the below interval.
F natural, C natural, perfect 5th

Can you label this interval?

That’s correct, it is a PERFECT 5th. This is because C natural is the 5th note of the C major and C minor scales.

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

Songs that use Major Intervals

Here are two example song that feature major intervals. I have chosen pieces in which the interval is prominent in the melody and so more memorable.

‘Symphony No. 5’ – Beethoven

Here the first two notes (G – Eb) are a descending Major 3rd. The third and fourth notes are a Minor 3rd (F – D). The major 3rd at the beginning is more unusual as the piece is in C minor. This is without doubt one of the most dramatic and famous examples of a Major 3rd in Western music.

beethoven symphony no 5 major 3rd example

‘Take On Me’ – A Ha

“Take on Me” by A-ha is that super catchy ’80s song with the high-pitched singing you can’t help but hum along to. It’s got that synth-pop vibe and tells a story about going after love, making it a total banger that everyone knows and loves.

The first 2 notes of the ‘Take on Me’ line give us a major 7th. A natural – G natural is a major 7th as G is the 7th note in the A major scale.

take on me a ha major 7th interval

Songs that use Minor Intervals

Here are two examples of minor intervals in popular songs.

‘Jaws’ John Williams

Two bass notes, a minor 2nd, and such dread created with this famous sequence. The E natural to F natural is a Minor 2nd.

jaws theme minor 2nd interval


This traditional English folk song dates back to the 16th century. The E natural to G natural at the very beginning gives us a Minor 3rd interval.

Green Sleeves, Minor 3rd

Songs that use Perfect Intervals

There songs feature perfect intervals as part of the main melody or hook.

The Star Wars Theme

The “Star Wars” theme is like that ultimate space adventure anthem that takes you to a galaxy far, far away. It’s got those iconic trumpets and that epic melody that makes you feel like a Jedi ready to save the galaxy from the Dark Side.

In the 2nd measure the G to D is a perfect 5th as D natural is the 5th note of the G Major scale.

star wars theme, perfet 5th labelled

‘Summer Nights’ – Grease

“Summer Nights” from Grease is like that catchy and fun tune that makes you want to dance and sing with your friends. It’s all about summer romance and gossip, with those memorable melodies and playful lyrics that’ll have you reminiscing about your own summer adventures.

The 2nd and 3rd notes of this famous riff give us the perfect 4th of D to G. G natural is the fourth note son the D major scale: D, E, F#, G.

summer nights - greace with perfect 4th

What’s next…?

Photo of author
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.