Major, Minor and Perfect Intervals – how do they work?

By Jade Bultitude
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In the last blog post we looked at working out the number (distance between the notes) for our intervals. If you haven’t done so already, make sure to read the previous blog post on intervals first as this post will take the idea a little further! We will be looking at how to work out your major, minor and perfect intervals!

What is an interval?

As we saw last week, an interval is the distance between two notes. These can be melodic (one note played one after the other) or harmonic (both notes played simultaneously). 

We also saw how important it is to know the degrees of the scale as this makes the interval much easier to work out. The first note of the scale is the 1st degree, the second note is the 2nd degree etc.

The interval can then easily be labelled with a number. Take a look at some examples below…

Interval of 3rd, A natural, C sharp, major 3rd
This interval is a 3rd
Interval of 6th, B flat, G natural, Major 6th
This interval is a 6th

If you are still a little unsure how to work out the number of your interval then practice using the resources available on this website!

As well as this number, each interval is also labelled with a description…

Each interval is also labelled with a description.

These descriptions are:

major, minor and perfect intervals!

There are a few more, but for today we will stick to these three. 

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

Let’s try some more examples of major, minor and perfect intervals

Look at the below interval…

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 7th! 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 7th

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!

Now there are three intervals that cannot be considered major or minor…

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 because the 4th, 5th and 8ve are the same in both the major and the minor scale so therefore cannot be labelled as major or minor! 

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!

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

If you are interested in practicing your major, minor and perfect intervals further, then make sure to check out the resources on this website to deepen your knowledge!

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Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.