Minor 3rd intervals: A Music Theory and Ear Training Guides

By Jade Bultitude
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As a fundamental building block of music theory, minor 3rd intervals 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 minor 3rd intervals is essential for expanding your musical vocabulary.

In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics or the Minor 3rd interval, give you examples to listen to and help you recognise it by ear.

minor 3rd interval, C to E flat

Minor 3rd Interval Songs

Here are some famous examples of minor 3rd intervals in popular songs. There really are too many to choose from as any two notes that are a three half-steps (semitones) apart are classified as a Minor 3rd interval. 

Brahms’ Lullaby

The cradle song was dedicated to Brahms’s friend, Bertha Faber, on the birth of her second son. It was first performed in 1869 in Vienna and is one of the most famous and recognisable lullabies today. The first two notes (A – C) are an ascending Minor 3rd and this motif is repeated throughout the piece.

Brahms' Lullaby, minor 3rd

‘Seven Nation Army’ – The White Stripes

Part of the ‘garage rock’ revival in the in the early 2000s, The White Stripes had create success with ‘Seven Nation Army’. The main riff, as you can see from the image below, contains a Minor 3rd from the G natural to the E natural.

Seven Nation Army Minor 3rd interval

Jingle Bells

Even Christmas songs contain minor 3rd intervals. Jingle Bells gives up an E natural to G natural in the third bar. This is because G# is the 3rd degree of E major, therefore E – G will be a Minor 3rd.

Jingle Bells, Minor 3rd


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

What is a Minor 3rd 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 minor 3rd we have to go up three half-steps (or one and a half whole-steps) to create the interval.

minor 3rd examples on piano

Using scales to name intervals

Simply put, scales are patterns of half-steps and whole-steps. In the major scale, the 3rd degree will give you a Major 3rd. In a Minor scale, the 3rd is flattens and so you will create a Minor 3rd interval.

a minor scale with minor 3rd intervals 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 Minor 3rd Intervals

Here is a table which shows Minor 3rds 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 minor 3rds table
descending minor 3rds table

Minor 3rd 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’.

A minor 3rd interval, known for its dissonant and tense nature, elicits a sense of unease and melancholy. It carries a bittersweet quality, hovering between stability and instability. The close proximity of the two notes creates a dissonant clash. It has an unsettled quality, like a musical phrase suspended in anticipation of resolution. The dissonance of the minor 3rd interval adds a touch of dramatic tension, inviting listeners into a world of emotional depth and introspection.

How to Identify Minor 3rd Intervals by Ear

The best way to start identifying Minor 3rd 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.

Below you can see how the ‘re – fa’ in the solfeggi system can act as a great reference of a minor 3rd. This is actually a D natural to a F natural. As F# is the 3rd degree of the D major scale, F natural will be a minor 3rd interval.

solfege with minor 3rd interval 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 Minor 3rd Intervals on Your Instrument

If you are a pianist then playing a Minor 3rd couldn’t be easier. Moving up three keys (or three half-steps) will give you a Minor 3rd. Check out the examples below.

minor 3rd as three half-steps shown on piano

Minor 3rd intervals on guitar are also simply to play. Fret any note and then play the note 3 frets up. This will be a Minor 3rd interval. See the examples below.

minor 3rd examples 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.