Perfect 5th intervals: A Music Theory and Ear Training Guide

By Jade Bultitude
Published on

As a fundamental building block of music theory, perfect 5th 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 perfect 4th intervals is essential for expanding your musical vocabulary.

In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics or the perfect 5th interval, give you examples to listen to and help you recognise it by ear.

c to g perfect 5th interval

Perfect 5th Interval Songs

Here are some famous examples of perfect 5th intervals in popular songs. There really are too many to choose from as any two notes that are a seven half-steps (semitones) apart are classified as a perfect 5th interval. 

twinkle Twinkle Little Star

“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is like that classic nursery rhyme that everybody knows by heart. It’s got those simple yet catchy melodies that you can’t help but hum along to.

It is also a great example of a perfect 5th. The C to G is a perfect fifth as G natural is the 5th note of the C major scale.

twinkle twinkle little star, perfect 5th labelled

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

Game of thrones Theme

The “Game of Thrones” theme is like that epic and intense music that gets you all hyped up for some dragon-slaying and political drama. It’s got those powerful orchestral arrangements and that iconic melody that instantly transports you to the Seven Kingdoms, making you feel like you’re about to conquer the Iron Throne yourself.

The first 2 notes of this melody form a descending perfect 5th. C – G is a perfect 5th as G natural is seven half-steps above C natural.

Game of Thrones perfect 5th labelled

‘Minuet in G Major’ – J.S. Bach

“Minuet in G Major” by J.S. Bach is like this classy and elegant tune that’s perfect for fancy occasions or when you want to feel a bit fancy yourself. It’s got that timeless melody and charming rhythm that’ll have you tapping your foot and feeling all refined and sophisticated.

D to G is a descending perfect 5th because D natural is the 5th note of the G major scale.

Minute in G J.S. Bach interval 5th

What is a Perfect 5th 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 perfect 5th we have to go up seven half-steps or three and a half whole-steps to create the interval. You can see examples of this on the piano below.

perfect 4th example on piano

Using scales Find a Perfect 5th

Simply put, scales are patterns of half-steps and whole-steps. In the major scale, the 5th degree will be seven half-tones above the root note. This interval is therefore call a perfect 5th. In the minor scale, the 5th degree is also a Perfect 5th.

F major scale with perfect 4th intervals labelled

Why is it called ‘Perfect’?

Perfect intervals get their name from having certain harmonic qualities: they are considered highly stable and consonant. These intervals have been traditionally called “perfect” due to their role in creating harmonious and pleasing sounds within Western music theory.

The perfect intervals include the unison, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, and octave (or perfect 8th). These intervals are characterized by their distinct harmonic qualities and the natural mathematical ratios between their frequencies.

It is also worth noting that these notes are the same in both major and minor scales. So you can use either to find them!

Examples of Perfect 5th Intervals

Here is a table which shows Perfect 5ths across a whole octave. Remember that to name an interval ask yourself, ‘Which degree of the lower note’s scale is the higher note?’ If the lower note is E natural, they use the E major (or E minor) scale to count up to the 5th note of the scale, which is B natural. Therefore E – B is a perfect 5th.

ascending perfect 4th interval
descending perfect 4th intervals

How to Identify Perfect 5th Intervals by Ear

The best way to start identifying Perfect 4th 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-sol’ is a Perfect 5th interval (C to G).

solfege notes with perfect 4th do - fa

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 Perfect 5th Intervals on Your Instrument

If you are a pianist then playing a Perfect 5th couldn’t be easier. Moving up seven keys (or seven half-steps) will you will get a Perfect 5th. Check out the examples below.

perfect 4th interval on piano, up 5 half steps

Perfect 5th intervals on guitar are also simply to play. Use the shapes below, which can be slide up and down the neck, to play perfect 5ths starting on any note.

In the rock and metal genre, guitarists often use 5th chords (the root and 5th note) to compose riffs. This can make a single note riff round heavier as we have added the 5th, but it will not the chords sound major or minor (because no 3rd is played)

perfect 4th shapes on guitar

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.