How do we work out the intervals in our music?

By Jade Bultitude
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Learning how to work out intervals is another aspect of music theory education that many students struggle with. However, it is vital to understand what an interval is to better understand your melodies, harmonies, chords and just about anything music! 

Let’s start from the beginning – What is an Interval?

An interval is simply, the difference between two pitches

Remember that the distance between every note that is next to each other or on top of each other is an interval

Think about that scale you’ve been practising. The distance between every note is an interval! We will come to what the number between each interval actually is later. 

c major scale, scale, music scale, music notes, C major, middle C, treble clef

An interval can be considered either melodic or harmonic. 

Melodic Interval

A melodic interval is where the notes are played successively – like how we saw on the scale above!

melodic interval, interval, middle C, E, treble clef

Harmonic Interval

A harmonic interval is where the intervals are played simultaneously – like in the case of a chord! 

harmonic interval, interval, treble clef, F natural, A natural, chord

So how do we work out the intervals number?

An interval is always labelled with a number and in order to work out the intervals number we have to see what the distance between the two notes are! 

At this point it is extremely important to remind yourself what the degrees of the scale are…

C major scale, degrees of the scale, one octave, scale, C major

Now we are happy with the degrees of the scale it is much easier to count. As you can see, the degrees of the scale start on the first note of the scale, this means you will also have to include your starting note. 

Let’s look at the below melodic interval example and see if we can work out the distance! 

melodic interval, C natural, middle C, E natural, interval

So how do we count this correctly?

melodic interval, middle C, E natural, interval

As you can see, E is the 3rd degree of the scale. So, the difference between middle C and E is 3. This makes this an interval of a 3rd

What about a harmonic interval?

interval, harmonic interval, chord, G, C

What notes do we have here?

That’s correct, we have a G and a C. Let’s remind ourselves of the degrees of the scale for G major. 

G major scale, G major, intervals, degrees of the scale

Which degree is C from G? 

That’s correct it’s the 4th degree, meaning the distance from G to C is 4… making the interval a 4th

How easy is that?! 

One last thing

When we are working out intervals it is very important to work it out using the LOWER of the two notes!

Take a look at the interval below…

When working this interval out, it is very important to start with the lower note, which is the G! Even though, as you can see, the D is to be played first! Let’s write out the G major scale below…

As you can see, D is the fifth note up from G, making this interval a 5th!

We have some amazing free worksheets to practise doing this! Sign up here to grab your free worksheets!

Let me know how you get on! And don’t forget to check out the other blog posts here!

Jade x

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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.