Intervals on the Guitar

Intervals in pitch refer to the distance between two notes. For example, the notes B natural and C natural are a semitone away from each other. The notes B natural and C# are a tone away from each other. These properties are not specific to guitar, as the notes B and  C are a semitone away from each other on any instrument. While it is possible to refer to intervals purely as a measure of tones and semitones, more commonly they are given specific names based on their relationship within a scale. Observe the following list

C to C# (minor 2nd) (1 semitone apart)

C to D (Major 2nd) (2 semitones apart)

C to D# (minor 3rd) (3 semitones apart)

C to E (Major 3rd) (4 semitones apart)

C to F (Perfect 4th) (5 semitones apart)

C to F# (tritone) (6 semitones apart)

C to G (Perfect 5th) (7 semitones apart)

C to G# (minor 6th) (8 semitones apart)

C to A (Major 6th) (9 semitones apart)

C to A# (minor 7th) (10 semitones apart)

C to B (Major 7th) (11 semitones apart)

C to C (Perfect Octave) (12 semitones apart)

Above is a list of intervals and their names with C being the root note. Don’t worry too much about where all the names come from. If you are familiar with major scales, the names of the intervals will most likely make sense. These intervals are the same in any key. Let’s look at the same set of intervals where Eb is the root note.

Eb to E (minor 2nd) (1 semitone apart)

Eb to F (Major 2nd) (2 semitones apart)

Eb to F# (minor 3rd) (3 semitones apart)

Eb to G (Major 3rd) (4 semitones apart)

Eb to G# (Perfect 4th) (5 semitones apart)

Eb to A (tritone) (6 semitones apart)

Eb to A# (Perfect 5th) (7 semitones apart)

Eb to B (minor 6th) (8 semitones apart)

Eb to C (Major 6th) (9 semitones apart)

Eb to C# (minor 7th) (10 semitones apart)

Eb to D (Major 7th) (11 semitones apart)

Eb to D# (Perfect Octave) (12 semitones apart)
As you can see, intervals are relative. Eb to B is a minor 6th just like C to G# is a minor 6th because both pairs of notes are the same distance away. It should be pointed out that the above lists demonstrate intervals where the first note is the root note and the 2nd note is played higher in pitch than the 1st. If the 2nd note is lower in pitch, then the lower note becomes the root note and the interval is labeled accordingly. So for example, if F was played first and then C was played secondly, but lower in pitch than the F, C would be the root note and the interval would be a Perfect 4th.

Experimenting with intervals on the guitar can be very fun and beneficial. A massive advantage that the guitar has over other instruments when exploring intervals is the visual element. Let’s pretend that you want to explore perfect 4ths in every key and that you know the notes on the guitar along the fretboard quite well. If you play a G on the 6th string (3rd fret) all you have to do to play a perfect 4th is to move directly down to the next string (5th string) on the same fret. You will now be playing a C. Therefor you can say that a perfect 4th from G is C. The real advantage is that you can effectively copy and paste this process for any root note. If we play a C on the 6th string (8th fret), then move directly down to the 5th string, we have just played a perfect 4th from C to F.

What we are basically doing here is associating intervals with shapes. It is possible to know how to play any interval without necessarily even knowing the names of the notes!

It is of course highly recomended that you explore the names of the notes and get familiar with the notes in every key etc, but it is interesting to observe the visual advantages that the guitar inherintly has.

Major 3rd Interval - C

The above picture shows 2 ways of playing a perfect 5th. This example is with C being the root note.
Now we will look at how to apply these shapes to a different root note. A.

Major 3rd Interval - A

As you can see, the distance between the 2 notes is the same, but the starting note is different. You can apply this to any root note and to any interval. It just takes a bit of exploring so that you get familiar with all the different combinations etc.

Knowing your intervals well can really help with theory, practice, song writing, soloing etc. so it is a great thing to spend time on.


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About Genaaron Diamente

I play guitar. I teach guitar. I like making music. I'm trying to build this site up to be a valuable resource for guitar students and teachers.

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