Intro / Op-Ed
The first scale that beginner music students encounter is usually the “major scale” and in studying the major scale they are inevitably introduced to the core building blocks of our Western music system. What are those building blocks? Intervals!
A solid understanding of intervals is essential to understanding how to construct scales, chords, and voicings. Understanding intervals also helps your ability to read music, compose melodies, construct bass lines, and improvise. Intervals comprise the bedrock upon which our Western music system is built and understanding them will help you build a solid foundation for your musicianship.
Please note that only ascending intervals will be covered in all of the “Intervalics 101” posts. Descending intervals are excluded. However, I can be persuaded to address them in the future!
Since the scope of this examination ranges from 1sts to 8ths, I’ve divided the presentation of material into a short series of eight individual mini-posts. I may add one or two more posts toward the end of the series for the purpose of giving you additional drill and review exercises. This will depend on the feedback I get from you and my students who also monitor these posts.
During this series, we’ll be taking a look at how to identify and name these intervals. From the brief examinations, discussions, and easy follow-up drill exercises in each post, you should come to have a very clear understanding of intervals. By the time you’ve successfully completed the work in all eight mini-posts, you should have an easier time of using intervalics to assist you in things like constructing bass lines, chords, specialized/personalized chord voicings and chord scales.
Speaking of chord scales… Let me draw your attention to the major scale again. In addition to being a chord scale, it’s also the scale upon which we base all of our musical analysis.
To understand the major scale, you need to understand half steps and whole steps… and to understand half steps and whole steps, you need to understand major and minor… and to understand major and minor, you need to understand the major scale… and to understand the major scale, you need to understand intervals… and to understand intervals, you need to understand half steps, whole steps, major, minor, diminished, and augmented! Whew! I’ll stop there! (Smile!) Now all of that may sound like some kind of riddle or comedy routine like Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” skit, but it’s all true! So let’s get started by defining interval.
What is an interval?
An Interval, defined as a musical term, is the measured distance between any two given musical notes. The unit of measure used to calculate the distances is usually calibrated in half steps, whole steps, or a combination of half and whole steps.
Should you study intervals? Are they a waste of you time?
Yes and no! Yes! You should study them! No! They are definitely NOT a waste of your time!
Studying intervals provides you with a way to analyze and systematically identify the precise distances between two notes. It gives you another tool to help improve and sharpen your note-spelling/music-writing skills, your transposition abilities, and your eye-to-hand coordination skills as applied to finger placement/spacing on the piano keyboard. Intervalic analysis may be equally applied to notes on the staff and keys on the piano keyboard.
The ways in which this particular area of concentration help you to elevate your skills of music-reading and music-analysis are numerous and tremendous! Whether you are a beginner or an advanced musician who could use some review on the subject, interval study is well worth your while!
I hope all that was said, in the intro-op-ed,
got you fired-up and ready-to-go!
If the info that’s ahead, is something yet you haven’t read,
then learn it well to make yourself a pro!
Intro Wrap-up; Art Matthews
Okay! It’s time to take a look at the first interval of the series…1sts!
1sts – a.k.a. unisons or prime intervals. These intervals are easily identified because both notes share the same letter name. When written in standard music notation, they share the same line or space on the staff, notwithstanding any accidentals which may be attached to either note. On the piano keyboard, they are either the same key or next door neighbors depending on the attached accidental. (Next door neighbors, In the case of 1sts, have zero keys in between.)
The most commonly used accidentals are shown in the lineup just below followed by examples of the most common occurrences of 1sts in the key of C.
♮ = natural
♯ = sharp
X = double sharp
♭ = flat
♭♭ = double flat
Perfect 1st = C to C (The 1st note of a major scale remains unmodified)
Augmented 1st = C to C♯ (The 1st note of a major scale is sharped once)
Minor 1st *(N/A)
*(Minor functionality is not allowed on any perfect interval)
Diminished 1st = C to C♭ **(The 1st note of a major scale is flatted once)
**(Perfect intervals become diminished with only one flat)
This link will open an Acrobat/Adobe flash type of applet where you’ll be asked to correctly match ten intervals via a drag-n-drop process. Doing the exercise at least 4 or 5 times will give you an introductory workout on identifying and matching the intervals in C and other keys.
Study well and have fun,
See you next post,