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AC #35 Intervalics 101 (2nds)

Intro / Op-Ed

Moving into 2nds introduces minor intervals, so a preliminary discussion of major, augmented, minor, and diminished intervals is in order.

As I mentioned in AC #34, the major scale is the scale upon which our music system is based.

Question: When an interval is classified as a “major interval”, what does that mean?
Answer:  Both notes of the interval are unmodified, unaltered notes of the major scale.

Question: When an interval is classified as a “minor interval”… it is “minor” compared to what?
Answer: Compared to its unmodified, unaltered  major scale counterpart.

Question: When an interval is diminished or augmented… that’s in contrast to what?
Answer: In contrast to its unmodified, unaltered major scale counterpart.

Let me emphasize this major scale point once more!  The major scale is the scale upon which our music system is based. It is the backdrop against which intervalic modifications like minor, augmented, and diminished are contrasted or compared.

We’ll have a cursory examination of the major scale in the AC #37 post, but for now, I’d like to keep your attention focused on 2nds because of the various types of 2nds that will appear in the drill exercises at the end of this post, which I hope you’ll do.

Let’s take a closer, analytical look at 2nds.

2nds – These intervals are very easy to identify because the letter names of both notes will be alphabetically adjacent to each other.  An interval with letter names that display that kind of juxtaposition is a 2nd of some type, notwithstanding any accidental modifiers that may be attached to either letter.  If the two letter names form a whole step, you have a clear signal that you’re dealing with the first and second notes of some given major scale because the first two notes of any major scale is a major 2nd and all major 2nds are whole steps. The specific major scale to which both notes belong is determined by the interval’s first or lowest note, with the stipulation that it’s and ascending interval being identified.

Generic Alphabetical Identification: This is easy in the case of 2nds because the letter names of both notes are alphabetically adjacent such as A is to B, and B is to C, and C is to D, etc.  Whenever both note names of an interval have this kind of consecutive alphabetical adjacency, you have a 2nd of some type.

Standard Music Notation Identification: This is easy in the case of 2nds because when 2nds are written on a staff, one note is a line note, the other note is a space note, and both note heads will be in the closest line/space proximity of each other that is possible on a music staff. (The note heads of 2nds never share the same line or space on a music staff) 

Piano Keyboard Identification: On the piano keyboard, 2nds are still easily identified by their core note names. However, depending on the accidentals attached to the notes, identifying 2nds, or any other interval, can get a little tricky if you’re not careful! I’ll explain what I mean.

Airline pilots can fly planes by relying mostly on the information coming to them from their instrument panel because visual conditions in the air and on the ground may be misleading. Similarly, regarding interval ID and music-reading, conditions in your ear and on the piano may also be misleading and unreliable from time to time, and in those cases, good reading abilities will allow you to rely on your own “instrument panel”… the musical staff!

The following is a hypothetical example of where conditions in your ear and on the piano might be misleading and unreliable. Using ascending notes within the same octave, do the following…

Play B-double flat and double sharp on a piano. What does it look, feel, and sound like to you?


If you answer “4th” in my theory class, I’ll have to place one of these next to your answer! Red X

Don’t be fooled by physical spacing of the keys or the sound of the interval! 

Notwithstanding any of the accidentals which may be attached to either note of any interval, if the core note names have consecutive alphabetical adjacency, you have a 2nd of some type!

 Hypothetical Interval ID Question

When you strip away or ignore the accidental modifications of both notes, you should see that the core note names are B and C, and B to C is a 2nd at the core! Now when you reapply the accidental modifiers to both notes, your analysis should reveal the specific type of 2nd it is. 

Does anyone have the answer for this hypothetical? If so, I’d love to give you one of these! Green Check Mark

Let’s continue with 2nds and move on to the drill section.


The most commonly used accidentals are shown in the lineup just below followed by examples of the most common occurrences of 2nds in the key of C.

= natural (cancels 1 accidental)
= sharp (raises a note by one 1/2 step)
X = double sharp (raises a note by two 1/2 steps)
=  flat (lowers a note by one 1/2 step)
♭♭ = double flat (lowers a note by two 1/2 steps)


Major 2nd = C to D (The major 2nd is unmodified)
Augmented 2nd = C to D (The major 2nd is sharped once)
Minor 2nd =  C to D (The major 2nd is flatted once)
Diminished 2nd = C to D♭♭ (The major 2nd is flatted twice)

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,

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