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They're the way we name the jumps that a melody takes as it progresses.
Ever listen to someone whistling a well-known tune?
Did they know what key the original was in, and what key they're whistling in? No!
Does it matter? No!
All that matters is whether the next note of the tune goes up or down, and by how much.
As long as you move around the piece by the correct amount relative to the previous note it doesn't matter what the starting note is.
There are two issues in describing a tune's next note relative to the previous note.
An interval is the gap (in pitch, not time) between 2 notes. There are two parts to an interval name:
A convenient way to think of this (although there is an exception to the "rule" I'm about to give) is that Major, Minor & Perfect intervals relate to the gaps we find between any two notes of a scale, and that Diminished & Augmented intervals relate to gaps when one or both notes is altered by an accidental.
The exception to this "rule" in the key of C, for example, is the interval between F and B, which is an augmented 4th, and between B and F, which is a diminished 5th.
|Interval Name from low to high note
Sharps and flats do not affect the interval name
* Example : The interval from the Open D string to the Open B string is found in the table on the row marked "6ths" - it's a 6th.
The next table shows how to work out if it's a Minor 6th or a Major 6th.
Note : When we name intervals, we include the notes at either end. When we count the gap, we count the frets in the normal way (eg C-D is 2 frets)
Note: An interval larger than an octave (such as a 9th) is also called a compound interval (a 9th is a compound 2nd)
|Interval vs no of frets
|Key (larger intervals are capitalised)
dim = diminished, min = minor, Maj = major, Aug = augmented
Per = perfect, Uni = unison, 8va = Octave
* Example : The interval from the Open D string to the Open B string is 9 frets.
Combining this with the result from the previous table, we see the interval is a Major 6th.
These tables name the interval assuming that the lower note is first.
"Inverting an interval" means putting the lower note on top.
When we invert an interval, several things happen...
Example : D to B is a Major 6th. B to D is Minor 3rd
This "swapping over" is much like the "swapping over" that happens in the order sharps and flats get added to a Key Signature
Recognising intervals helps with recognising chords, and, like intervals, chords are frequently inverted too; feeling at ease with groups of notes on the score is a powerful step towards being at ease with them on the fingerboard.
See also my Key Signatures sheet.
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