Musical Intervals PROPERLY Explained (2020)

Musical Intervals Explained!

Music theory can be confusing so it is important to start from the beginning - intervals!

Intervals are the building blocks of every piece of music we hear whether its a simple song or a symphony.

So… What are musical intervals?

confused musician

Interval is simply the distance between two musical notes. 

Musical intervals

There are many kinds of intervals, each interval shares a unique and distinctive musical color of its own.

Why are intervals important in music?

Learning about intervals is like learning words of a language, and as mentioned before, musical intervals are the smallest particles of which the musical world is built.
understanding intervals is the very first thing you should do in order to understand music theory.

what are intervals used for in music?

🔸 Musical intervals are used for creating any type of melody or harmony (Harmony happens when more than 1 note is played and Melody happens when notes are played one after the other).

🔹 We, musicians, use these intervals in our musical jargon all the time when thinking or talking in the musical language.

Cool, we understand that we need to know this...

First and foremost, we need to understand what is a semi-tone (also a half-tone). This is the smallest step (in western music) you can take when moving from one note to another.

For example, C → Db, A → Bb, etc.

On the guitar, a semi-tone is the distance between one fret to another.

On the piano, it’s the distance from any given note to the note next to it.

Now take a look at this table, you'll find there every bit of information you need, names, what numbers are used in music to indicate intervals, how to label these intervals with characteristics, and their size in semitones.

Go over it, then we’ll break everything down.




How to Write

Harmonic Function




Two identical notes will always be consonant

Minor 2nd



Harsh dissonant

Major 2nd



Mild dissonant

Minor 3rd



Consonant with a sad flavor

Major 3rd



Consonant with a happy flavor

Perfect 4th



Mild dissonant! (even though it sounds consonant)





Perfect 5th



Strong consonant

Minor 6th



Mild dissonant

Major 6th




Minor 7th



Mild dissonant

Major 7th



Harsh dissonant




Strong consonant

In the table above we can see the name of the intervals, the number of semi-tones in each specific interval, the proper way to write them, and their harmonic function (consonant and dissonant).

Let’s start with types of intervals.

We use 2 ways of categorizing the musical intervals:

  1. Consonant vs Dissonant
  2. Major or Minor

    What are consonant and dissonant intervals?

    Intervals will always be either consonant or dissonant.
    Consonant intervals are usually intervals that sound more pleasant and stable while dissonant intervals sound unstable and carry more tension. This dissonant creates tension that will desire to be resolved into a consonant interval.

    ☝🏽 Remember, this is not a black or white situation, some intervals can be mildly consonant or dissonant and some can be a lot more definitive.

    We divide consonant and dissonant, each one into two groups. Consonant intervals can be perfect or imperfect (major, minor, dim, aug) and dissonant intervals can be softer or sharper.

    The Perfect 4th: this interval is an exception because it sounds consonant when played alone but when played in a harmonic context, it serves as a tension that wants to be resolved. 

    So what are perfect or imperfect intervals?

    The Consonant perfect intervals, which are unison (1st), perfect 5th, and an octave (8th) sound very strong and stable (often in movies you’ll hear a perfect 5th when the king arrives).

    The imperfect consonant intervals are the 3rd and 6th (major and minor). They will sound also stable but softer and will carry a more definitive character (like a happy or sad musical color).

    The Dissonant Intervals 

    The dissonant intervals are the 2nd, 7th (minor and major), and the Tritone. These intervals can be divided into sharp or soft groups.

    The sharper intervals are minor 2nd and major 7th and will contain the highest amount of tension.

    The softer dissonant intervals are the major 2nd and minor 7th.

    The Tritone, however, is somewhat neutral and in some genres (like blues) the Tritone doesn’t even require a resolution to a consonant interval.

    Important to understand: consonant and dissonant are context-related and their function is based on their place in the musical sequence. These two perceptions of musical elements are also culture-based and will change from genre to another.

    Naming the intervals in music

    The names of intervals in the musical jargon change from one place to another.
    In the USA, for example, musicians will tend to use terms like a 3rd or 4th (major, minor or perfect) while in Europe (Italy for example), musicians will use the Latin names of the intervals like Terca or Kvarta (major, minor or perfect).

    The 1st interval also called a Unison.
    The 2nd interval also called a Sekunda.
    The 3rd interval also called a Tertca.
    The 4th interval also called a Kvarta.
    The 5th interval also called a Kvinta.
    The 6th interval also called a Sexta.
    The 7th interval also called a Septima.
    The 8th interval also called an Octava. (Octave in English)

    Basic and advanced intervals

    The intervals we've learned so far are the basic intervals, the ones that fit inside an octave. We call every interval that exceeds the border of an octave, an advanced interval.

    The intervals used by musicians most of the time are the 9th (octave +2nd), 11th (octave +4th), and 13th (octave + 6th). In practice, these intervals are used mainly to describe the tensions of a certain chord.

    These intervals share the same musical function, their voicing, on the other hand, is different. These intervals will sound more open and less cluttered.

    How to name these intervals?

    English → Latin

     The 9th interval also called a Nona.
    The 10th interval also called a Decima.
    The 11th interval also called an Undecima.
    The 12th interval also called a Duodecima.

    The 13th interval also called a Tredecima.

    Each of these intervals can be major or minor or perfect.

    So how many intervals are there in music?

    The simple answer is 14 but there are actually plenty of them, but it doesn’t matter, you won’t use most of them... consciously anyway… The 14 intervals you should know upside down are all in the table above.

    Augmented and Diminished intervals

    If an interval is a semitone (a half step) larger than a major or a perfect interval, it is considered an augmented interval.

    If an interval is a semitone (a half step) smaller than a minor or a perfect interval, it is considered a diminished interval.

    ⚠️ There can be some confusion, especially at the beginning of your studies when it comes to diminished and augmented intervals!

    The reason for that confusion is the difference between major/minor and perfect intervals.

    For example: The distance between an augmented 3rd (C-E#) and a diminished 3rd (C-Ebb) is 1½ semitones while the distance from an augmented 4th (C-F#) and a diminished 4th (C-Fb) is just 2 semitones.

    diminished and augmented intervals

    Inversions of intervals in music

    First, let’s understand what are inversions, an inversion is taking an interval and flipping it, the high note goes one octave down or vice versa, the low note goes one octave up.

    For example, inverting a major 3rd, C-E, will result in a minor 6th, E-C. 

    Every interval has its inverted companion.

    Intervals inversions

    Descending and ascending intervals

    These intervals are simply the intervals we already learned but on a timeline one after the other, rather than played together.

    If we play a C and then we play an E that’s an ascending major 3rd and if we play E and then C it’s a descending major 3rd.

    How to calculate, count and identify intervals in music

    There is a specific way to address this and the accuracy in defining these intervals is very important for notation.

    The number represents the interval will always indicate the number of notes. For example, a 4th interval that starts from C will always be F, it can be perfect, diminished (Fb) or augmented (F#), but it will always have F as its second note.

    Different intervals can contain the same number of semitones, for example, C-Gb has the same number of semitones as C-F# but one is an augmented 4th and the other is a diminished 5th.

    Learning to hear intervals

    The best way of learning to hear these intervals is by association!

    There are quite a few songs, melodies, or sounds that every person (musician or not) can repeat, it can be the sound of an elevator (usually a major 3rd), a song we love, a ringtone, or anything else.

    this way you will always have a firm grasp when analyzing intervals in our heads.
    After enough practice, this complex process of association that happens inside our heads will start to faster and intuitive.

    To me personally, for example, a perfect fourth will always sound metallic while a major 6th throws Victorian images into my head.

    Tip for hearing intervals: Remember that we all know the major scale sound, musicians or not, we can all repeat it.

    Ok, let's go on...

    We’ve made this playlist of good songs we all know and love, each song for a different interval.

    Follow this playlist on Spotify, listen to it once in a few days until you know all of these songs by heart. 

    If you can repeat those songs in your head or even whistle or hum them, you will have a strong point of reference when analyzing different intervals in your head.

    If you think you don’t know these songs, just listen to them! We all know them!

    Interval Name



    Minor 2nd

    Major 2nd

    • Happy Birthday song
    • Ascending major scale

    Minor 3rd

    Major 3rd

    Perfect 4th


    Perfect 5th

    Minor 6th

    Major 6th

    Minor 7th

    Major 7th



    We chose these specific songs not only because of the intervals that they represent but also because these songs were the best to compile a playlist from!

    CLICK HERE for the Spotify playlist that you can listen to until you have “saved” it all in your system.

    Don’t forget to follow Guitar Fire on Spotify, there you’ll find many great playlists and more are coming up each day!

    That's all for now fellas!

    We recommend you to check out the Major Scale Lesson as the next stage of your musical studies!

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