Introduction to Intervals

Let's learn intervals!

You probably have heard 'major 3rd', or 'perfect 5th'. You feel left out if you don't know them. They sound difficult and professional. Not any more! You can learn intervals in no time. It may sound daunting, but once you get a hang of it, it will be easier than you think.

Counting the numbers

In music theory, "Interval" means a distance between two notes. We call them with numbers such as 2nds, 5th, etc.

The first step to leaning intervals is to figure out the number for the two notes. When you count intervals, you count the beginning note as 1. Then you count to the destination note, and that's the number you want for the interval. For instance, the interval between A and C is a 3rd. You count the beginning note (A) as 1, then B is 2, finally you get to C, which is 3.

Sharps and flats have no effect on figuring out the number. Any A to C is a 3rd; A♭ to C♮ is a 3rd, so is A♭ to C♯. All it matters is how many letters there are from the first to the last.

Keyboard diagram

While not all of us know how to play the piano, knowing the notes on the keyboard will speed up your interval learning because you can better visualize the distances between notes. You can download a PDF version of the diagram if you would like. I recommend you keep the diagram next to you as you work with intervals.

Also, below is a link to an interactive virtual piano keyboard. You can click on the keys and it will play the notes. The link will open in a new tab on your browser.

If you are new to a keyboard, here are some basics.

Keyboard diagram

Unison and octave

When we are comparing the exact same two notes, we don't call it a 1st, but we call it an unison.

We use 7 letters from A to G in music (there is an H in German music theory but we are not going there right now), so when you go from an A to the next A, that would be an 8th, but typically we call it an octave instead.

You can keep going to 9th and beyond after an octave, but we are not covering intervals bigger than an octave in these articles.


Now that we eased in to the introduction to intervals, let's talk about 2nds.

An interval of a 2nd is any two notes that are next to each other. Intervals like A and B, or F and G, are 2nds. Again, count the beginning note as 1.

Example of 2nds

3rds and 4ths

We continue on counting the number of letters to identify the intervals. 3rds would be any consecutive 3 letters of notes, such as A to C, or E to G.

Example of 3rds

A 4th would be something like C to F, or E to A. For now, always count upward as if the notes are going up.

Example of 4th

5ths, 6ths, and 7ths

Keep counting with the same manner for larger intervals such as A to E(5th), A to F(6th), and A to G(7th).

Example of 5th, 6th, and 7th

Well done! We just covered the very 1st step of learning intervals. Next, we move on to more specific intervals such as major 3rd, and perfect 5th. Read on to Major and minor intervals.