Songwriter Theory Podcast
Episode 13

Music Theory Intervals

Joseph Vadala published on



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Episode Writeup:

Necessary Definitions

Interval: The distance between two notes

Semitone: The smallest interval we have in western music. Moving up a string by one fret on a guitar or going to the very next note on a piano are both examples of a semitone.

Semitone = Half Step

2 Semitones = 2 Half Steps = 1 Whole Tone = 1 Whole Step

The 2 Parts of an Interval


There are 5 different qualities of intervals:

  • Perfect

  • Major

  • Minor

  • Augmented

  • Diminished


Perfect intervals are so-called as they have nearly-perfect consonance. In other words, they sound REALLY pleasant and agreeable.There are only 4 perfect intervals: Perfect Unison (or Perfect 1st - aka the same note as the original), Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, and Perfect Octave (perfect 8th).

This leaves the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th that do not have a perfect interval. These numbers have major and minor intervals instead.


1st, 4th, 5th and 8th all have perfect intervals, so the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th are left to split between major and minor.

The major interval is always 1 semitone higher than the minor. The major is also the “happier” sounding of the major and minor intervals.


Any interval that can be major can be minor. Take away one semitone from a major interval, and you have that minor interval.

Minor intervals tend to sound darker and more sad than major intervals.



Augmented intervals are one semitone higher than a Perfect or Major interval.

Perfect + 1 semitone = Augmented

Major + 1 semitone = Augmented


Diminished intervals are one semitone lower than a Perfect or Minor interval.

Perfect - 1 semitone = Diminished

Minor - 1 semitone = Diminished

So, if we put all this information together, you’ll notice that intervals always follow a pattern. With “->” representing going up 1 semitone, this is what we have:

Diminished -> Minor -> Major -> Augmented

Diminished -> Perfect -> Augmented


The quality of interval is combined with the number of the interval. Usually, the number is simply the distance between letter notes.

Do you understand the alphabet? Good, because that’s all you need here. For example, how far away is G from C? C, (D, E, F), G. Since we count both the start and end note, this would be a 5th.

B from C? C, (D, E, F, G, A), B => 7th

E from C? C, (D), E => 3rd

3 Rules of Intervals

Next I’m going to give you 3 rules to remember that will help you think through intervals.

Rule 1:

Incrementing up by one quality will always be going up 1 semitone


Minor 2nd -> Major 2nd = Up 1 semitone

Diminished 7th -> Minor 7th = Up 1 semitone

Augmented 6th -> Major 6th = Down 1 Semitone

Rule 2:

Incrementing up by one number will always be going up 2 semitones


Minor 2nd -> Minor 3rd = Up 2 semitones

Perfect 4th -> Perfect 5th = Up 2 semitones

Major 6th -> Major 7th = Up 2 semitones

Major 3rd -> Major 2nd = Down 2 semitones

Rule 3:

All numbers have either perfect or both minor and major intervals, not both


There is a Perfect 4th, there is not a minor or major 4th.

There is a major and minor 3rd, there is not a perfect 3rd.


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