Piano Intervals

by Tania Gleaves on March 1, 2014

Introduction

Piano intervals are differences in pitch. If you think of the C major scale, each one of its keys is an interval between its lowest note and its highest. That includes whole notes and half notes, mind you.. The smallest interval is obviously the half-step (called a minor 2nd) and the largest interval is an entire octave (called a perfect eighth). There are thus, a total of 88 intervals from the left side of the keyboard all the way to the right. Played one-by-one, these notes are called a melodic interval (ascending or descending — either way), but when played together, they’re called a harmonic interval. Of particular interest is the manner in which intervals build major, minor, and other type of chords.

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Types of Intervals

Once you’ve learned the pattern of identifying intervals, playing them is easy-as-pie. The major third interval for instance, is the distance between any three notes of the C Major scale. If you were to play the C key and the E key simultaneously, the C, D, and E keys form the trio in the “third” interval even though the D key is silent. If you were to play the C and D key only, you would form a major 2nd interval because the distance between both notes is just two. If you were to play the C key and the E-flat key, you would form a minor third. C to F is a perfect 4th interval while C to G is a perfect fifth. Playing the bottom C all the way to the top C is playing an octave. But things start to get a little tricky when you introduce sharps and flats.

For example, playing D to G creates a perfect 4th. When we’re working with intervals, we have to be careful about what we call a flat and what we call a sharp. With our perfect 4th, a G-sharp becomes an augmented 4th — not an A-Flat. An A-flat in this case is called a diminished 5th. But that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.

Why Learn Intervals

Learning intervals makes maneuvering around the keyboard easier. It also makes playing the piano easier too! That’s because many of the songs we hear every day are played with only three chords. By studying intervals and understanding how they build basic chords, you can quickly learn to play the songs that you enjoy listening to. Chords after all, are built with the intervals we’re talking about! Minor chords for example, are built with minor intervals and major chords are built from major intervals.

Here’s a short list of some songs we’re familiar with. As you think about these songs, think about the intervals that they use and then try them out on your own:

Frere Jacques: Major 2nd
Happy Birthday: Major 2nd
Beverley Hills Cop: Minor 3nd
Kum Ba Ya (Chorus): Major 3rd
Here Comes the Bride: Perfect 4th
Amazing Grace: Perfect 4th
Star Wars: Perfect 5th
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star: Perfect 5th
My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean: Major 6th
Somewhere Over the Rainbow: Perfect 8th (Octave)

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Peter October 9, 2009 at 12:03 am

You said “C to E is a 4th interval while C to G is a fifth.” Do you mean C to F? Just trying to learn… Thanks

Brian November 10, 2009 at 10:17 am

You’re right…C to E is a major 3rd…I’ll correct…thx

wendy hillman January 17, 2011 at 10:54 pm

I just looked at your interval songs, and I am pretty sure that “my bonnie lies over the ocean” begins with a major 6th, not a minor 6th.

Erik Thiede January 17, 2011 at 10:56 pm

Thanks, Wendy! You’re right!

promise precious June 4, 2011 at 7:52 am

i’m a
beginner in piano lesson so i need a tutor

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