What is an Interval?
An interval is the distance between two notes. An easy way to understand what is meant by “distance” is to think of two notes on the same string. How far apart the notes are is the interval between the two notes.
Any pair of notes creates an interval. Each interval has a unique name (some have several names). And, each interval has a unique sound. In this lesson category we’ll be learning all about intervals.
Intervals are measured in half-steps. A half-step is from one note to next adjacent note. Half-steps are the smallest distance between two notes.
For example, from the open note E a half-step above is the note F on the 1st fret. The distance from E to F is one half-step. Going the other way E would be one half-step lower than F. (Remember the terms higher and lower always refer to pitch.)
Half-steps work the same way starting on any note.
On bass don’t think half-steps have to be on the same string. From G# to A is a half-step. On bass you could play this on the 4th fret of the E-string to the open A-string. The point here is: intervals are not the distance between your fingers. Intervals are the distances between the sounds of the two notes.
Why Do You Need to Learn Intervals?
Any time you play notes, you are playing intervals. Intervals can be likened to atoms in chemistry. Atoms are combined in unique ways to create molecules. In music, intervals are combined to form scales, chords, and various useful note patterns.
Each scale and chord used in music has a unique pattern of intervals. It’s this arrangement of intervals that gives the note pattern its individual sound and sets it apart from the other note patterns.
Knowing and understanding intervals is an important key to learning all the various note patterns used in bass playing and music. It will make learning chords and scales much easier. Intervals are also one key to understanding and learning your way around the bass fretboard.
Luckily, the basic intervals you most need to learn are pretty easy. I highly encourage you to learn them.
Forms of Musical Intervals
There are two forms of intervals melodic and harmonic. A melodic interval is when the two notes are played one after another (as in a melody). A harmonic interval is when the two notes are played at the same time (as in chords).
Ascending and Descending Intervals
Musical intervals are often described as ascending or descending. These are just what they sound like. An ascending interval goes from one note up to the second note. And, a descending interval goes from one note down to the other note of the pair. (Remember, up and down refer to pitch.)
Most of the time people refer to ascending intervals when talking about intervals within scales and chords. I’ll continue this section with basic ascending intervals which will be a great aid in learning bass scales and chord tones. Later I’ll add more complete information on intervals.