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Basic Intervals

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This lesson assumes you’ve read about intervals.

Scale and chord patterns are often described by their unique interval pattern. Most of the time this set of intervals falls within the span of one octave. (See octaves.) It is a good idea to memorize the names and fretboard patterns for these basic intervals to help you in memorizing all the different scale and chord patterns.

Basic Musical Intervals on the Bass Fretboard

There are 12 basic intervals in music you should commit to memory. That means you need to memorize each interval’s name and its shape(s) on the bass fretboard. I will show you all of these intervals starting on the note C. But, these intervals may be started on any note or any fret so long as the distance between them remains the same.

You should play these intervals on your bass as you read about them. It's not as much to learn as it looks, but I always like to be thorough in my explanations.

Minor Second Interval

Our first interval is called a minor second. A minor second is the same as one half-step. It is the smallest musical interval. Another common name for a half-step is semitone.

The minor 2nd interval is abbreviated m2. A lower case “m” means minor.

A minor second above C is Db. You could also name the note C# which is the same note as Db. For simplicity in this lesson I will mainly use the flat name for notes. You could use either flats or sharps.

Major Second Interval

The next interval is a major second. A major second is equal to 2 half-steps. This may also be called a whole-step (two halves make a whole), or a wholetone (2 semitones make a wholetone).

The major 2nd interval is abbreviated M2. An uppercase “M” means major.

A major second above C is D.

In the fretboard diagram notice the two ways you can play the same interval. The interval of D two half-steps above C is always a major second regardless of fingering.

Most scales are made of a series of minor and major seconds (that is, half-steps and whole-steps).

Major Intervals and Minor Intervals

Many of the musical intervals are labeled as major or minor. You will notice the minor interval is always lower than the major interval.

Minor Third Interval

Continuing, our next interval is a minor third. A minor third is equal to 3 half-steps.

The minor 3rd interval is abbreviated m3.

A minor third above C is Eb.

Again, I’ve drawn two ways to play the same interval. Listen and you’ll see they are the same note.

Major Third Interval

Next is the interval of a major third. A major third is equal to 4 half-steps.

The major 3rd is abbreviated M3.

A major third above C is E.

Most chords are built from combinations of major and minor thirds.

Perfect Fourth Interval

A perfect fourth is equal to 5 half-steps. Perfect intervals have a very consonant sound and are not said to be major or minor.

A perfect 4th interval is abbreviated P4.

A perfect fourth above C is F.

The bass is tuned in perfect 4ths – from E to A is a 4th, from A to D is a 4th, and so on.

Augmented Fourth Interval/Diminished Fifth Interval

To augment means to make bigger. (Think of your own examples of augmentation.) An augmented fourth interval is a bigger fourth. It is equal to 6 half-steps.

This interval can also be called a diminished fifth. To diminish means to take away or make smaller. A diminished fifth interval is a smaller fifth. (The fifth is coming up next.)

There is yet a third way to name this interval. It is often called a tritone. A tritone is the same as 3 wholetones (6 half-steps).

An augmented 4th/diminished 5th is abbreviated A4 or D5. More often musicians will call it a #4 ("sharp four") or b5 ("flat five") when speaking of chords or scales.

An augmented fourth above C is F#. A diminished fifth above C is Gb.

This lesson continues on basic intervals page 2...

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