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How The Intervals Work on a Guitar

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An interval is the distance between two pitches or notes, including the notes themselves.

A harmonic interval results from the simultaneous sounding of two notes, while a melodic interval occurs from two notes played successively.

Counting the total number of notes suggests the name of the interval. (For example: The interval from C to A is a “sixth,” because there are six notes from C to A including C and A.)

This is only general naming, however; because, specifically, there can be major, minor, perfect, augmented or diminished versions of certain intervals (i.e., minor third or major third, augmented 4th or diminished 5th).

The major scale is traditionally used as a reference point in determining specific names; all of the intervals from the root are either major (2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th) or perfect (unison, 4th, 5th and octave). The remaining possibilities follow these three rules:

  1. A major interval lowered a half-step becomes a minor interval.
  2. A perfect or minor interval lowered a half-step becomes a diminished interval.
  3. A perfect or major interval raised a half-step becomes an augmented interval.

It is important to realize that each interval has an exact number of half-steps that never changes, no matter what scale, key, chord, position, etc.

On a guitar you can see the distance in frets, with each fret equaling a half-step.

(The major scale intervals have been bolded)

0 fret—Unison

1 fret—Minor 2nd

2 frets—Major 2nd

3 frets—Minor 3rd

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4 frets—Major 3rd

5 frets—Perfect fourth

6 frets—Augmented 4th/Diminished 5th

7 frets—Perfect 5th

8 frets—Minor 6th

9 frets—Major 6th

10 frets—Minor 7th

11 frets—Major 7th

12 frets —Octave

If you play open-2nd-4th-5th-7th-9th-11th-12th on any string you'll get a major scale.

An excellent coordination as well as melodic exercise is playing parallel intervals, which is pairing each note of the scale with the same interval. You’ll often hear references such as “playing the scale in thirds,” which means to alternate between each successive step of the scale and a scale tone three notes away.

3rds in G

3rds in G major on the 1st 2 strings E & B

E string-3--5--7---8---10--12--14--15
B string-5--7--9--10--12--13--15--17

Intervals on the Guitar


Chromaticism and Improvisation

Improvisation Phrasing


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