What are music intervals and why are they important? Unfortunately, the concept of intervals is an often overlooked subject when learning guitar or bass. Intervals are important to comprehend because once you are familiar with each of their distinct sounds and location on the fretboard, your understanding of the instrument and command over it will be much greater. So, what exactly is an interval?
An interval is the measurement of distance between two notes. Seems simple enough. Intervals are measured using the Major Diatonic Scale, so for example if we take the C Major Scale we have the notes C D E F G A and B. From the root note of the scale (C in this case) to any of the other notes in the scale is going to yield an individual interval, which is named using the scale degree. For example, C to D (the 2nd note in the scale) would give us a 2nd Interval, C to E a 3rd interval, etc.
One of the most basic and important exercises in ear training is Interval recognition. Interval recognition involves hearing an interval being played (either one note at a time or both notes simultaneously) and identifying it by sound. A good technique for doing this in the beginning is thinking of a melody that begins with that interval so when you hear the interval you mentally “fill in” the rest of the melody. One example would be When the Saints go Marching in, which begins with a third interval (or the notes C to E). Here Comes the Bride starts with a 4th interval, or the notes C to F.
Certain intervals have an inherent sound quality that composers will use to invoke certain emotions or reactions from the listener. A good example would be a 5th interval (the notes C to G), which has a very majestic or regal sound to it. Hence, the Star Wars and Superman themes, as well as most fanfares, all begin with a 5th interval to create a feeling of strength, power, and royalty.
The ability to identify intervals by ear will not only help you pick out melodies a lot easier, but also chord changes because you need to hear the interval leaps of the root notes to hear where the next chord is going. The next step is to learn where all of the intervals reside on the fretboard. Going back to the example of a 5th interval, C to G is always one string down and two frets up, except between the 3rd and 2nd strings where it is one string down and three frets up.
Once you can identify intervals by ear, and know where they are on the fingerboard, then the visual matrix of the fretboard starts to become associated with the sounds it produces to make your playing experience relate more closely to speaking a language than hunting and pecking for the right note. The goal is to get to the point where you can hear what you want to play and be able to execute what you are hearing in your head, without having to think about it!
Want to progress to the next level on the guitar or bass? Check out Skype lessons with Mark Hamrock at Hamrock Music Instruction