Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Theory lesson: Intervals, Sharps, and Flats. Chopsticks! Dog Police!

(If you already know everything about intervals, sharps and flats, skip that and just get to the Dog Police!)

HALF STEP: The smallest interval in the 12 tone scale.  One black or white note on the piano up or down to the next.  One fret on the guitar up or down to the next.

WHOLE STEP:  Two half steps.


   An interval is the space between any two notes.  Intervals can be expressed as numbers.  The bigger the space between two different notes, the bigger the number.  Notes go forward through the alphabet as they go up in pitch ABCDEFGABCD..etc.  Knowing that:  A to B is a closer interval than A to D.  A to B is a 2nd and A to D is a 4th.  Any letter to the next letter in the alphabet is the interval of a 2nd. (A to B is a 2nd, B to C is a 2nd,  D to E is a 2nd)  If it gets confusing, just count on your fingers starting with the first note as number one, then go through the alphabet.  For example, if you were asked "What is the interval from C to G?"  You would say C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5... so "A 5th!".  And you'd be right!

MINOR 2nds:

     There are farther 2nds and closer 2nds.  The closer ones are called minor 2nds, the farther ones are called major 2nds.   The minor 2nd is also known as the half step, semitone, or augmented unison.  The half step is the smallest possible space between two notes in a twelve tone (chromatic) scale.  (12 tone scale- All the notes including white and black keys in one octave on the piano.)  B and C are adjacent keys on the piano (No black key in between them), therefore: B to C is a minor 2nd interval.

MAJOR 2nds:

The Major 2nd is also called the whole step.  It's the distance of two half steps on the piano.  A to B is a major 2nd interval.  

MAJOR and MINOR intervals vs. PERFECT intervals:

2nds, 3rds, 6ths and 7ths are always either major or minor depending on the amount of half steps from one note in the interval to the other.  Minor means less half steps, major means more half steps.  (See FIG. 1)  Unisons, 4ths 5ths and Octaves are neither major nor minor.  They are called perfect intervals.  They can be modified like so:  A to D is a perfect fourth, A to D# is an augmented fourth.  A to E is a perfect fifth, A to Eb is a diminished 5th.  Here's a list for you:

FIG. 1

min 2nd/Augmented unison----------1
Maj 2nd--------------------------------2
min 3rd -------------------------------3
Major 3rd------------------------------4
Perfect 4th----------------------------5
Augmented 4th/diminished 5th------6
Perfect 5th-----------------------------7
Augmented 5th/minor 6th------------8
Major 6th------------------------------9
Minor 7th------------------------------10
Major 7th/diminished octave---------11

As you can see, the number in the interval does not refer directly to the number of half steps.  It refers to the letters in the alphabet.  A to D is a perfect 4th, A to D# is an Augmented 4th.  The number 4 used is purely to say "D is the 4th letter if we count through the alphabet with A as 1."

Now that you know all that, here's chopsticks!  What a good demonstration of intervals!  You can hear and see the intervals grow larger in the first 10 seconds!
It starts out with a major 2nd, then a minor 3rd, then a major 6th, then an octave!


     Every note is assigned a letter or a letter and a symbol.  Notes go forward through the alphabet as they step up in pitch using the letters A through G.  ABCDEFG are the natural notes, the white keys on the piano.  Most of those natural notes have notes in between them, and therefore are whole steps apart from each other.  The ones that don't:  B-C and E-F are half steps apart.  The notes in between the other natural notes are the black keys on the piano.  They are expressed by putting a "#"(sharp) or "b"(flat) sign next to a letter. A "#" next to a note brings the note up a half step, a "b" next to a note brings it down a half step. For example: F# (F sharp) is the halfway point between F and G. Any "Sharp note" has an alternate name. F# is also known as Gb (G flat).  So to mention every key in one octave on the keyboard, black and white keys from left to right... you would say:
A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#, then back to A.
Alternatively, you could call all those sharps by a their "flat" names:
A Bb B C Db D Eb E F Gb G Ab back to A.

Here's a song that uses intervals well.
  Note the confusion caused by the presence of the devil's interval, (the flat 5th) starting on a happy note in the key.  (The major 3rd).  The first loud synth plays this interval twice in a row at :02.  It's like, the devil's here, but I'm happy?  What?  This same musical device can also be found in some important vocal hooks of some important 90's hits:  Pearl Jam's "Even Flow", Soundgarden's "Spoonman" and Stone Temple Pilots' "Plush".  The 90's was such a confusing time. 

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