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A family of intervals.
Chapter 10: The Building Blocks of Harmony
I use the C scale as an example because it’s so easy, with no sharps or flats. However, this method of number-naming the intervals works for every single major scale. Simply write out the scale and number the notes from 1 to 8 — it works the same every time.
Like scales, intervals come in different varieties: major, minor, and perfect. Knowing these classifications helps you make appropriate harmonies for the music you play. For example, if you want to build a minor chord to harmonize with a melody, you must use a minor interval. (Chapter 12 tells you all about building chords.)
All intervals start out as either major or perfect. You can make a minor interval by lowering a major interval one half-step. The perfect intervals can’t be made minor, because they’re just too darn perfect as is.
In an eternal attempt to be lazy, er, efficient, most musicians use the following abbreviations, or shorthand, when discussing intervals:
J1 M for major intervals J1 m for minor intervals J' P for perfect intervals
J' Numbers for the size interval. For example, a fifth uses the number 5.
Therefore, when you see P5, you know I mean a perfect fifth. When you see M2,1 mean a major second. When you see m6, I mean a minor sixth.
1 would be remiss not to point out that intervals can be measured upwards or downwards. That is, when you play a C-G fifth interval, you can say that G is a fifth above C or that C is a fifth below G. So, when I say descending interval, I mean measured from the top note to the bottom note. Likewise, when I say ascending, I mean . . . oh, you can figure that out.
In the sections that follow, I explain each interval on the scale and give you an example of a famous tune that uses the interval. I encourage you, even beg you, to play each of the examples on your piano. Nothing trains a musician more than playing and hearing at the same time. Put these intervals in your head along with the corresponding famous tunes, and I guarantee that you won’t forget them.
Part IV: Living in Perfect Harmony
Have you ever sung a song called “Happy Birthday” to yourself or someone else at a birthday party? Okay, have you ever heard anyone sing “Happy Birthday” — perhaps six restaurant waiters more embarrassed than the person they’re singing it to?
The first interval you sing in this celebratory song is a major second interval, or M2. Go ahead and sing it. “Hap-py Birth-” Stop! On “Birth” you jump up a major second interval. Using the C scale, a M2 is the distance from C to D.
Another song beginning with a M2 is “London Bridge,” which you see in Figure 10-3. Every time you play the name of the bridge, you go up and back down a major second. Go ahead — try it on your piano.
Getting acquainted with major second intervals.
X A 1
4 • — M 4 —m m m I—« —J r. —m J <9
Lon - don bndge is M2
fal - ling down, fal - ling down, fal - ling down.
Lon - don bridge is fal - ling down.
ma - son
You create a minor second, or m2, simply by making the major second a halfstep smaller. In other words, play C to D-flat. Play it again and again and again, faster, faster . .. look out — SHARK! Oh, sorry. I always hear a m2 as the famous interval used in the Jaws theme by composer John Williams. Figure 10-4 shows you an m2 on dry ground, this one from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Play it yourself and hear how the interval sounds.
A minor second interval
Chapter 10: The Building Blocks of Harmony
If a composer could copyright an interval, the copyright for the major third (M3) would belong to Ludwig van Beethoven. The first four notes of his legendary Fifth Symphony employ a M3. And if that isn’t enough, Ludwig tried to own the minor third (m3), too, by using it in the next four notes of the theme. Play Figure 10-5, a snippet of the Fifth Symphony, and you will forever know thirds.
Maior and minor thirds together in the same piece.
You also hear the M3 interval frequently in spirituals. Figure 10-6 shows this interval in the songs “Kum-bah-yah” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
-Ts. - —*
; - —m —0 G> -m —?—* m o—- —??
An interval to lift the spirits.
Kum - bah - yah, my lord.. M3
Kum - bah - yah.
Swing low, sweet char- i - ot, com-in' for to car-ry me home.
For some reason even unknown to Beethoven, a m3 seems to attract children. As you see in Figure 10-7, the opening notes of the children’s favorite “This Old Man” form a m3, which is smaller than a M3 by a half-step. Hip to the Pied Piper-effect of the m3, the creators of Barney adopted this tune for the Great Purple One’s theme song.
128 Part IV: Living in Perfect Harmony
A minor interval close to children's hearts.
The perfect fourth interval in (loco)motion.