So when people start talking about intervals, triads, open chords, power chords and the like, it can all get a bit much. Well, don’t worry, we’ve all been through that period of not quite understanding what it is that the more experienced guitarists around us are talking about. And it’s fine to not understand something, provided you turn it into an opportunity to learn.
In this article I’ll be explaining what intervals are. This is an important thing to understand because it underpins everything else that you are likely to learn about the guitar.
What are Intervals on Guitar?
Intervals are not specific to the guitar (a guitar interval is exactly the same as an interval on any other instrument). They are a fundamental musical concept that is used to describe how far apart different notes are from each other. That’s it! Easy, no?
Things only get more complicated when you use the concept of the interval to describe more complex things like scales or chords.
Intervals in Chords
Chords are constructed by combining various different intervals and playing the notes at the same time. The name of the chord is usually taken from the biggest interval that is contained in the chord. There are certain intervals that have a very strong relationship such as the perfect fifth, much beloved of rock guitarists the world over because of its very strong resonant sound.
Other intervals can sound much less harmonious and can be used deliberately to create musical tension in a song. Jazz musicians love to do this – you might be familiar with that feeling of not knowing if there’s been some sort of mistake when listening to a jazz band play apparently dischordant combinations of notes, only to have the tension resolved by the appropriate chord being played before off they go again on a musical odyssey into the unknown.
Intervals in Scales
Scales are described by referring to the intervals that they utilise. each of the notes of a scale will (usually) be a whole tone or half a tone from the adjacent notes. One very common exception to this in the world of the guitar is the pentatonic scale, which is often referred to as the “Blues Scale“. The distance between the first (root) note of the pentatonic scale and the second note is a tone and a half; the same is true of the interval between the fourth and fifth notes of this scale.
So that’s it really – an interval describes how far apart two notes are in terms of pitch and is usually measured in tones or steps (one tone being the same as one step, both of which are equal to two frets on the fingerboard of the guitar).
For a more complicated and in depth description of intervals, check out my follow up article on Guitar Intervals.