In my last blog, I showed you how to name notes easily and shared the formula to create the major scale.  In this blog, I want to talk about “intervals.”


An interval in music is the distance between any two notes which have names like “2nds”, “3rds”, “4ths”, “5ths”, “6ths”, “7ths” and “octaves”. Minor intervals are a half-step smaller than major intervals.  “P” stands for perfect intervals (4th, 5th and octaves are examples).


“Perfect” simply means that that interval does not come in a minor or major version: Obviously, there are notes that are a half step higher and a half step lower than the perfect 4th and 5th, but they have different names.


A half step lower than a perfect 4th is a major 3rd.  A half step higher than the perfect 5th is a minor 6th.  The tritone is the term for a #4 (sharp 4) or b5 (flat 5). 


A minor 2nd is the smallest interval and is more commonly called “half-step” or “semi-tone”. A whole step equals two half-steps.


Here’s a sample of intervals starting on middle C, though you can easily start on any other note and go up or down in intervals.



musical intervals 082913 

One of most common intervals used in harmony singing is 3rds, both minor and major 3rds.


The reason that 3rds are easy to begin with is that they’re usually the nearest, good-sounding note to the melody and are fairly easy to find.  Just sing the melody note and go up or down to the nearest good-sounding note. It often (but not always) will be the 3rd.


Here’s what 3rds can look like in sheet music form:


3rds 082913


For an example of singing in 3rds, check out Seals and Crofts’ beautiful pop song from 1973, ‘We May Never Pass This Way Again’. Check out :34-:49 to hear how natural and easy 3rds sound.


In a more rock vocal context, listen to how 3rds are used in Aerosmith’s ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ in the choruses.


Notice how vocal harmonies are not used on every note of the chorus.


In my next installment, I talk about 6ths, another common interval used to embellish melodies. To view click here.


– Lisa Popeil


Lisa Popeil is an LA voice coach with more than 35 years of professional teaching experience.  Creator of the Voiceworks® Method, the Total Singer DVD, and co-author of the book Sing Anything-Mastering Vocal Styles, Lisa trains singers in vocal technique, stage performance and vocal health for touring professionals.





Originally posted 2013-08-29 20:39:31.