Aug 3, 2011

Learn Those Intervals

Music Theory Baby Steps
Semitones and Intervals

Alright, don't let your prior misconceptions about music theory keep you from reading this, because it's really not that hard to understand.

This first lesson is going to be about semitones and intervals...

(If you're already good on that, then check out part II where I cover scale construction)

Okay, if you're still reading this then you didn't run away. That's good.  The first step in getting a firm understanding of music theory is to learn about semitones and intervals. What are semitones and intervals you ask? Easy, a semitone just means moving a single step away from the note you are on, and the intervals give it a name so it's easier to keep track of it.

That may not have been super clear, so here is an example:

A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G# - A
 Those are all the different notes that you can play. B and E don't have sharps, don't think too long about that because it's outside the scope of this lesson, just know they don't. If you are starting with A then that is your root note. Each time you move up a note, you are moving up a semitone. So A# is 1 semitone away from A, and F is 8 semitones away. Got it?

But it would get kind of tedious to always be thinking in terms of 3 semitones this and 6 semitones that, so a sort of standardized set of names was given to them to make everyone's life easier. So instead of A# being 1 semitone away, you could also say it's the flat 2nd. Or instead of F being 8 semitones away, you would just say it's the Minor 6th. The chart below lists all the interval names and their respective semitone, so take some time and memorize it. It's kind of confusing at first because the names don't really match up with the semitone number, but just tough it out and get it memorized.

I'm important. Feel free to save and print me out.
Okay, I hope I haven't lost you.

Remember, the interval names are relative to the note you choose as your root note (or unison). So if you use A as your root note, then C would be your Minor 3rd. But if your root note was C, then your Minor 3rd would be D#.

For now just work on getting this in your head. It may not mean much to you yet, but I tried to learn chord construction and scales and stuff before knowing these names, and it was like trying to write a poem before knowing the alphabet.

And once you get comfortable with this you can learn how to construct major and minor chords in the second part of this series here. And if even that's still too easy for you, then check out this part on Chord Construction.

And for you "Theory stifles my creativity" people...quit being lazy. Learn this stuff, I promise it won't stifle your UBER SHREDDORZ SKILLZ.

Anyone have any good arguments against learning theory that are more than "Hendrix didn't know it..." then let me hear em in the comments.


  1. 'Cause I play mostly jazz, I find it easier to think in flats (as opposed to sharps), seeing as sax players prefer flats.

    You're right about them being important. They're critical to understanding chords, which is important when coming up with your own voicings, or trying to improvise properly.

  2. Never touched a sax in my life, why do sax players prefer flats as opposed to sharps?

  3. LOL - nice post. I believe in learning music theory like I believe you need to eat to survive. It doesn't hurt your creativity. In fact, you'll be learning MORE, so you'll have even more to work with!

  4. Toliver,

    Your lessons are very well structured. Have you ever considered charging money for this? I own, and would love to have you as a teacher. Do you own a video camera?


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me positive feedback. Also...don't be a douche.