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Introduction to Intervals - The Perfect Fifth

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Intervals Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Harmonizing in Fifiths - C-major

Introduction to Intervals - The Perfect Fifth

If you do not want to play the exercises now, you can jump to the next lesson: Perfect Fourths.

Our first interval is The perfect fifth. The fifth is the fifth note up from the root. We will stick to the key of C for a while, and have the C as the root in all intervals. If we go up the C-major scale form C, where C is the first note, then D is the second, E is the third, F is the fourth and G is the fifth note. This means that a perfect fifth up from C is G, and the interval C - G is a perfect fifth. The fifth is three and a half step above the root, which equals 7 half steps = 7 frets on your guitar.

It is easier to learn a concept if you have a label and a description that can be attached to it. We must be able to distinguish between the intervals. We have to know the names of all the intervals, and of course the sound of these intervals. If we are able to describe the sounds, they are easier to remember and to distinguish. Wine experts use all kind of silly words to describe the color, bouquet and taste of a wine, and it makes it easier to remember and distinguish between tastes. We have to do some of the same with intervals and musical concepts.

The counting of intervals might be a bit confusing. When you go up one step, it is a second, two notes up is a third, three notes up a fourth (we will come to these intervals later), and the fifth is four notes up from the root. The problem is that we are starting from one, and not from zero. The name fifth is the distance between the first and fifth note, and not five notes up from the root.

The notes of an intervals can be played in sequence, one after the other. Then they are played as melodic intervals. If you play the two notes together at the same time, you play them as harmonic intervals. It is easier to identify an interval by ear if you hear one note at a time. But you should eventually be able to identify intervals both when played melodic and harmonic. As an example, I have written the interval C -G, which is a perfect fifth, both melodic and harmonic.

Now you have to program this interval into your brain. There are two ways, and you have to do both: Listen to the interval, and sing it! If you cannot sing it, then you do not know it as good as you should. Sing the interval up and down. Play the starting note, sing the interval and then play the second note to hear if you where right.

Continue with all note of the C-major scale, except the B, and sing perfect fifth's starting on the note. A perfect fifth up from B will take you to F#, which is not a member of the C-major scale. In the beginning, we will stick to the notes within C-major. The interval from B to F is a tritone, which is a dissonant interval that is hard to sing. As part of my Ear Training lesson you can find written examples with MIDI files of all perfect fifths within a C-major scale: D-A, E-B, F-C, G-D and A-E

A listening technique

One very useful listening technique is called unlocking. As with all techniques, you have to start with a simple application. You play a harmonic interval at random. You can do it on your guitar, on a keyboard, or even better: Have someone play it to you (with all kind of ear training it is much better if you can do it with another person. Then you can concentrate on listening to what your partner play). Then sing the two notes of the interval. Sing the bottom tone, and then the top-tone (and vice versa). Start with smaller intervals, and expand them gradually. You can eventually extend this technique to chords, by singing bottom note, middle notes, top note, etc. But it is of course harder to unlock chords than to unlock intervals, and it is harder to unlock complex chords than basic chords. It is with this technique as with all others: Practise, practise and practise.

You should know where you find all the fifths on your guitar. A good way to practise is to play scales in various keys harmonized in fifths. By this I mean that we play a harmony note one fifth above the scale note. But beware: We will use only notes from the C-major scale for harmony. This mean that we will not play a perfect fifth above the B. With the B we will play an F, which is a diminished fifth above the B. You will hear that it sounds different. Don't worry too much about this interval. We will cover this in another lesson. This will help you in learning the sound of the fifths, and it will give you a better knowledge of the fingerboard.

This first example is played horizontally. Playing horizontally mean that you move your fingers up and down the neck, without crossing over to other strings. It is not very "guitaristic", and is usually not the best way to play. But it is easier to see the harmonic movements when we play this way. We approach the chords more like you would do on a keyboard.

For other examples of fifths in C-major and other keys, cross over to the Navigating the Fretboard series.

Vocal harmony in fifths is one of the trade marks of the Beatles sound. For some discussion on this aspect of the Beatles sound, go to Alan W. Pollack's Notes on Love Me Do.

You can have some exercises on how to play the fifths in various keys

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Intervals Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Harmonizing in Fifiths - C-major