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Music Theory for Guitar - Music Theory for Guitar - Intervals - The perfect fourth

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Intervals - The perfect fourth

Now you know what an interval is, and you know the perfect fifth. Then it is time to go on with the rest of the family. The next interval on our list, is the perfect fourth. The perfect fourth. The perfect fourth is two and a half note above the root. The intervals between the strings on your guitar are all fourths, except the interval between 2nd and 3rd string, assuming that you tune to standard tuning. Our first perfect fourth is C to F.

Go to my Ear Training Lesson for examples of the other perfect fourths in the C-major scale: D-G, E-A, G-C, A-D andB-E.


Notice the notation of intervals in standard notation. If you look at the perfect fifths, both the root and the fifth note are either on a line, or between lines. If the notes are on the line, then there are two half spaces and a line between the notes. If the notes are in spaces, there are two lines and a full space between the notes. If it is a perfect fourth, the fourth note is between lines if the root is on a line, and the fourth note is on a line if the root is between lines. There is one line and a half space between the notes.

As I said in the previous lesson: It is easier to identify intervals if you can describe the sound in some way. Here are a few words that describes the perfect intervals (fifth and fourth): Strong, empty sounding, dignified, static. They sound satisfying in themselves, and do not sound as if they need to be resolved. But they also tend to be boring. If everything is nice and sweet, then it is usually not too interesting. The perfect fifth is the stronger of the two. Violinists use the strength of the perfect fifth when they tune by bowing both notes together, adjusting until they hear an accurate perfect fifth. Piano tuners use the same technique when tuning a piano - tuning in fifths. The perfect fourth is weaker and unreliable, and it is much harder to use the fourth interval between the strings on the guitar (except between 2nd and 3rd string), for tuning. When trying to distinguish between perfect fifths and perfect fourths, I find the the perfect fifth sounds as if rooted on the bottom note, while the perfect fourth sounds as if it is rooted on the top note.

We can harmonize the scale in fourths, just as we did with fifths. The interval in itself sounds all right, but it seems to be something wrong with the scale. It does not start or end properly. The reason is that the note a fourth above the root - F in C major - is not part of the root chord. You will hear it as a IV-chord (F-chord) of maybe a vi-chord (Am), which does not sound right neither as a beginning nor as an end. We will come back to these chords later.

There is one fourth that is not "perfect", just as there was one fifth that was not "perfect". The fourth from F to B is three whole steps, and not two and a half, as the perfect fourth. It is an augmented fourth or a tritone. The distance between the two notes are the same as the distance B to F (diminished fifth).

Inversion of intervals mean that we are changing the orders of the notes in an interval. We move the root up one octave, or the note down one octave. The result is the same: We get the root on top, and the other note on the bottom. We will go through the intervals once more, in the same order as we did when we first looked at them.

If we move the root of the fifth interval C-G up one octave, we get G-C. But the G-C is a fourth. And this is what you should know: The inversion of a perfect fifth is a perfect fourth. Listen to the two intervals. I do not write the examples. You need to take another look, you can either go back, or go to C-G and G-C in my Ear training lessons. If you have found it difficult to distinguish between perfect fifths and perfect fourths, this is the reason: The same two notes can give both a perfect fifth and a perfect fourth.

C-G: Perfect Fifth:

G-C: Perfect Fourth:

You might say that it does not make sense to call the perfect fourth an inverted fifth, it only makes the matter more complicated. To a large extent you are right. But if we harmonize the scale in inverted fifths rather than in fourths, then it sounds right. What we do now is to harmonize the scale with the note a fourth below the scale note. The interval in itself is a fourth, but in this function it is an inverted fifth.

I have written the C-major scale harmonized in inverted fifths as played vertically and horizontally.

The other perfect intervals are the perfect unison and the perfect octave. A unison is simply two of the same notes, so it is an interval where the distance is zero. The perfect octave is the distance from the bottom to the top of a scale, to where it starts all over again.

You should know how to play all the perfect intervals on your guitar, in all keys. Go to my Navigating the Fretboard series for material to practise.

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