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Identifying Intervals

We might as well not waste time wondering who knows and who doesn’t, let’s just understand that intervals are measurements of increase or decrease in designated pitch (or tone) increments. These changes in increment value however, change from TONAL SYSTEM (not to be mistaken for TONAL CONDITION) to TONAL SYSTEM, depending upon several factors:

1. TONAL SYSTEMS are based cultural backgrounds and traditions and therefore contain different interval counts, which may exclude some of the notes used to formulate the western (Our) chromatic or 12 tone based music system, however in 95% of the cases these omitted tones are often enhanced by the inclusion of Semi and Micro tonal (increment between half steps, there’s 12 for each note. Yep!!!! Even E & F and B & C ) tones such as in the beautiful music of Japan, Africa, India, Thailand, Arabia, China, and even some forms of music system that have been created here in the U.S.A. such as Harmelodic (founded by Ornette Coleman) and ,Meodi, (founded by Jon Birchchen) .

2.TONAL SYSTEMS are also derived from CHROMATIC TONES (notes) that compose the COMPLETE spectrum of tones that can be accessed within a given system: example Western system 12 tones, Eastern system 147 tones Oriental system 126 tones etc. More information on these topics can be obtained in any of the books by Harry Parch MA. or you may also contact me at www.mikhalcaldwell.com , and as time avails I will respond ASAP. I will however be doing studies on different TONAL SYSTEMS in the future,so let’s not get to far away from the Interval thing! Let’s concentrate our efforts on the Western Music System’s :Chromatic and Diatonic systems. Lets get this down just for the record.

1.CHROMATIC : All 12 tones example: C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C

2.DIATONIC: A tonality (yes tonal condition, because it will equal some identifiable tone grouping ala Major, Minor, Dim, Aug, etc.) is a grouping of notes grouped together to form a tonality containing more than 5 ( 5 notes would be PENTATONIC from the Greek word “penta” meaning 5) notes and less than 12.( from the American word “craps” which means you lose ha ha ha)example :C D E F G A B C = C Maj

We’ll start at the beginning in the diatonic system with the 1. or the root. This simply put is where it all happens the key center, the starting point. This is determined by the amount of sharps ( #) or flats (b ) or shown at the beginning of the staff. At this point I must make an admission, I DO NOT READ TAB! This may strike some of you who don’t know me as strange, however I’ve been reading music for almost 30 yrs and have never bothered to learn ,however I have played with a lot of REALLY great players and I make a living as a studio/touring musician/music educator and I’ve never had a session where tab was handed out to the musicians. To get back to the point that I was making, I don’t know if the sharp, flat thing applies to tab as far as identifying the key center.

Next lets look at the 2nd.At this point it is important to note that each interval with the exception of the root ( the true perfect interval) the 3rd and the 5 th ,changes it’s pitch value when applied in the second octave ex.2nd and 9th are the same but separated by 12 tones (raised or lowered) an octave (all 12 tones) . The 2nd is also the first interval to allow us to use as a SUSPENDED interval ( a Wes Montgomery favorite) because it will remain consistent throughout the basic tonalities. This is also the starting point for the DORIAN MODE or the major scale starting from the second note or interval or the 9th interval D E F G A B C D ex: Key of C . It can be viewed as a Minor scale with a Major 6th. The second (,2nd-) also when viewed harmonically( as a vehicle for harmony or chords) this is the first note when used in the second octave (9th) position that introduces the idea of orchestration (compiling tones together in different registers to form giant harmonic structures ex. string sections, horn sections etc.)

Moving on to the 3rd known as the mediant. This interval is the next most important interval next to the root, because it has the power to determine to next significant change in the diatonic system, namely it decides the tonal identity, Maj., Min. Aug, etc. this interval remains consistent from octave to octave ( have you ever heard to term Minor or Major 10th,not much unless you lived a couple hundred yrs ago ha ha) . The starting point of the major scale at the 3rd interval or PHYRIGIAN MODE as it is known looks as such E F G A B C D E and can be viewed as a Minor scale with a flat 2nd sometimes wrongly refered to as a Minor second.

The 4th interval is another of the “consistent” intervals because once again this interval does NOT change throughout the basic tonalities, Aug, Dim, Maj, etc. Another fact is like the 2nd, the 4th can only be moved in one direction. The 2nd can only be flattened because if you move it up one half step it becomes a minor 3rd,along the same principle the 4th can only be raised because if you move it back one half step it becomes a major 3rd. Yet another unique feature of the 4th interval is that it is the most used interval for suspension, because in the second octave the 4th becomes the 11th and being consistent and also being “transparent” as far as tonality is concerned it offers a SAFE embellishment to ANY harmonic construction (chord) a good example of this would be Mark Whitfield or Scott Henderson . This interval also sets us firmly into orchestrated ideas. The Major scale starting at the 4th interval looks as such:F G A B C D E F , this is known as the LYDIAN MODE it can be viewed as a Major scale with a raised 4th interval.

Next we have the 5th. The fifth is the 3rd most important interval because it has the power to effect a tonality AFTER it has had it’s identity established as a Major or Minor tonality. The 5th has the power to further effect the tonality by altering it to the conditions of Augmented or Diminished,Harmonic Major,etc.The 5th in the second octave however is still the 5th in the second octave, PERIOD. This is the only sense that I can see that the term “perfect” can be applied to the 5th. The starting point of the Major scale at the 5th interval is as such:G A B C D E F G. This is known as the MIXOLYDIAN MODE. It can also be viewed as a Major scale with a flat 7th interval. Just to step outside yourself for awhile try mixing the Mixolydian mode with Harmonic Minor a half step back from key center. It forms a weird version of the DORIAN Mode ( an interval displacement technique) It’s cool check it out.Are we having fun yet?!?! Makes you feel kinda Holdsworthish ! As a matter of fact Allan Holdsworth ,Bill Connors,Greg Howe, and Frank Gamble have Mastered this particular technique. You can use the technique of interval displacement in ANY situation. This technique always reminded me of inversions on acid or something strange. ha ha!

This takes us to the 6th.The 6th is kinda tricky because:

  1. It has many identities which relate at any given point to almost any tonality.
  2. 2.When viewed in either Major or Minor tonalities and used through 2 octaves forms a 13th. As a chord ,the harmonic construction forms a diatonic scale ex.key of C. C E G B D F A. This looks weird until you realize that all the notes necessary to create all the modes and scales in the given key center and tonality are right here!
  3. 3.The 6th interval of the Major scale is also known as the ” relative Minor, simply put because if you use the 6th interval of the Major scale as a starting point you will be playing the AEOLIAN MODE or as it is best known the MINOR SCALE. It looks as such: A B C D E F G A. Another thing about the 6th is that it can be viewed as one of the 2, 7ths of the DIMINISHED SCALE as a matter of fact it equals the same interval as the double flat 7th.

Finally we come to the last interval in the diatonic scale which is the 7th. The 7th is also known as the leading tone because it takes us to within at “most” one whole step from the root or key center and when used correctly can simulate a Minor feel to a Major related tonality. when used as a starting point in the major scale at looks as such: B C D E F G A B also known as the LOCRIAN MODE . Which can be viewed as a Minor scale with a flat 2nd and flat 5th, THIS IS NOT DIMINISHED!!!!! ,DO NOT BE FOOLED .This is easy enough to find out just by checking the interval count. And there you have it, the real deal on intervals. This is just one of the interval studies that we’ll be investigating so saddle up for the ride. Till then…………………….Plug in and Make the dogs Howllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!!!!!!


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