Interval (music)

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Interval (music)
Melodic and harmonic intervals.

In music theory, an interval is the difference in pitch between two sounds. [1] An interval may be described as horizontal, linear, or melodic if it refers to successively sounding tones, such as two adjacent pitches in a melody, and vertical or harmonic if it pertains to simultaneously sounding tones, such as in a chord. [2] [3]

Music theory considers the practices and possibilities of music

Music theory is the study of the practices and possibilities of music. The Oxford Companion to Music describes three interrelated uses of the term "music theory":

The first is what is otherwise called 'rudiments', currently taught as the elements of notation, of key signatures, of time signatures, of rhythmic notation, and so on. [...] The second is the study of writings about music from ancient times onwards. [...] The third is an area of current musicological study that seeks to define processes and general principles in music — a sphere of research that can be distinguished from analysis in that it takes as its starting-point not the individual work or performance but the fundamental materials from which it is built.

Chord (music) harmonic set of three or more notes

A chord, in music, is any harmonic set of pitches consisting of multiple notes that are heard as if sounding simultaneously. For many practical and theoretical purposes, arpeggios and broken chords, or sequences of chord tones, may also be considered as chords.


In Western music, intervals are most commonly differences between notes of a diatonic scale. The smallest of these intervals is a semitone. Intervals smaller than a semitone are called microtones. They can be formed using the notes of various kinds of non-diatonic scales. Some of the very smallest ones are called commas, and describe small discrepancies, observed in some tuning systems, between enharmonically equivalent notes such as C and D. Intervals can be arbitrarily small, and even imperceptible to the human ear.

Western culture Norms, values and political systems originating in Europe

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is the heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems, artifacts and technologies that originated in or are associated with Europe. The term also applies beyond Europe to countries and cultures whose histories are strongly connected to Europe by immigration, colonization, or influence. For example, Western culture includes countries in the Americas and Australasia, whose language and demographic ethnicity majorities are European. Western culture has its roots in Greco-Roman culture from before 800 B.C.E..

Musical note sign used in musical notation, a pitched sound

In music, a note is the pitch and duration of a sound, and also its representation in musical notation. A note can also represent a pitch class. Notes are the building blocks of much written music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis.

In western music theory, a diatonic scale is a heptatonic scale that includes five whole steps and two half steps (semitones) in each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps, depending on their position in the scale. This pattern ensures that, in a diatonic scale spanning more than one octave, all the half steps are maximally separated from each other.

In physical terms, an interval is the ratio between two sonic frequencies. For example, any two notes an octave apart have a frequency ratio of 2:1. This means that successive increments of pitch by the same interval result in an exponential increase of frequency, even though the human ear perceives this as a linear increase in pitch. For this reason, intervals are often measured in cents, a unit derived from the logarithm of the frequency ratio.

Interval ratio ratio of the frequencies of the pitches in a musical interval

In music, an interval ratio is a ratio of the frequencies of the pitches in a musical interval. For example, a just perfect fifth is 3:2, 1.5, and may be approximated by an equal tempered perfect fifth which is 27/12. If the A above middle C is 440 Hz, the perfect fifth above it would be E, at (440*1.5=) 660 Hz, while the equal tempered E5 is 659.255 Hz.

The cent is a logarithmic unit of measure used for musical intervals. Twelve-tone equal temperament divides the octave into 12 semitones of 100 cents each. Typically, cents are used to express small intervals, or to compare the sizes of comparable intervals in different tuning systems, and in fact the interval of one cent is too small to be heard between successive notes.

Logarithm Inverse function of exponentiation that also maps products to sums

In mathematics, the logarithm is the inverse function to exponentiation. That means the logarithm of a given number x is the exponent to which another fixed number, the base b, must be raised, to produce that number x. In the simplest case, the logarithm counts repeated multiplication of the same factor; e.g., since 1000 = 10 × 10 × 10 = 103, the "logarithm to base 10" of 1000 is 3. The logarithm of x to baseb is denoted as logb (x) (or, without parentheses, as logbx, or even without explicit base as log x, when no confusion is possible). More generally, exponentiation allows any positive real number to be raised to any real power, always producing a positive result, so logb (x) for any two positive real numbers b and x where b is not equal to 1, is always a unique real number y. More explicitly, the defining relation between exponentiation and logarithm is:

In Western music theory, the most common naming scheme for intervals describes two properties of the interval: the quality (perfect, major, minor, augmented, diminished) and number (unison, second, third, etc.). Examples include the minor third or perfect fifth. These names identify not only the difference in semitones between the upper and lower notes, but also how the interval is spelled. The importance of spelling stems from the historical practice of differentiating the frequency ratios of enharmonic intervals such as G–G and G–A. [4]

Minor third musical interval

In the music theory of Western culture, a minor third is a musical interval that encompasses three half steps, or semitones. Staff notation represents the minor third as encompassing three staff positions. The minor third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is called minor because it is the smaller of the two: the major third spans an additional semitone. For example, the interval from A to C is a minor third, as the note C lies three semitones above A, and (coincidentally) there are three staff positions from A to C. Diminished and augmented thirds span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones. The minor third is a skip melodically.

Perfect fifth musical interval

In music theory, a perfect fifth is the musical interval corresponding to a pair of pitches with a frequency ratio of 3:2, or very nearly so.


Interval (music)
Example: Perfect octave on C in equal temperament and just intonation: 2/1 = 1200 cents.

The size of an interval (also known as its width or height) can be represented using two alternative and equivalently valid methods, each appropriate to a different context: frequency ratios or cents.

Frequency ratios

The size of an interval between two notes may be measured by the ratio of their frequencies. When a musical instrument is tuned using a just intonation tuning system, the size of the main intervals can be expressed by small-integer ratios, such as 1:1 (unison), 2:1 (octave), 5:3 (major sixth), 3:2 (perfect fifth), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 (major third), 6:5 (minor third). Intervals with small-integer ratios are often called just intervals, or pure intervals.

Ratio relationship between two numbers of the same kind

In mathematics, a ratio is a relationship between two numbers indicating how many times the first number contains the second. For example, if a bowl of fruit contains eight oranges and six lemons, then the ratio of oranges to lemons is eight to six. Similarly, the ratio of lemons to oranges is 6:8 and the ratio of oranges to the total amount of fruit is 8:14.

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.

Musical instrument History and classification

A musical instrument is an instrument created or adapted to make musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can be considered a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates to the beginnings of human culture. Early musical instruments may have been used for ritual, such as a trumpet to signal success on the hunt, or a drum in a religious ceremony. Cultures eventually developed composition and performance of melodies for entertainment. Musical instruments evolved in step with changing applications.

Most commonly, however, musical instruments are nowadays tuned using a different tuning system, called 12-tone equal temperament. As a consequence, the size of most equal-tempered intervals cannot be expressed by small-integer ratios, although it is very close to the size of the corresponding just intervals. For instance, an equal-tempered fifth has a frequency ratio of 2712:1, approximately equal to 1.498:1, or 2.997:2 (very close to 3:2). For a comparison between the size of intervals in different tuning systems, see § Size in different tuning systems.

Equal temperament The musical tuning system where the ratio between successive notes is constant

An equal temperament is a musical temperament, or a system of tuning, in which the frequency interval between every pair of adjacent notes has the same ratio. In other words, the ratios of the frequencies of any adjacent pair of notes is the same, and, as pitch is perceived roughly as the logarithm of frequency, equal perceived "distance" from every note to its nearest neighbor.


The standard system for comparing interval sizes is with cents. The cent is a logarithmic unit of measurement. If frequency is expressed in a logarithmic scale, and along that scale the distance between a given frequency and its double (also called octave) is divided into 1200 equal parts, each of these parts is one cent. In twelve-tone equal temperament (12-TET), a tuning system in which all semitones have the same size, the size of one semitone is exactly 100 cents. Hence, in 12-TET the cent can be also defined as one hundredth of a semitone.

Mathematically, the size in cents of the interval from frequency f1 to frequency f2 is

Main intervals

The table shows the most widely used conventional names for the intervals between the notes of a chromatic scale. A perfect unison (also known as perfect prime) [5] is an interval formed by two identical notes. Its size is zero cents. A semitone is any interval between two adjacent notes in a chromatic scale, a whole tone is an interval spanning two semitones (for example, a major second), and a tritone is an interval spanning three tones, or six semitones (for example, an augmented fourth). [lower-alpha 1] Rarely, the term ditone is also used to indicate an interval spanning two whole tones (for example, a major third), or more strictly as a synonym of major third.

Intervals with different names may span the same number of semitones, and may even have the same width. For instance, the interval from D to F is a major third, while that from D to G is a diminished fourth. However, they both span 4 semitones. If the instrument is tuned so that the 12 notes of the chromatic scale are equally spaced (as in equal temperament), these intervals also have the same width. Namely, all semitones have a width of 100 cents, and all intervals spanning 4 semitones are 400 cents wide.

The names listed here cannot be determined by counting semitones alone. The rules to determine them are explained below. Other names, determined with different naming conventions, are listed in a separate section. Intervals smaller than one semitone (commas or microtones) and larger than one octave (compound intervals) are introduced below.

Number of
Minor, major,
or perfect
Short Augmented or
ShortWidely used
alternative names
0 Perfect unison [5] [lower-alpha 2] P1 Diminished second d2 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
1 Minor second m2 Augmented unison [5] [lower-alpha 2] A1 Semitone, [lower-alpha 3] half tone, half stepS Loudspeaker.svg Play  
2 Major second M2 Diminished third d3 Tone, whole tone, whole stepT Loudspeaker.svg Play  
3 Minor third m3 Augmented second A2 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
4 Major third M3 Diminished fourth d4 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
5 Perfect fourth P4 Augmented third A3 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
6 Diminished fifth d5 Tritone [lower-alpha 1] TT Loudspeaker.svg Play  
Augmented fourth A4
7 Perfect fifth P5 Diminished sixth d6 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
8 Minor sixth m6 Augmented fifth A5 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
9 Major sixth M6 Diminished seventh d7 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
10 Minor seventh m7 Augmented sixth A6 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
11 Major seventh M7 Diminished octave d8 Loudspeaker.svg Play  
12 Perfect octave P8 Augmented seventh A7 Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Interval number and quality

Main intervals from C.
Play (help*info) Main intervals from C.png
Main intervals from C. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

In Western music theory, an interval is named according to its number (also called diatonic number) and quality. For instance, major third (or M3) is an interval name, in which the term major (M) describes the quality of the interval, and third (3) indicates its number.


Staff, with staff positions indicated. Staff lines and spaces SVG.svg
Staff, with staff positions indicated.
Fifth from C to G in the A major scale. Fifth C to G.png
Fifth from C to G in the A major scale.

The number of an interval is the number of letter names it encompasses or staff positions it encompasses. Both lines and spaces (see figure) are counted, including the positions of both notes forming the interval. For instance, the interval C–G is a fifth (denoted P5) because the notes from C to the G above it encompass five letter names (C, D, E, F, G) and occupy five consecutive staff positions, including the positions of C and G. The table and the figure above show intervals with numbers ranging from 1 (e.g., P1) to 8 (e.g., P8). Intervals with larger numbers are called compound intervals.

There is a one-to-one correspondence between staff positions and diatonic-scale degrees (the notes of a diatonic scale) [lower-alpha 4] . This means that interval numbers can be also determined by counting diatonic scale degrees, rather than staff positions, provided that the two notes that form the interval are drawn from a diatonic scale. Namely, C–G is a fifth because in any diatonic scale that contains C and G, the sequence from C to G includes five notes. For instance, in the A-major diatonic scale, the five notes are C–D–E–F–G (see figure). This is not true for all kinds of scales. For instance, in a chromatic scale, the notes from C to G are eight (C–C–D–D–E–F–F–G). This is the reason interval numbers are also called diatonic numbers, and this convention is called diatonic numbering.

If one adds any accidentals to the notes that form an interval, by definition the notes do not change their staff positions. As a consequence, any interval has the same interval number as the corresponding natural interval, formed by the same notes without accidentals. For instance, the intervals C–G (spanning 8 semitones) and C–G (spanning 6 semitones) are fifths, like the corresponding natural interval C–G (7 semitones).

Notice that interval numbers represent an inclusive count of encompassed staff positions or note names, not the difference between the endpoints. In other words, one starts counting the lower pitch as one, not zero. For that reason, the interval C–C, a perfect unison, is called a prime (meaning "1"), even though there is no difference between the endpoints. Continuing, the interval C–D is a second, but D is only one staff position, or diatonic-scale degree, above C. Similarly, C–E is a third, but E is only two staff positions above C, and so on. As a consequence, joining two intervals always yields an interval number one less than their sum. For instance, the intervals C–E and E–G are thirds, but joined together they form a fifth (C–G), not a sixth. Similarly, a stack of three thirds, such as C–E, E–G, and G–B, is a seventh (C–B), not a ninth.

This scheme applies to intervals up to an octave (12 semitones). For larger intervals, see § Compound intervals below.


Intervals formed by the notes of a C major diatonic scale. Diatonic intervals.png
Intervals formed by the notes of a C major diatonic scale.

The name of any interval is further qualified using the terms perfect (P), major (M), minor (m), augmented (A), and diminished (d). This is called its interval quality. It is possible to have doubly diminished and doubly augmented intervals, but these are quite rare, as they occur only in chromatic contexts. The quality of a compound interval is the quality of the simple interval on which it is based.


Perfect intervals on C.
PU (help*info)
P4 (help*info)
P5 (help*info)
P8 (help*info)
. Perfect intervals on C.png
Perfect intervals on C. Loudspeaker.svg PU  , Loudspeaker.svg P4  , Loudspeaker.svg P5  , Loudspeaker.svg P8  .

Perfect intervals are so-called because they were traditionally considered perfectly consonant, [6] although in Western classical music the perfect fourth was sometimes regarded as a less than perfect consonance, when its function was contrapuntal.[ vague ] Conversely, minor, major, augmented or diminished intervals are typically considered less consonant, and were traditionally classified as mediocre consonances, imperfect consonances, or dissonances. [6]

Within a diatonic scale [lower-alpha 4] all unisons (P1) and octaves (P8) are perfect. Most fourths and fifths are also perfect (P4 and P5), with five and seven semitones respectively. One occurrence of a fourth is augmented (A4) and one fifth is diminished (d5), both spanning six semitones. For instance, in a C-major scale, the A4 is between F and B, and the d5 is between B and F (see table).

By definition, the inversion of a perfect interval is also perfect. Since the inversion does not change the pitch class of the two notes, it hardly affects their level of consonance (matching of their harmonics). Conversely, other kinds of intervals have the opposite quality with respect to their inversion. The inversion of a major interval is a minor interval, the inversion of an augmented interval is a diminished interval.

Major and minor

Major and minor intervals on C.
m2 (help*info)
M2 (help*info)
m3 (help*info)
M3 (help*info)
m6 (help*info)
M6 (help*info)
m7 (help*info)
M7 (help*info) Major and minor intervals on C.png
Major and minor intervals on C. Loudspeaker.svg m2  , Loudspeaker.svg M2  , Loudspeaker.svg m3  , Loudspeaker.svg M3  , Loudspeaker.svg m6  , Loudspeaker.svg M6  , Loudspeaker.svg m7  , Loudspeaker.svg M7  

As shown in the table, a diatonic scale [lower-alpha 4] defines seven intervals for each interval number, each starting from a different note (seven unisons, seven seconds, etc.). The intervals formed by the notes of a diatonic scale are called diatonic. Except for unisons and octaves, the diatonic intervals with a given interval number always occur in two sizes, which differ by one semitone. For example, six of the fifths span seven semitones. The other one spans six semitones. Four of the thirds span three semitones, the others four. If one of the two versions is a perfect interval, the other is called either diminished (i.e. narrowed by one semitone) or augmented (i.e. widened by one semitone). Otherwise, the larger version is called major, the smaller one minor. For instance, since a 7-semitone fifth is a perfect interval (P5), the 6-semitone fifth is called "diminished fifth" (d5). Conversely, since neither kind of third is perfect, the larger one is called "major third" (M3), the smaller one "minor third" (m3).

Within a diatonic scale, [lower-alpha 4] unisons and octaves are always qualified as perfect, fourths as either perfect or augmented, fifths as perfect or diminished, and all the other intervals (seconds, thirds, sixths, sevenths) as major or minor.

Augmented and diminished

Augmented and diminished intervals on C.
d2 (help*info)
A2 (help*info)
d3 (help*info)
A3 (help*info)
d4 (help*info)
A4 (help*info)
d5 (help*info)
A5 (help*info)
d6 (help*info)
A6 (help*info)
d7 (help*info)
A7 (help*info)
d8 (help*info)
A8 (help*info) Augmented and diminished intervals on C.png
Augmented and diminished intervals on C. Loudspeaker.svg d2  , Loudspeaker.svg A2  , Loudspeaker.svg d3  , Loudspeaker.svg A3  , Loudspeaker.svg d4  , Loudspeaker.svg A4  , Loudspeaker.svg d5  , Loudspeaker.svg A5  , Loudspeaker.svg d6  , Loudspeaker.svg A6  , Loudspeaker.svg d7  , Loudspeaker.svg A7  , Loudspeaker.svg d8  , Loudspeaker.svg A8  

Augmented intervals are wider by one semitone than perfect or major intervals, while having the same interval number (i.e., encompassing the same number of staff positions). Diminished intervals, on the other hand, are narrower by one semitone than perfect or minor intervals of the same interval number. For instance, an augmented third such as C–E spans five semitones, exceeding a major third (C–E) by one semitone, while a diminished third such as C–E spans two semitones, falling short of a minor third (C–E) by one semitone.

The augmented fourth (A4) and the diminished fifth (d5) are the only augmented and diminished intervals that appear in diatonic scales [lower-alpha 4] (see table).


Neither the number, nor the quality of an interval can be determined by counting semitones alone. As explained above, the number of staff positions must be taken into account as well.

For example, as shown in the table below, there are four semitones between A and B, between A and C, between A and D, and between A and E Doubleflat.svg , but

of semitones
Interval name Staff positions
4doubly augmented second AB  
4 major third A C 
4 diminished fourth A  D
4triply diminished fifth A   E Doubleflat.svg

Shorthand notation

Intervals are often abbreviated with a P for perfect, m for minor, M for major, d for diminished, A for augmented, followed by the interval number. The indications M and P are often omitted. The octave is P8, and a unison is usually referred to simply as "a unison" but can be labeled P1. The tritone, an augmented fourth or diminished fifth is often TT. The interval qualities may be also abbreviated with perf, min, maj, dim, aug. Examples:


Major 13th (compound Major 6th) inverts to a minor 3rd by moving the bottom note up two octaves, the top note down two octaves, or both notes one octave Compound interval inversion.png
Major 13th (compound Major 6th) inverts to a minor 3rd by moving the bottom note up two octaves, the top note down two octaves, or both notes one octave

A simple interval (i.e., an interval smaller than or equal to an octave) may be inverted by raising the lower pitch an octave or lowering the upper pitch an octave. For example, the fourth from a lower C to a higher F may be inverted to make a fifth, from a lower F to a higher C.

Interval (music)

There are two rules to determine the number and quality of the inversion of any simple interval: [7]

  1. The interval number and the number of its inversion always add up to nine (4 + 5 = 9, in the example just given).
  2. The inversion of a major interval is a minor interval, and vice versa; the inversion of a perfect interval is also perfect; the inversion of an augmented interval is a diminished interval, and vice versa; the inversion of a doubly augmented interval is a doubly diminished interval, and vice versa.

For example, the interval from C to the E above it is a minor third. By the two rules just given, the interval from E to the C above it must be a major sixth.

Since compound intervals are larger than an octave, "the inversion of any compound interval is always the same as the inversion of the simple interval from which it is compounded." [8]

For intervals identified by their ratio, the inversion is determined by reversing the ratio and multiplying by 2. For example, the inversion of a 5:4 ratio is an 8:5 ratio.

For intervals identified by an integer number of semitones, the inversion is obtained by subtracting that number from 12.

Since an interval class is the lower number selected among the interval integer and its inversion, interval classes cannot be inverted.


Intervals can be described, classified, or compared with each other according to various criteria.

Interval (music)
Melodic and harmonic intervals.

Melodic and harmonic

An interval can be described as

Diatonic and chromatic

In general,

Ascending and descending chromatic scale on C
Play (help*info)
. Chromatic scale full octave ascending and descending on C.PNG
Ascending and descending chromatic scale on C Loudspeaker.svg Play  .

The table above depicts the 56 diatonic intervals formed by the notes of the C major scale (a diatonic scale). Notice that these intervals, as well as any other diatonic interval, can be also formed by the notes of a chromatic scale.

The distinction between diatonic and chromatic intervals is controversial, as it is based on the definition of diatonic scale, which is variable in the literature. For example, the interval B–E (a diminished fourth, occurring in the harmonic C-minor scale) is considered diatonic if the harmonic minor scales are considered diatonic as well. [9] Otherwise, it is considered chromatic. For further details, see the main article.

By a commonly used definition of diatonic scale [lower-alpha 4] (which excludes the harmonic minor and melodic minor scales), all perfect, major and minor intervals are diatonic. Conversely, no augmented or diminished interval is diatonic, except for the augmented fourth and diminished fifth.

The A-major scale.
Play (help*info) Ab major scale.png
The A-major scale. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

The distinction between diatonic and chromatic intervals may be also sensitive to context. The above-mentioned 56 intervals formed by the C-major scale are sometimes called diatonic to C major. All other intervals are called chromatic to C major. For instance, the perfect fifth A–E is chromatic to C major, because A and E are not contained in the C major scale. However, it is diatonic to others, such as the A major scale.

Consonant and dissonant

Consonance and dissonance are relative terms that refer to the stability, or state of repose, of particular musical effects. Dissonant intervals are those that cause tension and desire to be resolved to consonant intervals.

These terms are relative to the usage of different compositional styles.

All of the above analyses refer to vertical (simultaneous) intervals.

Simple and compound

Simple and compound major third.
Play (help*info) Simple and compound major third.png
Simple and compound major third. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

A simple interval is an interval spanning at most one octave (see Main intervals above). Intervals spanning more than one octave are called compound intervals, as they can be obtained by adding one or more octaves to a simple interval (see below for details). [13]

Steps and skips

Linear (melodic) intervals may be described as steps or skips. A step, or conjunct motion, [14] is a linear interval between two consecutive notes of a scale. Any larger interval is called a skip (also called a leap), or disjunct motion. [14] In the diatonic scale, [lower-alpha 4] a step is either a minor second (sometimes also called half step) or major second (sometimes also called whole step), with all intervals of a minor third or larger being skips.

For example, C to D (major second) is a step, whereas C to E (major third) is a skip.

More generally, a step is a smaller or narrower interval in a musical line, and a skip is a wider or larger interval, where the categorization of intervals into steps and skips is determined by the tuning system and the pitch space used.

Melodic motion in which the interval between any two consecutive pitches is no more than a step, or, less strictly, where skips are rare, is called stepwise or conjunct melodic motion, as opposed to skipwise or disjunct melodic motions, characterized by frequent skips.

Enharmonic intervals

Enharmonic tritones: A4 = d5 on C
Play (help*info)
. Enharmonic tritone.png
Enharmonic tritones: A4 = d5 on C Loudspeaker.svg Play  .

Two intervals are considered enharmonic , or enharmonically equivalent, if they both contain the same pitches spelled in different ways; that is, if the notes in the two intervals are themselves enharmonically equivalent. Enharmonic intervals span the same number of semitones.

For example, the four intervals listed in the table below are all enharmonically equivalent, because the notes F and G indicate the same pitch, and the same is true for A and B. All these intervals span four semitones.

of semitones
Interval name Staff positions
4 major third F A 
4major third G B
4 diminished fourth F  B
4doubly augmented second  GA 

When played as isolated chords on a piano keyboard, these intervals are indistinguishable to the ear, because they are all played with the same two keys. However, in a musical context, the diatonic function of the notes these intervals incorporate is very different.

The discussion above assumes the use of the prevalent tuning system, 12-tone equal temperament ("12-TET"). But in other historic meantone temperaments, the pitches of pairs of notes such as F and G may not necessarily coincide. These two notes are enharmonic in 12-TET, but may not be so in another tuning system. In such cases, the intervals they form would also not be enharmonic. For example, in quarter-comma meantone, all four intervals shown in the example above would be different.

Minute intervals

Pythagorean comma on C.
Play (help*info)
. The note depicted as lower on the staff (B#+++) is slightly higher in pitch (than C). Pythagorean comma on C.png
Pythagorean comma on C. Loudspeaker.svg Play  . The note depicted as lower on the staff (B +++) is slightly higher in pitch (than C).

There are also a number of minute intervals not found in the chromatic scale or labeled with a diatonic function, which have names of their own. They may be described as microtones, and some of them can be also classified as commas, as they describe small discrepancies, observed in some tuning systems, between enharmonically equivalent notes. In the following list, the interval sizes in cents are approximate.

Compound intervals

Simple and compound major third.
Play (help*info) Simple and compound major third.png
Simple and compound major third. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

A compound interval is an interval spanning more than one octave. [13] Conversely, intervals spanning at most one octave are called simple intervals (see Main intervals above).

In general, a compound interval may be defined by a sequence or "stack" of two or more simple intervals of any kind. For instance, a major tenth (two staff positions above one octave), also called compound major third, spans one octave plus one major third.

Any compound interval can be always decomposed into one or more octaves plus one simple interval. For instance, a major seventeenth can be decomposed into two octaves and one major third, and this is the reason why it is called a compound major third, even when it is built by adding up four fifths.

The diatonic number DNc of a compound interval formed from n simple intervals with diatonic numbers DN1, DN2, ..., DNn, is determined by:

which can also be written as:

The quality of a compound interval is determined by the quality of the simple interval on which it is based. For instance, a compound major third is a major tenth (1+(8−1)+(3−1) = 10), or a major seventeenth (1+(8−1)+(8−1)+(3−1) = 17), and a compound perfect fifth is a perfect twelfth (1+(8−1)+(5−1) = 12) or a perfect nineteenth (1+(8−1)+(8−1)+(5−1) = 19). Notice that two octaves are a fifteenth, not a sixteenth (1+(8−1)+(8−1) = 15). Similarly, three octaves are a twenty-second (1+3×(8−1) = 22), and so on.

Main compound intervals

Number of
Minor, major,
or perfect
Short Augmented or
12Diminished ninth d9
13 Minor ninth m9 Augmented octave A8
14 Major ninth M9Diminished tenthd10
15 Minor tenth m10 Augmented ninth A9
16 Major tenth M10Diminished eleventh d11
17 Perfect eleventh P11Augmented tenthA10
18Diminished twelfthd12
Augmented eleventh A11
19 Perfect twelfth or Tritave P12Diminished thirteenth d13
20Minor thirteenth m13Augmented twelfthA12
21Major thirteenth M13Diminished fourteenthd14
22Minor fourteenthm14Augmented thirteenth A13
23Major fourteenthM14Diminished fifteenth d15
24Perfect fifteenth or Double octaveP15Augmented fourteenthA14
25Augmented fifteenth A15

It is also worth mentioning here the major seventeenth (28 semitones)—an interval larger than two octaves that can be considered a multiple of a perfect fifth (7 semitones) as it can be decomposed into four perfect fifths (7 × 4 = 28 semitones), or two octaves plus a major third (12 + 12 + 4 = 28 semitones). Intervals larger than a major seventeenth seldom come up, most often being referred to by their compound names, for example "two octaves plus a fifth" [15] rather than "a 19th".

Intervals in chords

Chords are sets of three or more notes. They are typically defined as the combination of intervals starting from a common note called the root of the chord. For instance a major triad is a chord containing three notes defined by the root and two intervals (major third and perfect fifth). Sometimes even a single interval (dyad) is considered a chord. [16] Chords are classified based on the quality and number of the intervals that define them.

Chord qualities and interval qualities

The main chord qualities are: major, minor, augmented, diminished, half-diminished, and dominant. The symbols used for chord quality are similar to those used for interval quality (see above). In addition, + or aug is used for augmented, ° or dim for diminished, ø for half diminished, and dom for dominant (the symbol alone is not used for diminished).

Deducing component intervals from chord names and symbols

The main rules to decode chord names or symbols are summarized below. Further details are given at Rules to decode chord names and symbols.

  1. For 3-note chords (triads), major or minor always refer to the interval of the third above the root note, while augmented and diminished always refer to the interval of the fifth above root. The same is true for the corresponding symbols (e.g., Cm means Cm3, and C+ means C+5). Thus, the terms third and fifth and the corresponding symbols 3 and 5 are typically omitted. This rule can be generalized to all kinds of chords, [lower-alpha 5] provided the above-mentioned qualities appear immediately after the root note, or at the beginning of the chord name or symbol. For instance, in the chord symbols Cm and Cm7, m refers to the interval m3, and 3 is omitted. When these qualities do not appear immediately after the root note, or at the beginning of the name or symbol, they should be considered interval qualities, rather than chord qualities. For instance, in CmM7 (minor major seventh chord), m is the chord quality and refers to the m3 interval, while M refers to the M7 interval. When the number of an extra interval is specified immediately after chord quality, the quality of that interval may coincide with chord quality (e.g., CM7 = CMM7). However, this is not always true (e.g., Cm6 = CmM6, C+7 = C+m7, CM11 = CMP11). [lower-alpha 5] See main article for further details.
  2. Without contrary information, a major third interval and a perfect fifth interval (major triad) are implied. For instance, a C chord is a C major triad, and the name C minor seventh (Cm7) implies a minor 3rd by rule 1, a perfect 5th by this rule, and a minor 7th by definition (see below). This rule has one exception (see next rule).
  3. When the fifth interval is diminished, the third must be minor. [lower-alpha 6] This rule overrides rule 2. For instance, Cdim7 implies a diminished 5th by rule 1, a minor 3rd by this rule, and a diminished 7th by definition (see below).
  4. Names and symbols that contain only a plain interval number (e.g., “seventh chord”) or the chord root and a number (e.g., “C seventh”, or C7) are interpreted as follows:
    • If the number is 2, 4, 6, etc., the chord is a major added tone chord (e.g., C6 = CM6 = Cadd6) and contains, together with the implied major triad, an extra major 2nd, perfect 4th, or major 6th (see names and symbols for added tone chords).
    • If the number is 7, 9, 11, 13, etc., the chord is dominant (e.g., C7 = Cdom7) and contains, together with the implied major triad, one or more of the following extra intervals: minor 7th, major 9th, perfect 11th, and major 13th (see names and symbols for seventh and extended chords).
    • If the number is 5, the chord (technically not a chord in the traditional sense, but a dyad) is a power chord. Only the root, a perfect fifth and usually an octave are played.

The table shows the intervals contained in some of the main chords (component intervals), and some of the symbols used to denote them. The interval qualities or numbers in boldface font can be deduced from chord name or symbol by applying rule 1. In symbol examples, C is used as chord root.

Main chords Component intervals
Name Symbol examplesThirdFifthSeventh
Major triad CM3P5
CM, or CmajM3P5
Minor triad Cm, or Cminm3P5
Augmented triad C+, or CaugM3A5
Diminished triad C°, or Cdimm3d5
Dominant seventh chord C7, or Cdom7M3P5m7
Minor seventh chord Cm7, or Cmin7m3P5m7
Major seventh chord CM7, or Cmaj7M3P5M7
Augmented minor seventh chord C+7, Caug7,
C75, or C7aug5
Diminished seventh chord 7, or Cdim7m3d5d7
Half-diminished seventh chord Cø7, Cm75, or Cm7dim5m3d5m7

Size of intervals used in different tuning systems

Number of
Name 5-limit tuning
(pitch ratio)
Comparison of interval width (in cents)
5-limit tuning Pythagorean
0Perfect unison1:10000
1Minor second16:15
2Major second9:8
3Minor third6:5
(wolf) 269
4Major third5:4386408
(wolf) 427
5Perfect fourth4:3
(wolf) 522
(wolf) 462
6Augmented fourth
Diminished fifth
7Perfect fifth3:2
(wolf) 678
(wolf) 738
8Minor sixth8:5814792814800
9Major sixth5:3
10Minor seventh16:9
11Major seventh15:8
12Perfect octave2:11200120012001200

In this table, the interval widths used in four different tuning systems are compared. To facilitate comparison, just intervals as provided by 5-limit tuning (see symmetric scale n.1) are shown in bold font, and the values in cents are rounded to integers. Notice that in each of the non-equal tuning systems, by definition the width of each type of interval (including the semitone) changes depending on the note that starts the interval. This is the art of just intonation. In equal temperament, the intervals are never precisely in tune with each other. This is the price of using equidistant intervals in a 12-tone scale. For simplicity, for some types of interval the table shows only one value (the most often observed one).

In 14-comma meantone, by definition 11 perfect fifths have a size of approximately 697 cents (700  ε cents, where ε  3.42 cents); since the average size of the 12 fifths must equal exactly 700 cents (as in equal temperament), the other one must have a size of about 738 cents (700 + 11ε, the wolf fifth or diminished sixth); 8 major thirds have size about 386 cents (400  4ε), 4 have size about 427 cents (400 + 8ε, actually diminished fourths), and their average size is 400 cents. In short, similar differences in width are observed for all interval types, except for unisons and octaves, and they are all multiples of ε (the difference between the 14-comma meantone fifth and the average fifth). A more detailed analysis is provided at 14-comma meantone Size of intervals. Note that 14-comma meantone was designed to produce just major thirds, but only 8 of them are just (5:4, about 386 cents).

The Pythagorean tuning is characterized by smaller differences because they are multiples of a smaller ε (ε  1.96 cents, the difference between the Pythagorean fifth and the average fifth). Notice that here the fifth is wider than 700 cents, while in most meantone temperaments, including 14-comma meantone, it is tempered to a size smaller than 700. A more detailed analysis is provided at Pythagorean tuning#Size of intervals.

The 5-limit tuning system uses just tones and semitones as building blocks, rather than a stack of perfect fifths, and this leads to even more varied intervals throughout the scale (each kind of interval has three or four different sizes). A more detailed analysis is provided at 5-limit tuning#Size of intervals. Note that 5-limit tuning was designed to maximize the number of just intervals, but even in this system some intervals are not just (e.g., 3 fifths, 5 major thirds and 6 minor thirds are not just; also, 3 major and 3 minor thirds are wolf intervals).

The above-mentioned symmetric scale 1, defined in the 5-limit tuning system, is not the only method to obtain just intonation. It is possible to construct juster intervals or just intervals closer to the equal-tempered equivalents, but most of the ones listed above have been used historically in equivalent contexts. In particular, the asymmetric version of the 5-limit tuning scale provides a juster value for the minor seventh (9:5, rather than 16:9). Moreover, the tritone (augmented fourth or diminished fifth), could have other just ratios; for instance, 7:5 (about 583 cents) or 17:12 (about 603 cents) are possible alternatives for the augmented fourth (the latter is fairly common, as it is closer to the equal-tempered value of 600 cents). The 7:4 interval (about 969 cents), also known as the harmonic seventh, has been a contentious issue throughout the history of music theory; it is 31 cents flatter than an equal-tempered minor seventh. For further details about reference ratios, see 5-limit tuning#The justest ratios.

In the diatonic system, every interval has one or more enharmonic equivalents, such as augmented second for minor third.

Interval root

Intervals in the harmonic series. Harmonic series intervals.png
Intervals in the harmonic series.

Although intervals are usually designated in relation to their lower note, David Cope [12] and Hindemith [17] both suggest the concept of interval root. To determine an interval's root, one locates its nearest approximation in the harmonic series. The root of a perfect fourth, then, is its top note because it is an octave of the fundamental in the hypothetical harmonic series. The bottom note of every odd diatonically numbered intervals are the roots, as are the tops of all even numbered intervals. The root of a collection of intervals or a chord is thus determined by the interval root of its strongest interval.

As to its usefulness, Cope [12] provides the example of the final tonic chord of some popular music being traditionally analyzable as a "submediant six-five chord" (added sixth chords by popular terminology), or a first inversion seventh chord (possibly the dominant of the mediant V/iii). According to the interval root of the strongest interval of the chord (in first inversion, CEGA), the perfect fifth (C–G), is the bottom C, the tonic.

Interval cycles

Interval cycles, "unfold [i.e., repeat] a single recurrent interval in a series that closes with a return to the initial pitch class", and are notated by George Perle using the letter "C", for cycle, with an interval-class integer to distinguish the interval. Thus the diminished-seventh chord would be C3 and the augmented triad would be C4. A superscript may be added to distinguish between transpositions, using 0–11 to indicate the lowest pitch class in the cycle. [18]

Alternative interval naming conventions

As shown below, some of the above-mentioned intervals have alternative names, and some of them take a specific alternative name in Pythagorean tuning, five-limit tuning, or meantone temperament tuning systems such as quarter-comma meantone. All the intervals with prefix sesqui- are justly tuned, and their frequency ratio, shown in the table, is a superparticular number (or epimoric ratio). The same is true for the octave.

Typically, a comma is a diminished second, but this is not always true (for more details, see Alternative definitions of comma). For instance, in Pythagorean tuning the diminished second is a descending interval (524288:531441, or about −23.5 cents), and the Pythagorean comma is its opposite (531441:524288, or about 23.5 cents). 5-limit tuning defines four kinds of comma, three of which meet the definition of diminished second, and hence are listed in the table below. The fourth one, called syntonic comma (81:80) can neither be regarded as a diminished second, nor as its opposite. See Diminished seconds in 5-limit tuning for further details.

Number of
Generic namesSpecific names
Quality and number Other naming convention Pythagorean tuning 5-limit tuning 14-comma
0 perfect unison
or perfect prime
diminished second d2descending
Pythagorean comma
lesser diesis (128:125)
diaschisma (2048:2025)
greater diesis (648:625)
1 minor second m2 semitone,
half tone,
half step
diatonic semitone,
minor semitone
limma (256:243)
augmented unison
or augmented prime
A1chromatic semitone,
major semitone
apotome (2187:2048)
2 major second M2tone, whole tone, whole step sesquioctavum (9:8)
3 minor third m3 sesquiquintum (6:5)
4 major third M3 sesquiquartum (5:4)
5 perfect fourth P4 sesquitertium (4:3)
6 diminished fifth d5 tritone [lower-alpha 1]
augmented fourth A4
7 perfect fifth P5 sesquialterum (3:2)
12 perfect octave P8duplex (2:1)

Additionally, some cultures around the world have their own names for intervals found in their music. For instance, 22 kinds of intervals, called shrutis, are canonically defined in Indian classical music.

Latin nomenclature

Up to the end of the 18th century, Latin was used as an official language throughout Europe for scientific and music textbooks. In music, many English terms are derived from Latin. For instance, semitone is from Latin semitonus.

The prefix semi- is typically used herein to mean "shorter", rather than "half". [19] [20] [21] Namely, a semitonus, semiditonus, semidiatessaron, semidiapente, semihexachordum, semiheptachordum, or semidiapason, is shorter by one semitone than the corresponding whole interval. For instance, a semiditonus (3 semitones, or about 300 cents) is not half of a ditonus (4 semitones, or about 400 cents), but a ditonus shortened by one semitone. Moreover, in Pythagorean tuning (the most commonly used tuning system up to the 16th century), a semitritonus (d5) is smaller than a tritonus (A4) by one Pythagorean comma (about a quarter of a semitone).

Number of
Quality and number ShortLatin
0Perfect unisonP1unisonus
1Minor secondm2semitonus
Augmented unisonA1unisonus superflua
2Major secondM2tonus
Diminished third d3
3Minor thirdm3semiditonus
Augmented second A2tonus superflua
4Major thirdM3ditonus
Diminished fourth d4semidiatessaron
5Perfect fourthP4diatessaron
Augmented third A3ditonus superflua
6Diminished fifthd5semidiapente, semitritonus
Augmented fourthA4tritonus
7Perfect fifthP5diapente
Diminished sixth d6semihexachordum
8Minor sixthm6hexachordum minus, semitonus maius cum diapente, tetratonus
Augmented fifth A5diapente superflua
9Major sixthM6hexachordum maius, tonus cum diapente
Diminished seventh d7semiheptachordum
10Minor seventhm7heptachordum minus, semiditonus cum diapente, pentatonus
Augmented sixth A6hexachordum superflua
11Major seventhM7heptachordum maius, ditonus cum diapente
Diminished octave d8semidiapason
12Perfect octaveP8diapason
Augmented seventh A7heptachordum superflua

Pitch-class intervals

In post-tonal or atonal theory, originally developed for equal-tempered European classical music written using the twelve-tone technique or serialism, integer notation is often used, most prominently in musical set theory. In this system, intervals are named according to the number of half steps, from 0 to 11, the largest interval class being 6.

In atonal or musical set theory, there are numerous types of intervals, the first being the ordered pitch interval, the distance between two pitches upward or downward. For instance, the interval from C upward to G is 7, and the interval from G downward to C is −7. One can also measure the distance between two pitches without taking into account direction with the unordered pitch interval, somewhat similar to the interval of tonal theory.

The interval between pitch classes may be measured with ordered and unordered pitch-class intervals. The ordered one, also called directed interval, may be considered the measure upwards, which, since we are dealing with pitch classes, depends on whichever pitch is chosen as 0. For unordered pitch-class intervals, see interval class. [22]

Generic and specific intervals

In diatonic set theory, specific and generic intervals are distinguished. Specific intervals are the interval class or number of semitones between scale steps or collection members, and generic intervals are the number of diatonic scale steps (or staff positions) between notes of a collection or scale.

Notice that staff positions, when used to determine the conventional interval number (second, third, fourth, etc.), are counted including the position of the lower note of the interval, while generic interval numbers are counted excluding that position. Thus, generic interval numbers are smaller by 1, with respect to the conventional interval numbers.


Specific interval Generic interval Diatonic name
Number of semitones Interval class
000Perfect unison
111Minor second
221Major second
332Minor third
442Major third
553Perfect fourth
Augmented fourth
Diminished fifth
754Perfect fifth
845Minor sixth
935Major sixth
1026Minor seventh
1116Major seventh
1207Perfect octave

Generalizations and non-pitch uses

Division of the measure/chromatic scale, followed by pitch/time-point series.
Play (help*info) Time-point series.png
Division of the measure/chromatic scale, followed by pitch/time-point series. Loudspeaker.svg Play  

The term "interval" can also be generalized to other music elements besides pitch. David Lewin's Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations uses interval as a generic measure of distance between time points, timbres, or more abstract musical phenomena. [23] [24]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 The term tritone is sometimes used more strictly as a synonym of augmented fourth (A4).
  2. 1 2 The perfect and the augmented unison are also known as perfect and augmented prime.
  3. The minor second (m2) is sometimes called diatonic semitone, while the augmented unison (A1) is sometimes called chromatic semitone.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 The expression diatonic scale is herein strictly defined as a 7-tone scale, which is either a sequence of successive natural notes (such as the C-major scale, C–D–E–F–G–A–B, or the A-minor scale, A–B–C–D–E–F–G) or any transposition thereof. In other words, a scale that can be written using seven consecutive notes without accidentals on a staff with a conventional key signature, or with no signature. This includes, for instance, the major and the natural minor scales, but does not include some other seven-tone scales, such as the melodic minor and the harmonic minor scales (see also Diatonic and chromatic).
  5. 1 2 General rule 1 achieves consistency in the interpretation of symbols such as CM7, Cm6, and C+7. Some musicians legitimately prefer to think that, in CM7, M refers to the seventh, rather than to the third. This alternative approach is legitimate, as both the third and seventh are major, yet it is inconsistent, as a similar interpretation is impossible for Cm6 and C+7 (in Cm6, m cannot possibly refer to the sixth, which is major by definition, and in C+7, + cannot refer to the seventh, which is minor). Both approaches reveal only one of the intervals (M3 or M7), and require other rules to complete the task. Whatever is the decoding method, the result is the same (e.g., CM7 is always conventionally decoded as C–E–G–B, implying M3, P5, M7). The advantage of rule 1 is that it has no exceptions, which makes it the simplest possible approach to decode chord quality.
    According to the two approaches, some may format the major seventh chord as CM7 (general rule 1: M refers to M3), and others as CM7 (alternative approach: M refers to M7). Fortunately, even CM7 becomes compatible with rule 1 if it is considered an abbreviation of CMM7, in which the first M is omitted. The omitted M is the quality of the third, and is deduced according to rule 2 (see above), consistently with the interpretation of the plain symbol C, which by the same rule stands for CM.
  6. All triads are tertian chords (chords defined by sequences of thirds), and a major third would produce in this case a non-tertian chord. Namely, the diminished fifth spans 6 semitones from root, thus it may be decomposed into a sequence of two minor thirds, each spanning 3 semitones (m3 + m3), compatible with the definition of tertian chord. If a major third were used (4 semitones), this would entail a sequence containing a major second (M3 + M2 = 4 + 2 semitones = 6 semitones), which would not meet the definition of tertian chord.

Related Research Articles

Just intonation

In music, just intonation or pure intonation is the tuning of musical intervals as (small) whole number ratios of frequencies. Any interval tuned in this way is called a just interval. Just intervals and chords are aggregates of harmonic series partials and may be seen as sharing a (lower) implied fundamental. For example, a tone with a frequency of 300 Hz and another with a frequency of 200 Hz are both multiples of 100 Hz. Their interval is, therefore, an aggregate of the second and third partials of the harmonic series of an implied fundamental frequency 100 Hz.

Pythagorean tuning

Pythagorean tuning is a system of musical tuning in which the frequency ratios of all intervals are based on the ratio 3:2. This ratio, also known as the "pure" perfect fifth, is chosen because it is one of the most consonant and easiest to tune by ear and because of importance attributed to the integer 3. As Novalis put it, "The musical proportions seem to me to be particularly correct natural proportions." Alternatively, it can be described as the tuning of the syntonic temperament in which the generator is the ratio 3:2, which is ≈702 cents wide.

In music theory, the tritone is defined as a musical interval composed of three adjacent whole tones. For instance, the interval from F up to the B above it is a tritone as it can be decomposed into the three adjacent whole tones F–G, G–A, and A–B. According to this definition, within a diatonic scale there is only one tritone for each octave. For instance, the above-mentioned interval F–B is the only tritone formed from the notes of the C major scale. A tritone is also commonly defined as an interval spanning six semitones. According to this definition, a diatonic scale contains two tritones for each octave. For instance, the above-mentioned C major scale contains the tritones F–B and B–F. In twelve-equal temperament, the tritone divides the octave exactly in half.

Enharmonic (in modern musical notation and tuning) note, interval, or key signature that is equivalent to some other note, interval, or key signature but "spelled", or named differently

In modern musical notation and tuning, an enharmonic equivalent is a note, interval, or key signature that is equivalent to some other note, interval, or key signature but "spelled", or named differently. Thus, the enharmonic spelling of a written note, interval, or chord is an alternative way to write that note, interval, or chord. For example, in twelve-tone equal temperament, the notes C and D are enharmonic notes. Namely, they are the same key on a keyboard, and thus they are identical in pitch, although they have different names and different roles in harmony and chord progressions. Arbitrary amounts of accidentals can produce further enharmonic equivalents, such as B, although these are much rarer and have less practical use.

Wolf interval particularly dissonant musical interval spanning seven semitones present in most meantone tuning systems

In music theory, the wolf fifth is a particularly dissonant musical interval spanning seven semitones. Strictly, the term refers to an interval produced by a specific tuning system, widely used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: the quarter-comma meantone temperament. More broadly, it is also used to refer to similar intervals produced by other tuning systems, including most meantone temperaments.

Pythagorean comma small interval in Pythagorean tuning between two enharmonically equivalent notes such as C and B♯

In musical tuning, the Pythagorean comma (or ditonic comma), named after the ancient mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, is the small interval (or comma) existing in Pythagorean tuning between two enharmonically equivalent notes such as C and B (Play ), or D and C. It is equal to the frequency ratio (1.5)12/128 = about 1.01364, or about 23.46 cents, roughly a quarter of a semitone (in between 75:74 and 74:73). The comma which musical temperaments often refer to tempering is the Pythagorean comma.

Semitone musical interval

A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. It is defined as the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale. For example, C is adjacent to C; the interval between them is a semitone.

Major third musical interval

In classical music from Western culture, a third is a musical interval encompassing three staff positions, and the major third is a third spanning four semitones. Along with the minor third, the major third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is qualified as major because it is the larger of the two: the major third spans four semitones, the minor third three. For example, the interval from C to E is a major third, as the note E lies four semitones above C, and there are three staff positions from C to E. Diminished and augmented thirds span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones.

Minor sixth musical interval

In classical music from Western culture, a sixth is a musical interval encompassing six staff positions, and the minor sixth is one of two commonly occurring sixths. It is qualified as minor because it is the smaller of the two: the minor sixth spans eight semitones, the major sixth nine. For example, the interval from A to F is a minor sixth, as the note F lies eight semitones above A, and there are six staff positions from A to F. Diminished and augmented sixths span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones.

Augmented fifth musical interval

In classical music from Western culture, an augmented fifth is an interval produced by widening a perfect fifth by a chromatic semitone. For instance, the interval from C to G is a perfect fifth, seven semitones wide, and both the intervals from C to G, and from C to G are augmented fifths, spanning eight semitones. Being augmented, it is considered a dissonant interval.

Comma (music) small musical interval, the difference between two tunings of the same note

In music theory, a comma is a minute interval, the difference resulting from tuning one note two different ways. The word comma used without qualification refers to the syntonic comma, which can be defined, for instance, as the difference between an F tuned using the D-based Pythagorean tuning system, and another F tuned using the D-based quarter-comma meantone tuning system. Intervals separated by the ratio 81:80 are considered the same note because the 12-note Western chromatic scale does not distinguish Pythagorean intervals from 5-limit intervals in its notation. Other intervals are considered commas because of the enharmonic equivalences of a tuning system. For example, in 53TET, B and A are both approximated by the same interval although they are a septimal kleisma apart.

Quarter-comma meantone, or 14-comma meantone, was the most common meantone temperament in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and was sometimes used later. In this system the perfect fifth is flattened by one quarter of a syntonic comma (81:80), with respect to its just intonation used in Pythagorean tuning ; the result is . The purpose is to obtain justly intoned major thirds. It was described by Pietro Aron in his Toscanello de la Musica of 1523, by saying the major thirds should be tuned to be "sonorous and just, as united as possible." Later theorists Gioseffo Zarlino and Francisco de Salinas described the tuning with mathematical exactitude.

Pythagorean interval

In musical tuning theory, a Pythagorean interval is a musical interval with frequency ratio equal to a power of two divided by a power of three, or vice versa. For instance, the perfect fifth with ratio 3/2 (equivalent to 31/21) and the perfect fourth with ratio 4/3 (equivalent to 22/31) are Pythagorean intervals.

Diminished second musical interval

In modern Western tonal music theory, a diminished second is the interval produced by narrowing a minor second by one chromatic semitone. It is enharmonically equivalent to a perfect unison. Thus, it is the interval between notes on two adjacent staff positions, or having adjacent note letters, altered in such a way that they have no pitch difference in twelve-tone equal temperament. An example is the interval from a B to the C immediately above; another is the interval from a B to the C immediately above.

Diminished third musical interval

In classical music from Western culture, a diminished third is the musical interval produced by narrowing a minor third by a chromatic semitone. For instance, the interval from A to C is a minor third, three semitones wide, and both the intervals from A to C, and from A to C are diminished thirds, two semitones wide. Being diminished, it is considered a dissonant interval.

Diatonic and chromatic

Diatonic and chromatic are terms in music theory that are most often used to characterize scales, and are also applied to musical instruments, intervals, chords, notes, musical styles, and kinds of harmony. They are very often used as a pair, especially when applied to contrasting features of the common practice music of the period 1600–1900.

Regular diatonic tuning

A regular diatonic tuning is any musical scale consisting of "tones" (T) and "semitones" (S) arranged in any rotation of the sequence TTSTTTS which adds up to the octave with all the T's being the same size and all the S's the being the same size, with the 'S's being smaller than the 'T's. In such a tuning, then the notes are connected together in a chain of seven fifths, all the same size which makes it a Linear temperament with the tempered fifth as a generator.

Five-limit tuning, 5-limit tuning, or 5-prime-limit tuning (not to be confused with 5-odd-limit tuning), is any system for tuning a musical instrument that obtains the frequency of each note by multiplying the frequency of a given reference note (the base note) by products of integer powers of 2, 3, or 5 (prime numbers limited to 5 or lower), such as 2−3·31·51 = 15/8.


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  5. 1 2 3 "Prime (ii). See Unison" (from Prime. Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed August 2013. (subscription required))
  6. 1 2 Definition of Perfect consonance in Godfrey Weber's General music teacher, by Godfrey Weber, 1841.
  7. Kostka, Stephen; Payne, Dorothy (2008). Tonal Harmony, p. 21. First Edition, 1984.
  8. Prout, Ebenezer (1903). Harmony: Its Theory and Practice, 16th edition. London: Augener & Co. (facsimile reprint, St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1970), p. 10. ISBN   0-403-00326-1.
  9. See for example William Lovelock, The Rudiments of Music (New York: St Martin's Press; London: G. Bell, 1957): [ page needed ], reprinted 1966, 1970, and 1976 by G. Bell, 1971 by St Martins Press, 1981, 1984, and 1986 London: Bell & Hyman. ISBN   9780713507447 (pbk). ISBN   9781873497203
  10. Drabkin, William (2001). "Fourth". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  11. Helmholtz, Hermann L. F. On the Sensations of Tone as a Theoretical Basis for the Theory of Music Second English Edition translated by Ellis, Alexander J. (1885) reprinted by Dover Publications with new introduction (1954) ISBN   0-486-60753-4, page 182d "Just as the coincidences of the two first upper partial tones led us to the natural consonances of the Octave and Fifth, the coincidences of higher upper partials would lead us to a further series of natural consonances."
  12. 1 2 3 Cope, David (1997). Techniques of the Contemporary Composer, pp. 40–41. New York, New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN   0-02-864737-8.
  13. 1 2 Wyatt, Keith (1998). Harmony & Theory... Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 77. ISBN   0-7935-7991-0.
  14. 1 2 Bonds, Mark Evan (2006). A History of Music in Western Culture, p.123. 2nd ed. ISBN   0-13-193104-0.
  15. Aikin, Jim (2004). A Player's Guide to Chords and Harmony: Music Theory for Real-World Musicians, p. 24. ISBN   0-87930-798-6.
  16. Károlyi, Otto (1965), Introducing Music, p. 63. Hammondsworth (England), and New York: Penguin Books. ISBN   0-14-020659-0.
  17. Hindemith, Paul (1934). The Craft of Musical Composition. New York: Associated Music Publishers. Cited in Cope (1997), p. 40–41.
  18. Perle, George (1990). The Listening Composer, p. 21. California: University of California Press. ISBN   0-520-06991-9.
  19. Gioseffo Zarlino, Le Istitutione harmoniche ... nelle quali, oltre le materie appartenenti alla musica, si trovano dichiarati molti luoghi di Poeti, d'Historici e di Filosofi, si come nel leggerle si potrà chiaramente vedere (Venice, 1558): 162.
  20. J. F. Niermeyer, Mediae latinitatis lexicon minus: Lexique latin médiéval–français/anglais: A Medieval Latin–French/English Dictionary, abbreviationes et index fontium composuit C. van de Kieft, adiuvante G. S. M. M. Lake-Schoonebeek (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1976): 955. ISBN   90-04-04794-8.
  21. Robert De Handlo: The Rules, and Johannes Hanboys, The Summa: A New Critical Text and Translation, edited and translated by Peter M. Lefferts. Greek & Latin Music Theory 7 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991): 193fn17. ISBN   0803279345.
  22. Roeder, John. "Interval Class". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online . Oxford University Press.(subscription required)
  23. Lewin, David (1987). Generalized Musical Intervals and Transformations, for example sections 3.3.1 and 5.4.2. New Haven: Yale University Press. Reprinted Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN   978-0-19-531713-8
  24. Ockelford, Adam (2005). Repetition in Music: Theoretical and Metatheoretical Perspectives, p. 7. ISBN   0-7546-3573-2. "Lewin posits the notion of musical 'spaces' made up of elements between which we can intuit 'intervals'....Lewin gives a number of examples of musical spaces, including the diatonic gamut of pitches arranged in scalar order; the 12 pitch classes under equal temperament; a succession of time-points pulsing at regular temporal distances one time unit apart; and a family of durations, each measuring a temporal span in time units....transformations of timbre are proposed that derive from changes in the spectrum of partials..."