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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Next UK ABRSM Online Theory Exams Grades 1-5:
16th March 2021
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8:
Sat 8th May 2021


Grade 2 Music Theory - Lesson 14: Intervals

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 2   Trinity Grade 2   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 


Harmonic and Melodic Intervals

harmonic interval is the distance between two notes played at the same time. It is called a "harmonic interval", because the two notes together create harmony, or a chord.

harmonic dm

melodic interval is the distance between two notes played one after the other. It's called a "melodic interval", because the two notes occur as part of a melody.

melodic dm

Working out Intervals

The method of working out intervals is the same for both melodic and harmonic intervals: Count up the letter names, starting from the lower note.

Look again at the intervals above.

The lower note is D. The higher note is F. This means we count the letter names D, E and F. Three letters, so this interval is a third.

When two notes are exactly the same pitch (the same position on the stave), the interval is called a unison. 

unison dm

An interval of an 8th is normally called an octave, or "8ve" for short.

octave dm

Here are the intervals from the unison to the octave in D minor, built on top of the tonic note D:

d minor intervals


Writing Intervals

You might get a question which asks you to write a note to make the named interval, something like this:

Add a note next to this note, to make the melodic interval of a 5th. The key is A minor.

write interval am

Count the letter names, starting with the given note, A. We need to count five letters: A-B-C-D-E. Here is the answer:

writing intervals am a

If there is no key signature, you will need to remember which sharps or flats belong in the scale of that key. For example, in F major, there is one flat: Bb, so you will need to add a Bb accidental to the interval of a 4th.

4th accidental

If the interval you have to write is a unison or harmonic 2nd, you would need to move the top note to the side of the lower one, otherwise they will cross over each other! They should be right next to each other, touching. A melodic unison or 2nd should have a clear gap between the two notes.



Interval Quality (Trinity Only)

Note: for grade 2 ABRSM, you will not be asked about an interval's quality.


All intervals have a quality, which is another word to describe more precisely what they sound like. For Trinity grade 2, you need to know about these intervals and their qualities:

  • major 2nd and 3rd
  • minor 2nd and 3rd
  • perfect 4th
  • perfect 5th
  • perfect octave

The interval between the tonic and 2nd degree of any major or minor scale is called a major 2nd.The major 2nd is It is also known as a tone in British English, or a whole step in USA English.

Here are some examples of major 2nds:

major 2nds

The minor 2nd is the same as a semitone (British English) or half step (USA English). Here are some examples of minor 2nds:

minor 2nds

The minor 2nd is one semitone narrower than the major 2nd. 


The interval between the tonic and the 3rd degree of the scale can also be major or minor.

We find a major 3rd from the tonic of a major scale. For example, there is a major third between G and B:

major 3rd

And there is a minor 3rd from the tonic of a minor scale. For example, there is a minor 3rd between E and G:

minor 3rd

If you count the semitones carefully, you will see that a minor third is one semitone narrower than a major 3rd, just like the minor 2nd was one semitone less than the major 2nd. In the major 3rd there are four semitones, but the minor 3rd has only three.


A perfect 4th is found when we count four letter names, and the distance between the notes is two tones (whole steps) and a semitone (half step).

For example, if we begin on C and count four letter names, we arrive at F: C-D-E-F.

perfect 4th

C to D is a tone (whole step), and so is D to E. We then need a semitone step, and we arrive at F.

C to F is a perfect 4th. So are D-G, E-A, F-Bb, G-C, A-D and B-E.


A perfect 5th is found when we count five letter names, and the distance between the notes is three tones (whole steps) and a semitone (half step).

perfect 5th

These are all perfect 5ths: C-G, D-A, E-B, F-C, G-D, A-E, B-F#.

A perfect octave is simply the same note but an octave higher.

perfect 8ve

C-C is a perfect octave, and so are D-D, E-E and so on.



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