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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Next UK ABRSM Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 6-8:
Tue 16th November 2021 [Grades 1-5 available online on demand from Aug 2021]
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8:
Sat 6th November 2021

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Intervals and Pitch

Intervals and Pitch

In the Grade 7 music theory exam, questions relating to intervals and pitch normally involve some other aspect of music theory which makes them a bit more complicated.

Most often, you’ll have to transpose at least one note into concert pitch in order to find the solution. At other times, you might need to deal with a less familiar clef, and of course, you need to know all the relevant terminology, as well as how to work out intervals themselves.

At this stage, you should already know how intervals work, and that a “melodic” interval is formed between two consecutive notes and a “harmonic” interval is formed between two simultaneous notes. If you have any doubts about naming intervals (as “diminished”, “augmented”, “compound” and so on, look back at Grade 5 theory!)


Transposing to Concert Pitch

In order to work out an interval, all notes must be converted to concert pitch before you do anything else. Get some scrap manuscript paper to work your answer out on, as it’s difficult to keep all the information in your head!

The following instruments are already written at concert pitch (in other words, they are not transposing instruments):

  • Flute, oboe, bassoon, trombone, tuba, violin, viola, cello, harp, piano, harpsichord, timpani


The following instruments transpose at the octave, meaning that the written note is an octave higher or lower than concert pitch:

  • Piccolo (transpose up into concert pitch)
  • Double bass (transpose down into concert pitch)


The following are transposing instruments in different keys:

  • Clarinet and trumpet in Bb (or “si b” (Italian/French) or “B” (German)) (transpose down a major 2nd)
  • Clarinet in A (or “la”) (transpose down a minor 3rd)
  • Clarinet in Eb (or “mi b”) (transpose up a minor 3rd)
  • Bass clarinet in Bb (transpose down an octave and a major 2nd)
  • Cor Anglais and French horn in F (or “fa”) (transpose down a perfect 5th)


Clarinets, trumpets and horns can be found in several transposition keys, so the key is always given.

Bass clarinets and cors Anglais are always in the same transposition key, so it is not given and you will need to remember that they transpose!

Remember that when a C clef is used, the centre of the clef surrounds the line where middle C (not any old C!) is found:

 c clefs middle c    treble clef middle c


How to Work out an Interval

To work out any interval, first work out what both notes are at concert pitch, then write them using the same clef, so that the interval can be calculated more easily. Always count an interval from the lower sounding note, (regardless of how they are written in the original score).

Here’s a harmonic interval between cor Anglais and cello. First take the cor Anglais note, and transpose it into concert pitch by putting it down a perfect 5th (B) (using the treble clef).

interval cor anglais cello grade 7

Next, take the cello note, and put that into the same clef as the first note. This is D just above middle C, so it’s the D at the bottom of the stave.

Finally, work out the interval between D-B – it’s a major 6th.


Other Terms for Intervals

1. A chromatic semitone is the same thing as an augmented unison. It occurs when the same letter name is used for both notes, but one is raised or lowered by a semitone with an accidental.

rising descending chromatic semitone augmented unison


2. A unison occurs when both (or all) notes are exactly the same sounding pitch. These three instruments are sounding in unison – all of them are playing D below middle C:

unison grade 7 music theory


3. An enharmonic equivalent is the same pitch spelled a different way, for example C# and Db. Here are some examples:

enharmonic equivalent grade 7 music theory


4. The term “8va…….” (or “8ve”) is written above the stave, to show that the written notes should be played an octave higher. This term is used in order to avoid excessive ledger lines, which can be awkward to read and messy on the page. The line will show how far the octave displacement needs to be continued.

8ve 8va symbol music

After an “8va…” sign, you will normally find the term “loco”, which means “in place” – or at the normal pitch.



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