Hearing Major Scale Intervals | Hub Guitar

Hearing Major Scale Intervals

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We're going to look at all of the notes in the major scale, and think of them in terms of their distance from the root of the scale. We'll do this in C, but it works in every key of course.

If you play two C's of the same exact type, that's called a unison.

From the first note of the scale to its second, we have a major second. That makes sense. It's the second note of the scale, and it's a major scale.

From the first note to the third we have a major third. That makes sense too.

From the first note to the fourth is a perfect fourth. This interval exists in most scales, whether major or minor, so it's called a perfect fourth.

From the first note to the fifth is a perfect fifth. Just like the perfect fourth, almost every scale has this same interval.

From the first note to the sixth is the major sixth.

From the first note to the seventh is the major seventh.

And finally from the first C to another C is an octave. It's the same note but it vibrates at twice the frequency so it sounds higher.

Once you've become familiar with these, you can start to recognize intervals by thinking of the lower note as being the root note of a major scale.

Let's try some practice. One thing you can do is just find any two notes on the guitar and try to quiz yourself and figure out what are those two notes. You want to think of the lower note as the root of the scale, and ask yourself in that major scale that would be built from the lower note, what role would the higher note play? In this case we have a major fifth. So if you can learn to recognize those by ear, find them on the guitar, all of the intervals that exist from the root to another note of a major scale, and then find random intervals and try to figure out what they are. That'll really help you so that when you are learning songs by ear, you can figure out what all the notes are and then you maybe don't need to go online and download tabs anymore.

So What’s an Interval?

An interval is the distance between any two notes. For simple intervals, this distance can be as little as zero (two notes in unisonTwo notes of exactly the same pitch; for instance, two “C” notes. It is not possible to play a unison on a standard piano. On a guitar it is possible using two strings.) or as great as 12 (an octaveAn interval of twelve semitones. Octaves are very important in music theory.). Using the root of the major scale, we can think of the other notes in the scale as intervals above the root. Many of the possible intervals can be found this way. For example, the interval of two semitoneThe smallest possible distance between two pitches, also called a half step or minor second.s is called a major second and can be found between “C” and “D” of the major scale. But the interval of one semitone, called a minor second, can be found using “E” and “F”, but it cannot be found beginning on “C” when using this scale.

Learning to hear, play and sing all of these intervals is a very helpful skill to have in many areas: writing music, learning guitar by ear, and improvising.

Now we’re going to learn the names of the intervals that we can find in the major scale, using the root as the first note of the interval.

Let’s start by playing our one-octave C major scale, from C to C.

Let’s sing along as we play the notes. We’ll use syllables called solfege to give each note its own name; that way we can learn to tell them apart. You’ve probably encountered solfege before, particularly in the song, “Do Re Mi” which begins: “Doe / a deer / a female deer.”

Major Scale Intervals Chart

unisonmajor 2ndmajor 3rdperfect 4thperfect 5thmajor 6thmajor 7thoctave

In another lesson on intervals, we talked about how each interval has a two-part name: the first part, its number, indicates its scale distance from the root. The second part, its quality, indicates whether it is major, minor, perfect, and so forth. In the major scale, all of the notes form an interval with the root that is either major or perfect. And that is why those particular intervals are called “major”—for instance, an interval of two semitones is called a major second because if the lower note was the root of a major scale, the higher note would be the second note of the major scale, or a major second.

How to Remember the Intervals

Major Second

Do to Re … the first interval that appears in the major scale, this interval is a major second. It can be heard in the beginning of the song, “Happy Birthday” between ‘happy’ and ‘birth’.

Major Third

Do to Mi … the next interval is a major third. This interval is heard in the song, “Oh When the Saints Go Marching In,” between ‘oh’ and ‘when’.

Perfect Fourth

Do to Fa … this interval is called a perfect fourth. It is present in the first two notes of the Bridal Chorus (“Here Comes The Bride”) between ‘here’ and ‘comes’.

Perfect Fifth

Do to So … called a perfect fifth, this interval can be heard in the opening interval of the Star Wars theme.

Major Sixth

Do to La … this is a major sixth. This interval can be heard in Leia’s Theme from Star Wars. It’s also between ‘way’ and ‘up’ in the song, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”.

Major Seventh

Do to Ti … a little less common, this interval is called a major seventh. It can be heard in the song “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka between the lyrics ‘in’ (a) ‘world’.


Do to Do … this is the octave. It is the opening interval for “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Another Method For Remembering

The song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” uses every interval in the major scale. See if you can figure out the notes, write them down, and then sing them in solfege.

Key Exercises

  1. Play the intervals on your guitar. Both as “mini-chords”, and separately, as a melody.
  2. Sing the intervals to yourself.
  3. Play a note on the guitar. Can you sing the major scale with that note as the root?
  4. Now, can you choose a note and sing a perfect 5th above it?
  5. If you don’t recognize the songs mentioned above, see if you can find out which song you know use these intervals.

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