Hearing Chromatic Intervals | Hub Guitar

Hearing Chromatic Intervals

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Before you tackle this lesson, you should feel pretty comfortable hearing the major scale intervals: major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth and major seventh. If you're not, go back and learn those before continuing.

We're going to talk about the 5 "chromatic" intervals. These are notes that we get from outside of the key. In the key of C the chromatic intervals would be C#/Db, D#/Eb, F#/Gb, G#/Ab and A#/Bb. We're going to approach this in the key of C. But in other keys, the chromatic intervals are not necessarily sharp or flats. For instance, in the key of F, which normally has a Bb for its fourth, the note B natural is a #4, and would be a chromatic note in that key. It should be natural 4. So if you hear the B natural, that's out of the key.

Although we're learning these notes by their relationship to the key, this becomes really useful when you can apply it towards understanding chords. In fact, most of the time when we think about intervals, the root of the key will NOT be the reference point. The reference point will either be a previous note in the melody, as in "this melody leaps by a major sixth", or it will be the bass note of a chord, as in, "that chord has a major third in it." However, it's easiest to learn these in the key of C, and by using the C scale as a reference.

Let's take a look at the five chromatic intervals.

We can get three of the chromatic intervals just by reference to the minor scale. The minor scale has a flat 3, flat 6 and flat 7. Let's talk about those first.

First Minor third If you sing it, the syllables are "do" and "me".

For the Minor sixth If you sing it, the syllables are Do and Le.

For the Minor seventh If you sing it, the syllables are Do and Te.

There are two more intervals not found in the major or minor scale (at least when using the root of the scale as the first note). Those intervals are the minor second and the augmented fourth.

The Minor second will be the syllable to sing this is Do to Ra.

Augmented fourth The syllable to sing this is Do to Fi.

Note that most of the intervals here could be thought of as some other type and be given some other name. For instance, the augmented fourth is a raised fourth, which could also be thought of as a diminished fifth, which is a fifth lowered by half-step. However, the sound is the same. And since this lesson is focused more on the sound of the notes than the theory of why they exist, we can leave it at that for now.

You can practice these intervals with software that quizzes you by giving you the sound of a random interval and asking you to identify it, or you can practice it by drilling random intervals on the guitar.

Practice hearing these intervals and you'll be rewarded with a greater understanding of music, and an improved ability to recognize the melodies and chords in the music that you hear.

What’s a Chromatic Interval?

In another Ear Training lesson, we learned about diatonic intervals. We considered only the intervals having relationship to the root of the major scale; for instance, even though “mi” to “fa” (E to F) is a half step and therefore a minor second interval, it didn’t make the list because it can’t be created using “do” (C) as the lowest note.

In this study, we’re going to look at five chromatic intervals. These will be created by tones outside of the major scale.

The first three chromatic notes come from the minor scale:

Chromatic Intervals from Minor Scale

unisonmajor 2ndminor 3rdperfect 4thperfect 5thminor 6thminor 7thoctave

By singing the minor scale ascending and descending, we can internalize the sounds of these three new notes. We can also try to get the sound “stuck” in our ear by comparing it to something we already know. After all, you don’t need to “learn” these intervals—that’s crazy! You know them from hearing them in music. You only need to associate the sounds with the names.

Intervals Found in the Minor Scale

Minor Third

Do to Me. This interval is called a minor third; it is like a major third, except it is a half step smaller and so-named because it is found in the minor scale. You can hear this interval between the second and third notes of Greensleeves: (a) “las” / “my” (love, you do me wrong).

Minor Sixth

Do to Le. This interval is called a minor sixth. You can hear this interval in the first two notes of “Black Orpheus.” You can also hear it in theme to the movie Love Story. (Where) “do I” / “begin”?

Minor Seventh

Do to Te. Even less common than the last, this interval is a big leap and not often used in melodies. You can hear it in the original Star Trek theme, when the female vocal begins, between the first two notes.

Intervals Not Found in the Minor Scale

In addition to these three, there are two more that we have not found. These are a minor second (C to D♭) and an augmented fourth (C to F♯). The minor second is associated with the Phrygian mode, and the augmented fourth is associated with the Lydian mode, both of which you’ll learn in another lesson about modes.

Minor Second

Do to Ra. Imagine the Jaws theme song. The eerie back-and-forth movement between the two notes of the minor second interval is what makes this theme so memorable.

Augmented Fourth

Do to Fi. This interval is best known for its presence in the Simpsons theme song. It is the ninth note in theme.

Alternate Spellings

Most of these intervals could be spelled enharmonicIn 12-tone equal temperament, a note is enharmonic if its spelling has changed. Since G♯ and A♭ are the same note in this system, G♯ can be referred to as the enharmonic spelling of A♭. ally. For instance, what interval is formed by combining C and A♭? If you said a minor sixth, you’d be correct. But you can also say the second note is a G♯. What interval is formed by combining a C and a G♯? It would be an augmented fifth. Same two notes, same sound, but technically a different interval entirely.

This doesn’t mean much for the purpose of this lesson, but later on it can have a big impact. Depending on the note’s functionFunction is the role a note, or a whole chord, plays in a key, particularly with respect to their tendency to move towards or away from other notes and chords in that key., it might behave a different way and also be given a different name. It might also be heard a different way, too!

Key Task

Make sure you can remember which chromatic interval is associated with what music. If you don’t know the songs mentioned above (which is likely), see if you can think of your own way to remember the intervals.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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