Alternative Ways To Play Intervals
Because the same notes are repeated in several places on the neck, it is possible to play every interval in several ways. For every interval, there is a pattern to be found on the neck both above and below the note that we’re measuring from.
Try playing every interval chromatically starting from the C on the E string. Go up on the E string until you get to the E and carry on from the F on the 8th fret of the A string. Again, move up on the A string before moving to the next string for the last three notes (Bb, B and C).
Notice how each note you play doesn’t go any higher than the C you started from. We can also play the same intervals without going higher than the original starting note. Try starting on C again but this time move to the 4th fret on the A string for the Db. Continue working upwards until you reach the 8th fret and change strings again.
These two methods give you different options when it comes to playing intervals. You now know how to play an interval going up and down from your starting note. This will give you alternative fingering options when playing so you can assess which note is closer to reach. The most common instances of these different fingerings are the thirds and the sixths. Practice using both shapes for the major and minor thirds and sixths and you’ll start to see them in everything you play.
An inversion occurs when we take the top note of an interval and move it down an octave, or take the bottom note of an interval and move it up and octave. When we do this, we are using the same two notes but in a different order. Let’s take a major third as an example – C to E. If we move the C up an octave to make it E to C, the major third becomes a minor sixth. The same applies if we move the E down the octave in the original interval.
There is a quick and simple system to remember when learning how to measure what intervals result from an inversion. That is:
Major intervals become minor.
Minor intervals become major.
Perfect intervals stay the same.
The number is then switched to its opposite.
A second becomes a seventh.
A third becomes a sixth.
A fourth beceomes a fifth.
A fifth becomes a fourth.
A sixth becomes a third.
A seventh becomes a second.
Let’s try a few examples in the key of C:
- Take a perfect fourth – C to F – and drop the F down an octave. You now have a perfect fifth.
- Take a major sixth – C to A – and take the A down an octave. This is now a minor third.
- Take a major seventh – C to B – becomes a minor second.
Augmented intervals become diminished when you flip them and vice versa.
C to Gb = Diminished Fifth
Drop the Gb down an octave and you get an augmented fourth.
Inversions are also a useful way of measuring backwards from a root note. Take a perfect fifth for example – C to G. If we look at the G below the C then the interval shape is different – it becomes a perfect fourth. If we take a major seventh – C to B – and invert it to B to C, then it becomes a minor second.
This outlines the major differences between intervals and scale degrees. When we look at C to G, we can say that the G is a fifth scale degree from C. No matter what the direction or the distance – the G can be in any octave or position on the neck but it is always a fifth. The name changes to a perfect fourth when the G is below the root.
Scale degrees describe the relationship between two notes whereas intervals describe the distance. Both methods are useful, but the one we use depends on what we are describing.
You will come across scale degrees written with extra information in the name – 3, b3, #4, 7 etc. These are just simple abbreviations that use accidental terms like sharp and flat to indicate alterations to the perfect and major intervals.
A perfect fifth would be written as 5.
An augmented fifth would be written as #5.
A major third would be written as 3.
A minor third would be written as b3.
This way of writing scale degrees and intervals is often used in describing the intervallic construction of scales and arpeggios. Here are some examples of how scales would be described in this way:
Major scale – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Lydian scale – 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
Harmonic minor – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
This is quicker than writing complete intervals like major 2nd, major third, perfect 4th etc. to describe a scale.
Using Intervals To ‘See’ Music
When learning anything on bass, it pays to see every note as an interval pattern or as a succession of interval patterns. Using intervals and scale degrees means you assign a number and any alterations to a note, which makes it a lot easier to transpose something into a different key.
Intervals are the smallest building blocks in music and are used to create scales, arpeggios and basically everything else. This allows us to relate everything we learn to larger musical frameworks, rather than memorising everything in patterns and phrases. Every interval reference contains more information than if you just learn a song by patterns. That is why it is really important to start learning songs in relation to the key centre.
All intervals have a specific sound that contributes towards creating a certain mood. If I want to create a melancholy feeling, I’d go for notes like the minor 6th and minor 3rd. You could say I was using a minor scale or arpeggio, but remember that these are just combinations of intervals building blocks. The emotional value of each larger musical unit is the sum total of the individual intervals within it.