The following are music note intervals that all competent bass guitar players must know.
Spending time now to learn music note intervals will highly benefit your playing in various ways including:
- systematically training your ears to identify specific music notes being played in songs
- understanding how arpeggio chords are constructed and why they are given specific names
- helping to understand how the greatest songs of all time were written and why they sound amazing
- becoming a significantly better original song writer by obtaining new ideas
- learning cover songs a lot faster by more easily identifying music note patterns
- better improvised playing during jam sessions and through those dreaded unfamiliar song requests during live gigs
What Is A Music Note Interval?
A music note interval is simply the difference in sound pitch between two different music notes. This pitch difference is subdivided into frets on your bass guitar fretboard. You can think of music note intervals like ‘building blocks of sound’ that you can piece together to create different music scales, arpeggio chords and song progressions.
Music Note Intervals
The below information teaches the first 12 music note intervals on a bass guitar fretboard, with standard E, A, D and G tuning, starting from the ‘A’ note located on the 5th fret of the E string.
Why did I choose the ‘A’ note as the starting point to teach music note intervals, and not some other music note like the ‘C’, that is commonly used in music theory textbooks?
This is because using the ‘A’ note as a starting point to measure music note intervals from is:
- one of the easiest and most common central fretboard locations to play songs from
- well positioned to easily see the music note inervals positioned around it
- a great position to play ’12 Bar Blues in the Key of A’ from which many musicians know
So let’s learn the first 12 music note intervals!
1. What Is The ‘Root Note’?
The ‘Root note’ is commonly referred to as the ‘Tonic’ or ‘Fundamental’ note. It is the reference point:
- that all other music note intervals are measured from
- commonly referred to as the ‘Key’ in a music note scale
- all other notes in an arpeggio chord are built from
The ‘Root’ note ( i.e. starting point) in our example is the ‘A’ note on the 5th fret of the E string.
The “Root’ note can be located anywhere on a bass guitar fretboard you want it to be. If you change the ‘Root’ note to another location on the fretboard, all of its associated music note intervals will move with it.
2. What Is A ‘minor Second’?
A minor 2nd is one fret away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a minor 2nd interval is an ‘A#’ and ‘Bb’ note.
The minor second is also commonly used in darker, more evil sounding metal music.
A famous example of using a minor 2nd interval is in the ‘Jaws’ movie where alternate playing between the root and minor 2nd notes creates a sense of ‘suspense’ and ‘darkness’ just before the shark attacks human victims.
3. What Is A ‘Major Second’?
A Major 2nd is two frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Major 2nd interval is the ‘B’ note.
Moving two frets up from the tonic to the major second note is generally referred to as moving
up a ‘whole tone’ in sound.
4. What Is A ‘minor Third’?
A minor 3rd is three frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a minor 3rd interval is the ‘C’ note.
Two common locations where you can play a minor 3rd interval from our ‘A’ root note are:
- 8th fret on the E string
- 3rd fret on the A string
Which specific minor 3rd interval you play is up to you as they are both the same ‘C’ note but they will resonate slightly different tone. The one you choose to play will likely be determined by the note you need to play after you play the minor 3rd note.
5. What Is A ‘Major Third’?
A Major 3rd is four frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Major 3rd interval is a ‘C#’ and ‘Db’ note.
Like the minor 3rd, the Major 3rd interval can also be easily played at two locations, with both having their own unique tone.
6. What Is A ‘Perfect Fourth’?
A perfect 4th is five frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Perfect 4th interval is a ‘D’ note.
Therefore when you jump across a string on the same fret to a higher note, you are moving up a
perfect 4th in terms of sound. Your bass guitar’s E, A, D and G strings are purposely tuned so
that each string above the next is a perfect 4th interval.
A perfect 4th is a critical component of the famous ’12 Bar 1, 4, 5 blues chord progression. We will
eventually learn about 12 bar blues playing, but first, you need to understand music note intervals.
7. What Is An ‘Augemented Fourth’ or ‘diminished Fifth’?
An Augmented 4th, also called a diminished 5th, is five frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, an Augmented 4th and diminished 5th
interval is a ‘D#’ and ‘Eb’ note.
This music note is called the ‘blue note’ when playing blues or jazz because introduces a sense of tension requiring release when playing a 5 interval pentatonic scale.
8. What Is A ‘Perfect Fifth’?
A Perfect 5th note is seven frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Perfect 5th interval is an ‘E’ note.
The Root and Perfect 5th notes are commonly strummed together to create the famous power chord used in rock music. It may only be two notes played together, but with some distortion and sustain added via an effect pedal, it’s real ear candy.
A good example of playing a bass guitar power chord is Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea
playing the ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magic’ intro.
9. What Is A ‘minor Sixth’?
The minor 6th note is eight frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a minor 6th interval is an ‘F’ note.
Two common locations to play a minor 6th interval from an ‘A’ root note are:
- 8th fret on the ‘A’ string
- 3rd fret on the ‘D’ string
Like the minor and major 3rds, each individual minor sixth note will resonate with its own tone when plucked.
10. What Is A ‘Major Sixth’?
The major 6th note is nine frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Major 6th internval is a ‘F#’ and ‘Gb’ note.
11. What Is A ‘minor Seventh’?
The minor 7th note is ten frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note is our example is an ‘A’ note, a minor 7th interval is a ‘G’ note.
Note that a minor 7th interval from the root note is located on the exact same fret but two strings across.
12. What Is A ‘Major Seventh’?
The major 7th note is eleven frets away from the Root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Major 7th interval is a ‘G#’ and ‘Ab’ note.
13. What Is A ‘Perfect Octave’?
A Perfect Octave is twelve frets away from the root note.
Because the Root note in our example is an ‘A’ note, a Perfect Octave interval is a second higher ptiched ‘A’ note. In fact, when comparing the two sounds:
- the lower ‘A’ root note vibrates 440 times per second (i.e. hertz) with a 78.4 centimetres long sound wave
- the higher ‘A’ octave note vibrates twice as fast at 880 hertz with a half length 39.2 centimetre sound wave
This divisible mathematical relationship where a root note sound wave is perfectly divisible by a higher frequency octave sound wave is very pleasing to hear when both notes are played together.
A good example of playing root and perfect octave notes is the ‘My Sharona’ bass line by Prescot Niles of ‘The Knack’. Prescott’s root and perfect octave are actually ‘G’ notes though, and not the ‘A’ notes we’re referencing. The same concept applies though.
14. All Our First 12 Music Note Intervals Combined
This is what all the music note intervals look like combined, from the ‘A’ Root note on the 5th fret of the E string, to the ‘A’ Perfect Octave note on the 7th fret of the ‘D’ string.
Learn and remember all of these intervals so they become second nature. Practise jumping from the root to each interval on your fretboard, and back again, with your eyes closed.
Also, try to remember the name and sound of each note interval as you play them. It won’t take long to learn them all resulting in your playing and music theory knowledge gaining a significant boost. Your efforts will definitely pay off.
All Music Note Intervals From ‘Root’ to ‘Perfect Octave’
|Fret Number||Interval Number||Interval||Note|
|2||1||minor 2nd||A# / Bb|
|5||4||Major 3rd||C# / Db|
|7||6||Aug 4th/ dim 5th||D# / Eb|
|10||9||Major 6th||F# / Gb|
|12||11||Major 7th||G# / Ab|
The above table shows all 12 intervals from Root to Perfect Octave. Note that, including the Root note, there are 13 frets, but 12 actual intervals, which is the distance between two frets.
What Happens If I Move The Position Of The Root Note?
If you move the Root note, all of its related intervals will move with it.
For example, the following table shows what happens when the Root note moves up two frets to a ‘B’ note that is located on the 7th fret of the E string. Notice that each intervals’ new corresponding note moves up two semi-tones, or one whole tone, compared to the previous table above.
|Fret Number||Interval Number||Interval||Note|
|3||2||Major 2nd||C# / Db|
|5||4||Major 3rd||D# / Eb|
|7||6||Aug 4th / dim 5th||F|
|8||7||Perfect 5th||F# / Gb|
|10||9||Major 6th||G# / Ab|
|12||11||Major 7th||A# / Bb|
Moving the root note and its intervals up two frets resulted in an ‘A’ to ‘B’ key change. This is essentially how arpeggio chord changes work, except using less notes than all 12 intervals. Moving a root note and its corresponding intervals equates to a music key change.
This concludes our lesson of music note intervals.