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Music (Part 6)

Introducing The Dots...

Article from Sound International, November 1978

If you haven't got perfect pitch yet, tune in again to Radio Dave Stewart and try your hand at the quiz that will prove once and for all whether your tone is deaf.

The distance between any two notes is described in musical terms as an 'interval'. These intervals describe exactly the difference in pitch between two notes; for example, the interval of middle C and the G above it is known as a 'Perfect 5th'. Taking the scale of C major as a simple example, here are the names of the intervals:

After the octave, we can continue:

After that it's simpler to say 'an octave plus a major 7th' etc. We could in fact describe a major 9th as an octave plus a major 2nd, a major 10th as an octave plus a major 3rd, etc. The choice is really a matter of personal preference.

It helps a lot to have a good understanding of these intervals, as they form the basis of chords. I think it's virtually impossible to have a good chord sense and be able to find interesting voicings for chords unless you can recognise and appreciate the intervals working within the chord — but more of this later.

I don't have a convincing explanation of why some intervals are 'major' while others are 'perfect', by the way - I find this sort of thing in music very irritating, but there it is!

There are, of course, other intervals hiding in between the ones I've already shown you. So much to learn, so little time...

We've used our old friend 'C' again here as the reference point, but these interval names 'apply whatever the starting note. Another example:

Get it? Guitarists may find this sort of thing a little easier than pianists, as they can calculate each interval in terms of numbers of frets.

Minor 2nd. 1 fret
Major 2nd. 2 frets
Minor 3rd. 3 frets
Major 3rd. 4 frets
Perfect 4th. 5 frets
Augmented 4th. 6 frets
Diminished 5th. 6 frets
Perfect 5th. 7 frets
Minor 6th. 8 frets
Major 6th. 9 frets
Minor 7th. 10 frets
Major 7th. 11 frets
Octave 12 frets


Pianists may initially have a harder time memorising intervals on their instruments, as the layout of the keyboard gives rise to visual discrepancies. For example a perfect fifth can be two white notes (C & G), two black notes (Eb & Bb), or a combination (Bb & F). Of course they all sound like fifths, but the difference in the visual patterning often serves to confuse the young nervous player groping desperately at the keys. Don't let me put you off, though.

I think it's about time we had a quiz to liven this article up. See if you can work out the names of these intervals:

(Answers on Page 62)

Unfortunately the finances of this magazine don't permit me to offer pink Cadillacs or weekends with Britt Ekland as incentive prizes for the lucky interval-guesser, but let your consolation be that you are adding bit by bit to your paltry musical knowledge. Anyone getting no 21 right must have cheated, as I haven't yet explained about tenor and alto clefs. Shame on you!

Now, the part you've all been waiting for. You loved the sharps and flats; you roared at the time signatures; you wept unashamedly at the antics of the little semiquavers, howled in terror at the awful double flats and micturated with mirth over the syncopations. Now, from the same team that brought you all this, comes — (Pause: then in pronounced transatlantic accent) CHORDS.

Any three notes played simultaneously constitute a chord. The major chord is the simplest:

The name of a chord is determined by its ingredients, the three (or more) notes within it. The exact position of these three notes is not important as regards establishing the name of the chord. C, E and G make up a chord of 'C major', and can be played:

or even:

as long as these three notes are represented somehow within the chord, it'll be called C major. The three most common positions of this chord (on piano) are:

all of which can be played comfortably with one hand.

Looking back to the intervals explained earlier, you'll note that the three ingredients are: 1 Key note or 'root', 2 Major 3rd, 3 Perfect 5th. This is true of all major chords:

(NB I'm assuming you know by now that F# major sounds the same as Gb major, and am therefore not bothering to write out all the alternative versions.)

If we use a minor 3rd instead of a major 3rd, and keep the other two notes the same, the chord becomes a 'minor chord'.

In sheet music, chords are often written in a sort of shorthand; a major chord will be written simply as C, G, D or whatever. (It isn't necessary to write in the 'major'). Minor chords are written Cm, Gm, Dm, etc.

To acquaint you with these symbols, here are a few random major and minor chords in various keys and positions:

For obvious reasons, scales and chords tend to work very closely together. If a melody is in the scale of C major, then a C major chord is an obvious choice for something that will harmonise with it. G# minor won't sound so harmonious in conjunction with the C major scale. If, in a melody in the key of C major (good old C major! What would we do without it?) a long note of E occurred, then a C major chord would fit well underneath. A long F note would need a change of chord, unless that special 'suspended' effect of an F note over a C major chord was required; Dm or F would work fine.

There are no rules here, though. I'm not writing this article to try to teach you how to write music, or tell you whether it's permissible or not to use certain notes in conjunction with certain chords. You can use any note you like sounded against any chord. If you're clever, you'll even be able to make it sound good. I'm simply pointing out certain conventions which apply to diatonic (= in a key) music, to help you make sense of writing and reading it.

One problem that often occurs is to know which chords to use to accompany a melody. If you know all the major or minor chords (and remember, there are only 24!) you are actually in a position to accompany most straightforward tunes, albeit in a clumsy and extremely boring way. But if more subtlety is required, our quest for extra chords must continue.

One of the simpler 4-note chords is the 7th (sometimes written dominant 7th).

'Dominant' is Latin for 'leading', and the dominant 7th chord does have a very strong feeling of wanting to lead to another chord. In fact it leads to another chord a 4th up, eg C7 to F or G7 to C, in such splendid and unequivocal style that experts on harmony have dubbed this chordal movement a 'Perfect Cadence'. Perfect it may well be but it's also astonishingly corny, having been over-used in popular music for the last hundred years.

Here are the twelve 7th chords in their most mundane positions:

Now, there's a point here which could, quite easily, utterly confuse you. The interval between

is, as you know, a minor 7th; however when we describe a chord of

we refer to it as C7, not C minor 7. C minor 7 does exist, though. However, as in ordinary 3-note chords, the 'minor' refers to the 3rd. The chord of C minor 7 is:

The important thing to remember when bandying about terms like 'minor 7th' and 'major 9th' is whether you are describing an interval or a chord. The same phrase can mean something quite different, as we have already seen.

Minor 7th chords are much nicer than ordinary 7th chords. I shan't bother writing them all out in each key, but do remember that in any one key a minor 7th (or indeed, any other) chord can be played lots of different ways. All these chords are variants of A minor 7:

There are many types of chord which you'll need to know about. I'll be back next month to tell you about these ... stay tuned.

Answers to 'Spot The Interval' quiz

1 Perfect 5th; 2 Major 6th; 3 Major 3rd; 4 Octave; 5 Diminished 5th; 6 Minor 6th; 7 Minor 7th; 8 Octave; 9 Minor 3rd; 10 Augmented 4th; 11 Minor 6th; 12 Major 7th; 13 Perfect 5th; 14 Minor 7th; 15 Perfect 4th; 16 Perfect 4th; 17 Perfect 5th; 18 Minor 3rd; 19 Major 6th; 20 Octave; 21 Octave & Major 6th.


21 right: Smart Alec, eh? Perhaps you ought to contact Dave Stewart and suggest you take over the article.

15-20 right: Adequate. Don't give up the day job.

10-14 right: Not wonderful, but I'll grudgingly concede it's less than totally discouraging.

5-9 right: You probably had the page the wrong way up. Try again when you're in a better mood.

0-4 right: Dumkopf. What are you, a drummer? Go back to the first few issues and re-read them, carefully this time.

Series - "Music"

Read the next part in this series:

Music (Part 7)
(SI Jan 79)

All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 (Viewing) | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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Hugh Murphy

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Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - Nov 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman


Music Theory



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 (Viewing) | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

Feature by Dave Stewart

Previous article in this issue:

> Hugh Murphy

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> Skywave

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