Definition and Examples of Melodic Intervals

Learn More About Interval Quantity and Quality

Close-Up Of Man Playing Piano
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In music notation or in instrumentation, the distance between two notes is called an interval. When you play notes separately, one after another, you are playing a melody. The distance between these notes is called a melodic interval. 

In contrast, a when you play two notes together, at the same time, that is called a harmonic interval. A chord in music notation is an example of a harmonic interval.

Different Types of Melodic Intervals

The first step in naming an interval is looking at the distance between the notes as they are written on the staff.

Interval Quantity

The number of an interval is based on the number of lines and spaces contained by the interval on the music staff. You would simply add up the lines and spaces included in the interval. You must count every line and every space between the notes as well as the lines or spaces that the notes are on. You can count starting from the top or bottom, that does not matter.

If you go more than eight, you are surpassing the octave. At that point, the interval becomes known as a compound interval. For example, if you go to 10 lines and spaces on the staff, then you would have a melodic tenth. 

Interval Quality

Interval quality gives an interval its distinct sound. When considering interval quality, you would count half steps from one note to another. For example, if there are sharps or flats that are written into the music. Sharps and flats can raise or lower a note's pitch by a half step.

Interval qualities are called major, minor, perfect, diminished, and augmented. Each of these qualities has rules. For example, for an interval to be considered "major," it contains two half steps between notes. Likewise, the other qualities have a rule that gives them their unique sound.

Naming the Interval

An interval is fully identified when you give both the quantity and quality of the interval. For examples, some melodic interval includes a "major third," "perfect fifth," or "diminished seventh."

Melodic Interval Examples Using a Piano

You can use the keys on a piano to illustrate different types of melodic intervals. For example, a melodic second is the distance from a white key to the next white key, either up and down the keyboard. On the musical staff, a melodic second goes either up or down from a line to the next space or a space to the next line.

A melodic third on a piano is when you skip one white key. In music notation, a note, going either up or down the staff, that is written from one space to the next space or from line to the next line is a melodic third.

When you skip two white keys on a piano, up or down, that is a melodic fourth. Skipping three white keys is a melodic fifth. A melodic sixth skips four white keys, while melodic sevenths skip five white keys. 

An octave is when you skip six white keys, up or down the keyboard. For example from C to C, E to E, or G to G.