Welcome, it’s time to start learning musical harmony on the bass guitar. For that, this lesson is fundamental to the understanding of harmony, chord formation, arpeggios, scales, tonal functions, etcetera.
You are going to learn intervals on the bass and also see how they sound.
⚠️Listen to the audios of this lesson!!!
Musical intervals are the cornerstone of understanding all harmony, whether functional or non-functional.
Therefore, with this explanation you are going to be able to understand all the lessons you will see in this bass website.
Well, let’s get to it!
Next we are going to know two drawings of each interval, the melodic interval and the harmonic interval. Let’s start with the simple intervals…here we go!
Don’t forget to listen to each interval in each section, it’s the most important!!!!
🔊Interval Minor second (b2)
The minor second interval is the smallest interval that exists since it has a distance of half a tone.
Because of this, it is also the most dissonant interval that exists, since when two notes sound so close harmonically the harmonics of the notes themselves collide with each other.
As you will see, doing this interval harmonically requires you to open your hand quite wide.
Try to do it harmonically with patience and make it sound clean, listen to how it sounds and try to memorize that sound.
The minor second interval is used continuously in the flamenco genre.
🔊Interval Major Second (2)
The major second interval is made up of a tone distance, major seconds are also dissonant intervals but at the same time they produce a very rich tension in chords, since when a note is a tone distance from another (this is our interval, major second) it is considered a good tension or extension for any chord.
Try to learn the harmonic form and memorize its sound.
🔊Interval Minor Third (b3)
The Minor Third interval is made up of one and a half tones.
Third intervals are used to structure chords, so a minor third interval will make up minor chords.
Be sure to review the lesson on minor chord formation on the bass. This interval must be perfectly mastered melodically and harmonically, so take a good look at the bass charts.
🔊Interval Major Third (3)
The major third interval forms a distance of 2 tones. Major thirds are used in major chords, you can review all the chords in this website.
You need to learn the major third interval in both its melodic and harmonic aspects. The major and minor third intervals are considered semiconsonances, that is, they are between dissonance and consonance.
Their sound is not as intense as dissonant intervals, but they do not become consonances.
🔊Interval Perfect Fourth (4)
The interval of a perfect fourth is made up of three and a half tones, fourths are consonant intervals. Your electric bass is tuned by intervals of the 4th!
Fourths can only be either just, augmented, or diminished. We never say a “minor fourth”, we will call it a diminished fourth.
Learn this interval well, especially harmonically, because later on we will use it with the pentatonic scale to find more modern sonorities.
🔊Interval augmented fourth flat fifth (#4 ó b5)
We reach the middle of the octave of the simple intervals, this interval is “the tritone” since it is formed by three tones. It divides the octave in 2 equal parts and depending on the note we choose it can be called:
- Augmented fourth – from C to F#
- Diminished fifth – from C to Gb
It is a very important interval, although at the beginning of the history of music, due to its particular sound, it was forbidden. It was not possible to make music with it in the Middle Ages, which, in our days, would be unthinkable, since our whole tonal system is based on the tonic chord and the dominant chord.
The dominant chord contains the Tritone interval.
So, you must learn it well because we are going to use it frequently, playing the blues scale or just playing dominant chords. Also later we will study the particularities of this interval.
The tritone interval is considered as a neutral or ambiguous sound. Even so, the tritone is an unstable interval and in tonal music it needs to be resolved correctly.
🔊Interval Perfect fifth (5)
The perfect fifth is an interval which is made up of three and a half tones. If you already play the bass, you will surely know this interval well, since bassists always use it to accompany.
Fifths are consonances, and a fundamental accompaniment on the electric bass is to play the tonic of the chord and the fifth (because chords are also formed with fifths).
So, it is an interval that if you don’t know it, you should learn it as soon as possible to be able to make basic accompaniments with your bass.
🔊Interval augmented fifth or minor sixth (#5 ó b6)
The interval of the augmented fifth or minor sixth has four tones of distance. We have already explained this several times, and it is due to the enharmony of music.
Let’s see how this interval is called in relation to the notes that compose it:
- Augmented fifth – from C to G#
- Minor sixth – from C to Ab
Sixths are considered semiconsonances like thirds. Learn this interval well harmonically as we will be using it frequently later on.
🔊Interval Major sixth
The major sixth interval is composed of four and a half tones. As we said before, sixths are semiconsonant intervals, actually, a sixth is the inversion of a third interval.
So, you must learn the figures on the bass well because as bassists we will have to make interval and chord inversions.
Study this interval well and notice the sound quality it has, sixths are very beautiful intervals.
🔊Interval Minor seventh (b7)
The minor seventh interval is composed of five tones of distance. Sevenths, like seconds, are considered dissonant intervals.
In the case of the minor seventh, it is an interval that is frequently used in bass accompaniments.
It has a bluesy sonority, because in the blues genre all chords are minor seventh chords.
Sevenths are also used to form the quad chords that you should review.
Learn well how to use this interval because it will accompany you all your life in your bass lines.
🔊Interval Major seventh (7)
The major seventh interval is five and a half tones away and is also considered a dissonance.
Because it is half a tone away from the tonic note, it is a melodically compromised interval. Especially when the tonic of the chord is in the melody, the major seventh in this case, should not be played in the chord.
As we have said before, the sevenths will be used to accompany the sounds of the chord, therefore, you must learn it well and pay attention to its sound.
🔊Interval Octave (8)
To finish with the simple intervals, we come to the octave. Octaves are always just right, just like the unison or first interval.
The octave has six tones of distance and as bassists we must also master it completely since many times, we accompany with the fifth of the chord and also with the octave.
There are countless rhythms or electric bass riffs that are composed with the octave, there are also different styles that are nourished by this interval.
You must master the octaves, also with string skipping, and above all, start to differentiate them with your musical ear.
After the octave, the intervals remain the same but one octave higher. This is what we call compound intervals, which we will soon study.
If you have been looking at the drawings with the bass, you may have noticed what there are some intervals that have the same pattern. This is due to something we have already explained before, they simply change the notes, or the denomination of these, but the distance between them, remains the same.
The only thing is that we have two different names for an interval with the same instance.
Thus, you may have noticed that the difference between an augmented fourth and a diminished fifth is simply the notes.
The augmented fourth will be between the notes C and F sharp.
The diminished fifth will be between the notes C and G flat.
But the two intervals are three tones apart.
This is due to the enharmonicity between the notes, which you should review if you are getting lost.
The same is also true for the interval of the augmented fifth and minor sixth.
The augmented fifth will be between the notes C and G sharp.
The minor sixth will be between the notes C and A flat.
These two intervals are four tones apart.
Although they are still the same interval, as far as distance is concerned, they do not comprise the same notes.
What is a musical interval?
Look at this bass music intervals chart
Just as in real life, when we move, we need to count the distances we travel.
In parallel, the same thing happens to us with musical notes when we play them. That is to say, an interval is the distance that exists between two musical notes. Within this simple explanation, we can classify these distances, depending on certain factors that we are going to expose next.
To understand well the explanation of the musical intervals in the bass, first, you must know or review these concepts:
- Semitone distance in the bass
- Pitch distance in the bass
- Distances between musical notes
Having this clear, you will not get lost with this lesson. Now let’s go with a graphic introduction of intervals.
Classification of intervals
Before making a visual classification on the bass fretboard of the intervals, in relation to their distance, which is what we are interested in, we have to explain certain qualities of the intervals.
Musical intervals can be:
Ascending intervals, as their name indicates, are those that go up the staff, they go in an ascending direction.
Descending intervals go down or descend on the staff.
Intervals are sets when the notes follow one after the other. In this case, this only happens with the second intervals that we will now study.
Disjunct intervals are those that are not followed by seconds, but by any other type of distance, there can be intervalic jumps between them, thirds, fifths, sixths, etcetera.
An interval is melodic when the notes follow each other in time, that is, the melodies we hear in any instrument.
An interval is harmonic when the notes that compose it sound simultaneously, or at the same time.
An interval is simple when it does not exceed the distance of an octave. These are the first ones that we will have to learn to understand the formation of the chords in the bass.
Don’t worry because here we are going to study them in depth.
These are the opposite of simple intervals, that is, they exceed the octave, such as ninths, oncenas, etc.
Explain all this, we can make an observation about the qualities of the intervals, there can be, and must be, mixtures between them in order to determine them correctly.
For example, we can have an interval that is ascending but is not a set and at the same time is a compound interval, and this in turn, may be melodic or harmonic … what a mess, right?
Let’s take a graphic example:
Well, don’t be scared if you think it’s a lot of information. We are making a detailed explanation, because although in the bass we don’t need to apply all these theoretical concepts, in the study of the harmony we always have to try to know the reason of the things.
Now let’s finally go to what we are interested in, all the intervals on the fingerboard. How to play and learn them.
Now that we have explained all the characteristics or qualities that an interval can have, it is necessary to use a language to name them correctly.
Beyond the notes on the staff, in functional harmony or modern harmony, a nomenclature is used for intervals with numbers.
This makes it much easier to recognize complex chord formulas and complex scales.
Many of the characteristics of intervals that we have explained above remain only in theory, and we as bassists are interested in practice, and this is where the correct nomenclature of intervals comes into play. Now we are not going to do a test of interval theory, but we do need to know them in order to understand harmony.
So, below you are going to find a table with all the intervals, and how you can name them. Besides, it is a universal nomenclature, that you can find in any contemporary harmony book and also in the explanations of all this bass web.
As you can see in this table, there are some intervals that may exist in theory, but are not used in practice. At least, in modern music.
It does not make much sense to refer to an augmented seventh, when in fact it is an octave interval. The only difference lies in the notes we name:
- Augmented seventh: C – B sharp
- Just octave: C – C
That said, we will have to get used to the particularity of harmony since it is not an exact science. There are many ways to arrive at the same reasoning.
This table of intervals that I have created, is based mainly on interval practice, and with time you will realize what are all the intervals that you are going to handle.
The Simple Intervals in the Bass
Finally, let’s practice, take your bass, sit down and play with these electric bass charts all the intervals.
On the left you will find the melodic interval, how to do it.
On the right you will find the harmonic interval, which will be very interesting.
We are going to take the C note of the third and fourth string as a reference, on the 3rd fret of the 3rd string and on the 8th fret of the 4th string.
Basically, it doesn’t matter, because you will have to master and memorize the drawing of the interval on the whole fretboard. You should not care about the note, the important thing is to learn the positions well, and how each interval sounds.
You should not be obsessed at the beginning with all that we have explained before, if it is ascending, joint or disjoint…the most important thing is to know the name, and above all, to identify the sound. Try to sing each musical interval.
The nomenclature of the intervals is usually a bit confusing, because some of them are major and minor and others can be augmented or diminished and also just.
Although right now we are going to explain this concept, don’t worry at the beginning if you get confused. Basically, they are names that are used to make the interval bigger without the notes having to change, for example:
If we have a minor third, it will be formed by the notes C-Eb, if we want to make that third bigger, we will have to increase one semitone the note Eb, then we will obtain the note E natural, and now the third will be bigger, C-E.
The interval is still a third, because from C to E we keep going through 3 notes (C – D – E).
Well, we will continue to expand this section soon…so stay tuned BASSIST!
Data sources consulted
Vincent Persichetti, Armonía del siglo XX. Madrid: Real Musical (1995).
Harmony 1-4. Berklee College of Music.
Enric Herrera, Teoría musical y armonía moderna. Vol 1. Barcelona: Aula de música (1990).
Autor: Ernesto Martín López, profesor de bajo y armonía moderna en PULSOMUSICA