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Simple vs. Compound Intervals: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:04 Musical Intervals
  • 1:03 Simple Intervals
  • 2:46 Compound Intervals
  • 3:38 Finding Simple &…
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In music theory, intervals are a big deal. In this lesson, we're going to examine two of the main kinds of intervals, see how they're related, and examine the impact of each on music.

Musical Intervals

Imagine a dance. No matter what kind of dance it is, the relationship between people has a big impact on how the dance goes. In a mosh pit, everyone is very close, slamming into each other in chaotic frenzy. In a ballet, the dancers maintain a more respectful distance. In a middle school formal, well let's just say you can tell a lot about couples by how much space is or isn't between them.

Music is pretty similar. One of the most fundamental elements that defines the aesthetic of a composition is the relationship between notes. Are they close together or far apart? Each has a different sound. We call the distance between two notes the interval. Hum the main theme to ''Star Wars'' aloud; do you notice how the first notes are similar, then it drops lower and then suddenly jumps up the scale? The intervals between each note are what set up that exciting and compelling melody. Use intervals correctly, and it's a dance for your ears.

Simple Intervals

When you first look at a sheet of music, it can seem daunting to start organizing the relationships between all of those notes. So, we begin by organizing our intervals into two basic types. Let's start with simple intervals, which is an interval of an octave or less.

A simple interval includes any within the same octave
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Start with a note. For sake of ease, we'll start with C. The musical scale from here includes the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. That's eight notes, or an octave. From lower C to any of those notes is a simple interval.

But which interval is it? To know that, just count the number of notes. For example, imagine that a piece of music has a quarter note C right next to a quarter note G. There are five notes from C to G (including the C), so we call that a 5th, just as C to E would be a 3rd or C to B would be a seventh. It's really straightforward in the key of C with no sharps or flats, but remember that adding this can lower or raise the interval by a half step. An interval lowered by a half step is called a minor, while an interval raised a half step is known as augmented (like a minor 3rd or augmented 7th). A regular simple interval without these is major (as in a major 3rd or major 7th).

Each interval has its own unique sound associated with it. A fourth is often used to build tension, while a fifth resolves it. A seventh often feels gritty and disjointed, while a third can be mysterious or dramatic. If you're going to practice music, it's crucial to learn what kind of sound is produced by each interval as you move from note to note.

Can you identify the intervals between the notes of this melody?
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Compound Intervals

For many people, simple intervals are...simple. It's a pretty easy concept to get. But what happens when you move beyond the octave? Intervals of more than one octave are known as compound intervals.

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