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Mastering Intervals: A Comprehensive Guide for Piano and Guitar

Intervals form the foundation of all music theory and practice. Understanding and mastering them can transform your playing, whether you’re a pianist or a guitarist. This guide will walk you through the basics of intervals and provide in-depth exercises to integrate them into your musical repertoire.

What Are Intervals?

An interval is the distance between two pitches. It’s a fundamental concept that helps musicians understand harmony, melody, and scales. Intervals are named based on the number of letter names they encompass and their specific distance in semitones.

For example:

  • A Major Second (M2) spans two letter names (C to D) and is two semitones apart.

  • A Perfect Fifth (P5) spans five letter names (C to G) and is seven semitones apart.

Intervals are categorized into major, minor, perfect, diminished, and augmented. The quality of the interval changes the sound and emotional impact it has within music.

Practicing Intervals on Piano

Step 1: Visual and Aural Recognition

Visual Identification:
  • Start by identifying intervals on the piano keyboard. Find the starting note (root) and count the number of keys (including both black and white) to the target note.

  • Practice this with different starting notes to get familiar with the keyboard layout.

Aural Identification:
  • Play two notes sequentially (melodic interval) and then simultaneously (harmonic interval). Try to recognize the sound of each interval.

  • Use interval training apps or online tools to practice ear training.

Step 2: Hands-On Practice

Scales and Arpeggios:
  • Practice major and minor scales, focusing on the intervals between each note.

  • Play arpeggios, paying attention to the intervals that form the chords.

Interval Drills:
  • Start with a root note, and play ascending and descending intervals. For instance, play C to E (major third), then C to E♭ (minor third).

  • Repeat this with different intervals (seconds, thirds, fourths, etc.).

Step 3: In-Depth Exercises

Chromatic Interval Exercise:
  • Starting from C, play C to C♯ (minor second), then C to D (major second), C to D♯ (augmented second), and so forth, until you reach the octave (C to C).

  • Descend back through each interval.

Contrary Motion Intervals:
  • Place your hands on the keyboard with your thumbs on middle C.

  • Play intervals in contrary motion: right hand ascending, left hand descending. For example, right hand plays C to E while the left hand plays C to A♭ (minor sixth).

  • Practice with various intervals to build coordination.

Interval Recognition with Chords:

Play chords and identify the intervals within them. For example, in a C major chord (C-E-G), identify the major third (C to E) and the perfect fifth (C to G).

Practicing Intervals on Guitar

Step 1: Visual and Aural Recognition

Fretboard Identification:
  • Learn the intervals on the guitar fretboard. Start with the root note and count frets to find the target interval.

  • Practice this across different strings to understand the unique layout of the guitar.

Aural Identification:
  • Play intervals on the guitar and listen carefully. Use interval training apps specifically designed for guitarists to aid your ear training.

Step 2: Hands-On Practice

Scales and Arpeggios:
  • Practice scales in different positions, focusing on the intervals between each note.

  • Play arpeggios, and concentrate on the intervals forming the chords.

Interval Drills:
  • Starting from a root note, play ascending and descending intervals on a single string, and then across different strings.

  • Practice common intervals used in guitar solos, such as major and minor thirds, perfect fourths, and fifths.

Step 3: In-Depth Exercises

Interval Mapping Across the Fretboard:
  • Choose a root note, and map out all intervals from this root across the fretboard. For example, if the root is A on the 5th fret of the 6th string, map out the major third (C♯), perfect fifth (E), and so on across the fretboard.

  • Practice this in different keys to understand the fretboard layout better.

Interval Sequencing:
  • Practice playing sequences of intervals within a scale. For example, in the C major scale, play C to D (major second), then D to E (major second), and so forth.

  • Try sequences of thirds, fourths, fifths, and beyond.

Intervallic Chord Progressions:
  • Create chord progressions focusing on specific intervals. For example, a progression using perfect fourths: Cmaj7 (C-E-G-B), Fmaj7 (F-A-C-E), B♭maj7 (B♭-D-F-A), and E♭maj7 (E♭-G-B♭-D).

  • Practice moving these progressions up and down the neck to internalize the intervals.

Tips for Both Instruments

  • Consistency is Key: Regular practice is essential. Incorporate interval training into your daily practice routine.

  • Use Technology: Take advantage of interval training apps and online resources. They offer interactive ways to practice and test your knowledge.

  • Combine Theory and Practice: Understanding the theory behind intervals will deepen your practical skills. Study music theory books and resources to complement your hands-on practice.

  • Be Patient and Persistent: Mastering intervals takes time. Be patient and persistent, and you will notice significant improvements in your musical abilities.


Intervals are the building blocks of music, and mastering them will greatly enhance your skills on both piano and guitar. By following these steps and incorporating regular practice, you’ll develop a keen understanding of intervals, improving your overall musicianship.

Happy practicing!

Olive Ghosh

Instructor, NMAG India Music Academy

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