~~~~ Intervals ~~~~

If you’ve ever tried to learn to sight-read, or taken music exams, you might have heard the word “intervals” being used. An interval is a measure of how far up or down two notes are from one another.

A “scale” is a list of notes in order, just as they are shown in the Play-my-note app. Their names repeat after 7 notes, which you can see by pressing the “Note names button”

In an upward scale, each note is written one step above the previous one. But,
not all step sizes are equal, despite the fact that they all look the same! In a 7-step major or minor scale, two of the steps will be much smaller than the others - half the size in fact. We call these small intervals “half-steps” or “semitones”.

halfstep-64-web You can use this button to find them. Or you can count from the “major keynote” (shown as a red note). the semitones always lie between notes 3 and 4, and 7 and 8 (or between 7 and 1).

You might notice that if we change the key signature, the red dot moves - and so do the half-steps.

Some teachers try to teach the whole of sight-singing using intervals, and tunes that contain them. Unfortunately this doesn’t work, because at any bigger distance than 3 semitones, the voice is more influenced by the “context” of the music (tonality, prevailing harmony, other notes in the chord) than by distance. But at small distances,
feeling the difference between the distance of a whole step and a half step is crucial.

Typically, we tend to make downward half steps too big, and upward whole steps not quite big enough. That’s why many choirs tend to sing gradually flatter (lower) through a long phrase with no accompaniment. But if you know where the half-steps are, you can take more care with them, and learn to sing in tune :-)