The Study Of Musical Intervals On Guitar Part 2: The 2nd Interval

All 12 Intervals Explained On the Fretboard

This is a continuation from last week’s blog on intervals, which you can check here: The Study of Musical Intervals Part 1

Today we’ll cover 2nd intervals in detail.

We’ll show fingerings for each interval on 2 guitar necks.
The 1st guitar neck shows the interval shape and fingering as it is played on all string sets other than the G and B string
The 2nd guitar neck shows the interval and fingering on the G and B string.

The Minor 2nd

This is the smallest interval we have in our music. The distance between the 2 notes is one ½ step. This note distance corresponds to 2 adjacent frets on the guitar, which corresponds to 2 adjacent keys on the piano.

m2 staff

A major scale has TWO minor 2nd intervals:

  1. On the 3rd scale degree (EF in the key of C)
  2. On the 7th scale degree. (BC in the key of C)

Or in other words: between the 3rd and 4th and between the 7th and 8th note in a major scale).

Following picture shows how to play a minor 2nd on the G and B string.
Notice how the note on the B string moved up 1 fret higher, to compensate for the tuning distance being a half step more narrow between these 2 strings.

If you would use the interval fingering as shown above, on the G and B string, your interval would sound a half step more narrow.

m2 gb

Important: How To Apply This?

You want to memorize how the fingering looks like for a minor 2nd, and you want to memorize in which 2 locations in a major scale that fingering appears at.
You’re playing on 2 strings, but you ONLY FOCUS ON 1 STRING: THE LOWEST ONE.
Focus on the notes of the scale on THAT string only. (And apply the right fingering on the appropriate scale notes).

In the case of 2nd intervals: the lowest string is the string where you have your pinky on. (“Lowest” for musicians ALWAYS means: lowest PITCH. Musicians think in terms of “sound” high or lowness on their instrument).
There is a video at the bottom of this blog, explaining all this and showcasing this in action.

Within the structure of a major scale; where the ½ steps happen on the 3rd and the 7th note…

The above fingerings are played with your pinky on:

  1. The 3rd note in the scale. (The note E in a C major scale)
  2. The 7th note in the scale. (The note B in a C major scale)

The Major 2nd.

The major 2nd is a half step larger than the minor 2nd.
Both are 2nds because the intervallic distance between the notes involves 2 adjacent letter names.

This interval is also called “a whole step”, because the note distance for a major 2nd interval on 1 string is 2 frets (two ½ steps).
You skip a fret, which corresponds to skipping a key on the piano.
This is shown here:

maj2 staff

There are 7 notes in a major scale.
Since you can play a 2nd interval on top of each of the 7 notes, you have SEVEN 2nd intervals in a scale.
Since TWO of these seven 2nd intervals are minor 2nds, then that means that the remaining 5 are going to be major 2nds.

A major scale has FIVE major 2nd intervals:

    1) On the 1st scale degree (CD)
    2) On the 2nd scale degree (DE)
    3) On the 4th scale degree (FG)
    4) On the 5th scale degree (GA)
    5) On the 6th scale degree. (AB)

Or in other words: between 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 5-6 and 6-7
(Remember: 3-4 and 7-8 are the half steps).

Fingerings.

The fingering, as mentioned earlier, is a half step larger than for minor 2nds.

The abstract concept of a more narrow fingering being a larger intervallic distance, sometimes confuses guitar students at first.
When you compare the following graphic showing the major 2nd fingerings, the fingerings obviously LOOK smaller than on the above minor 2nd fingerings.
There are lesser frets between the 2 fingers. How can the interval be LARGER when the fingers are CLOSER?

This only makes sense, when you think in terms of the relationship between the 2 sounds on both strings.
One note is lower than the other, and one note is higher than the other.

In the following graphic: the note on the 5th string is higher in pitch than the note on the 6th string.
When you move the note on the 5th string up 1 fret (“up” means towards the guitar body), you then make the distance between the 2 notes a half step larger.
The higher sounding note moved one fret further up and away from the lower sounding note.

This explains the seemingly abstract concept of smaller fingerings sometimes making larger intervals.

maj2 all

Following guitar neck shows the fingering for major 2nds on the G and B strings.

maj2 gb

Important!

Within the structure of a major scale;
The above fingerings are played with your pinky on the lowest of the 2 strings you’re playing on, located on:

  1. The 1st note in the scale. (In a C major scale: C – D)
  2. The 2nd note in the scale. (In a C major scale: D – E)
  3. The 4th note in the scale. (In a C major scale: F – G)
  4. The 5th note in the scale (In a C major scale: G – A)
  5. The 6th note in the scale (In a C major scale: A – B)

To simplify the thought processes, consider following approach:

Only focus on the 2nd interval that has the lesser number of appearances in the scale.
That would be the minor 2nd.
There are only 2 minor 2nds, there are more than twice as many (5) major 2nds.
It takes less brain power and thinking to memorize where the minor 2nds are located at than to memorize the 5 major 2nds.

  1. The minor 2nd intervals are on 3 and on 7 (E and B in a C major scale). Only 2 pieces of information. Focus on these 2 notes and…
  2. EVERYWHERE ELSE: use the other (major 2nd) fingering.

Use this practice approach for all intervals: only keep track of the fingering that requires the least memorization.
After all: you will be soloing in groupings of 2 different fingerings for each interval:

    1) Minor 2nds and major 2nds combined
    2) Minor 3rds and major 3rds
    3) Perfect 4ths and one augmented 4th
    4) Perfect 5ths and one diminished 5th
    5) Minor 6ths and major 6ths
    6) Minor 7ths and major 7ths.

You want to take the one interval that has the least information to remember in terms of note locations for that interval fingering.
Focus on the locations for that one particular interval and everywhere else play the other interval/fingering.

How To Practice This.

Put on a song or a backing track in the key of C.
Improvise over that song on 2 adjacent strings, playing 2nd intervals.
It’s like soloing with notes on 1 string, but with an added harmony added on top of each note.

Solo for 3 minutes per string set. This adds up to a 15-minute daily drill.
Don’t forget that you’re dealing with 2 different sets of fingerings. All fingerings on the G and B string look different.
Pay close attention to making sure that you use the correct fingerings for each interval.
If you’re not sure: review the fingerings in the graphics above.

It will sound dissonant, because that is the nature of 2nd intervals.
If the dissonance bothers you, you can always play the intervals melodically instead of harmonically.
(If you’re not sure what that means, read last week’s blog again).

Here’s a video showcasing how to practice this:

Next week we’ll get to the “pleasing” sounding intervals when we look into 3rds.

Be on the look out for more blogs about everything guitar, music, songwriting and music education.

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