The Study Of Musical Intervals Part 5: The 5th Interval

The Diminished 5th or Tritone.

This is a continuation of past 4 blogs on intervals.
You can check those blogs here:

This week we’ll discuss the 5th intervals.

This is a tritone (3 whole steps) interval as well, but over 5 notes instead of 4 notes.

When you count the steps from C to Gb on the following example, the steps add up to 3 whole steps as well.
The note a tritone up from the 1st note in the scale is basically the note in between the 4th and 5th scale degree.
That note can either be called #4 (augmented 4th) or b5 (diminished 5th).
In a C major scale that note is F# or Gb.
In music theory, these notes are called “enharmonic”: 2 different note names for the same sound.

The interval in the following example is called a “diminished 5th’.
It is a half step smaller than the Perfect 5th. When you make a perfect interval smaller, it becomes diminished.

Since this interval is a tritone as well, the same distance as an augmented 4th but over 5 notes instead of 4, the fingerings and interval shape are EXACTLY the same as for augmented 4ths.

A major scale has ONE diminished 5th interval:

This interval occurs in the one and only location where there are TWO half steps involved over 5 notes, making this 5th a half step smaller than a perfect 5th, which only has 1 half step involved over 5 notes.

On the 7th scale degree between the 7th and 4th scale degrees (In the key of C this is between B – F, which involves the B-C half step and the E-F half step over a 5-note span).

Important!

Within the structure of a major scale;
The above interval is played on the following scale degree on the lower of the 2 strings you play on:

The 7th note in the scale. (In a C major scale: B – F)

Or in other words: between the 7th and 4th scale degrees.

Important observation:

The augmented 4th tritone = F to B.
And when you switch these 2 notes around, you get…

The diminished 5th tritone = B to F.
This is called: “inversion of intervals”, which will be covered later in this chapter.
The diminished 5th interval is an inversion of the augmented 4th interval.

A TRI-TONE = 6 HALF STEPS = HALF OF OUR 12-STEP/NOTE MUSIC SYSTEM!

The tritone cuts our music system in half, as following example clearly shows:

A tritone is a very important interval in our music, as will become clear throughout the book in certain chapters on harmony.

Here’s how the diminished 5th looks like on a guitar neck:

And here you have the dim 5th fingering on the G and B strings:

The Perfect 5th.

The perfect 5th interval is a half step larger than the diminished 5th. This is the 5th interval because there are 5 letter names involved from the lower to the higher note.

The interval distance between the notes is 3 and a ½ steps, which adds up to 7 frets from note to note. This means that there is one half step involved over 5 notes. As always: this intervallic distance corresponds to a distance of 5 adjacent keys on the piano.

A major scale has SIX Perfect 5th intervals:

This interval occurs on every note in the scale EXCEPT the 7th scale degree, because that is where the diminished 5th occurs.

1. On the 1st scale degree (In the key of C this is C-G, which has the E-F half step involved)
2. On the 2nd scale degree (In the key of C this is D-A, which has the E-F half step involved)
3. On the 3rd scale degree (In the key of C this is E-B, which has the E-F half step involved)
4. On the 4th scale degree (In the key of C this is F-C, which has the B-C half step involved)
5. On the 5th scale degree (In the key of C this is G-D, which has the B-C half step involved)
6. On the 6th scale degree (In the key of C this is A-E, which has the B-C half step involved)

Fingerings.

The following example shows how you play a Perfect 5th interval on 2 adjacent strings. This fingering is the same on all string sets EXCEPT strings 2 and 3.

Following guitar neck shows the fingering for a Perfect 5th on the G and B strings.

Important!

Within the structure of a major scale;
The above fingerings are played on following scale degrees on the lower of the 2 strings:

1. The 1st note in the scale.
2. The 2nd note in the scale.
3. The 3rd note in the scale.
4. The 4th note in the scale.
5. The 5th note in the scale.
6. The 6th note in the scale.

To simplify the thought processes for improvising with 5th intervals, consider the following approach:

1. The diminished 5th interval occurs on the 7th scale degree. Only 1 piece of information. Focus on that 1 scale note and…
2. EVERYWHERE ELSE: use the other (Perfect 5th) fingering.

The Perfect 5th interval is heavily used in rhythm guitar parts played on the bass strings in hard rock, metal, punk, and alternative music.
It is then called a “power chord”.

Here’s How You Practice This.

Solo over C major songs with 5th intervals, 1 string set at a time.
If your lowest note of the 2 notes you’re playing is B (7th note in the scale), you will use a diminished 5th fingering on that note.
If the note you’re on is one of the other 6 notes (C, D, E, F, G, A) in a C major scale, you will use the perfect 5th fingering.

Practice 3 minutes soloing on every string set.
This adds up to a 15-minute daily drill.

If you’re still unsure how to practice this: check the video in a past blog on intervals to see a description of how to practice intervals.
The Study of Musical Intervals Part 2: The 2nd Interval

Next week we’ll cover a different topic to give you more time to work on all the interval information we covered today and in past blogs.
In 2 weeks we’ll have a look at 6th intervals.

Conclusion

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