The Study of Musical Intervals Part 6: The 6th Interval

The Minor 6th

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

The Study of Musical Intervals Part 1
The Study of Musical Intervals Part 2: The 2nd Interval
The Study of Musical Intervals Part 3: The 3rd Interval
The Study of Musical Intervals Part 4: The 4th Interval
The Study of Musical Intervals Part 5: The 5th Interval

This week we’ll discuss the 6th intervals.

The minor 6th interval is a half step larger than the perfect 5th.
This is a 6th interval because there are 6 letter names involved from the lower to the higher note.

The interval distance between the notes is 4 whole steps, which ads up to 8 frets from note to note. A minor 6th has TWO half steps involved in a 6-note span, a major 6th only has ONE half step involved over a 6-note span, making a major 6th a half step larger than a minor 6th.

Following example shows that a minor 6th from C is the note Ab, and that in that case the TWO half steps are located between E & F and G & Ab.

m6 staff

Following example shows that the enharmonic spelling for Ab, which is G#, results in an augmented 5th interval. This interval is not to be found in a major scale, but can be found in other scales that are used in jazz-improvisation..

m6 staff2

A major scale has THREE minor 6th intervals:

This interval occurs in all the locations where BOTH the 3-4 and 7-8 half steps are involved over 6 notes.

  1. On the 3rd scale degree (In the key of C this is E-C)
  2. On the 6th scale degree (In the key of C this is A-F)
  3. On the 7th scale degree (In the key of C this is B-G)

Fingerings.

6th intervals can still be played on adjacent strings. 6th intervals being large intervals though, it is more common to skip a string.

Following example shows how you play a minor 6th interval on 2 adjacent strings.
This fingering is the same on all string sets EXCEPT strings 2 and 3.

m6 all

Rarely does a guitar player play minor 6th intervals on the G and B strings, but it is still physically possible to do so, though less practical. Here’s how minor 6ths look like on the 2nd and 3rd string:

m6 gb

The fingerings shown in the upcoming graphics, are much more common.
Larger intervals (6ths, 7ths, octaves) are easier to finger when you skip a string.
We’ll get to these much easier fingerings later on.

However: the organization of fingerings on the fret board changes when you skip a string.

For adjacent strings the rule is: 5 string sets have the same fingering and on the G and B string that fingering changes.

Remember: it is the distance between the G and the B string that messes with the fingering.
Hence when you play on 2 non-adjacent strings, the fingering is going to be affected for every string combination that has the G and B strings involved.
This leads to 2 groupings of 2 non-adjacent strings:

  • The 2 bass string groupings
      A. The low E and D string grouping.

        a. From E to A string is a 4th
        b. From A to D string is a 4th
        c. Conclusion: the E bass string and D string distance is two 4th intervals.

      B. The A and G string grouping.

        a. From A to D strings is a 4th
        b. From D to G string is a 4th
        c. Conclusion: the A-string and G-string distance is two 4th intervals.
  • The 2 treble string groupings
      A. The D and B string grouping

        a. From D string to G string is a 4th
        b. From G string to B string is a major 3rd
        b. Conclusion: the distance between the D and B string is a half step smaller than the distance between the bass strings.

      B. The G and treble E string grouping.

        a. From G string to B string is a major 3rd
        b. From B string to E string is a 4th.
        c. Conclusion: the distance between the G and the E string is a half step smaller than the distance between the bass strings.

    As a result of this, on non-adjacent strings you have 1 fingering for the 2 sets of bass strings, and 1 other fingering for the 2 sets of treble strings.

    Following example shows the fingering for minor 6ths on the (non-adjacent) E & D string set and on the A & G string set.

    m6all2

    Following guitar neck shows the fingering for minor 6ths as they are played on the D & B string set and on the G & E string set.

    m6 gb2

    You can strum these intervals with a pick, you just have to make sure that you mute the string in between by touching it with the finger you have on the lower note.

    Important!

    Within the structure of a major scale; the above minor 6th fingerings are played on following scale degrees on the lower of the 2 strings:

    1. The 3rd note in the scale.
    2. The 6th note in the scale
    3. The 7th note in the scale

    6th intervals are very popular in blues, soul, funk, and country music.
    To hear a great example of 6th intervals, check the intro to the Sam and Dave classic hit song “Soul Man”.
    Since there are 3 minor 6ths in a scale that means that there are 4 major 6ths.

    The Major 6th

    The major 6th interval is a half step larger than the minor 6th.
    This is a 6th interval because there are 6 letter names involved from the lower to the higher note.

    The interval distance between the notes is 4 ½ steps, which ads up to 9 frets from note to note. As always: this intervallic distance corresponds to the same number of keys on a piano

    A major 6th only has ONE half step involved over 6 notes.

    maj6 staff

    A major scale has FOUR major 6th intervals:

    This interval occurs in all the locations where there is only 1 half step involved over 6 notes.

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

    Fingerings.

    Though it is more common to skip a string, Major 6ths can be played on 2 adjacent strings.

    maj6 all

    Major 6ths are never played on the G and B string because these intervals are too large and thus impractical to play.

    As shown in following example:

    maj6 gb

    Following example shows the more common fingerings for a major 6th interval.
    As previously explained in the section on minor 6th intervals: following fingering is played on the E&A and D&G string sets.

    maj6 all2

    Following guitar neck shows the fingering for major 6ths as they are played on the D&B and G&E string sets.

    maj6 gb2

    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 4th note in the scale.
    4. The 5th note in the scale.

    To simplify the thought processes for improvising with 6th intervals, consider following approach:

    1. The minor 6th interval occurs on the 3rd, 6th and 7th scale degree. Only 3 pieces of information. Focus on those 3 scale degrees, and…
    2. EVERYWHERE ELSE: use the other (major 6th) fingering.

    There is an alternative system for 6th intervals to help you get this information down with less effort:
    If you already have a good sense of which notes the 1st, 4th and 5th note are in a scale from playing blues with I-IV-V progressions or from memorizing where the finger stretches occur with single-string playing, then focus on the major 6th intervals instead while soloing with 6ths.

    The major 6th intervals occur on 1, 4, 5 and 2.

    Any system that helps you master this information with less effort and that speeds up the process of getting you to improvise, is the right system.

    Here’s How You Practice This.

    Solo over C major songs with 6th intervals, 1 string set at a time.
    If your lowest note of the 2 notes you’re playing is E, A or B (the 3rd, 6th or 7th note in the scale), you will use a minor 6th fingering on that note.
    If the note you’re on is one of the other 4 notes (C, D, F, G) in a C major scale, you will use the major 6th 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 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 7th intervals.

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

    Meanwhile: give this blog a rating and give me your feedback in the comments section below. I believe everything can always be improved, and I gladly would implement your suggestions and ideas in this blog or the next.



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