Interval (music)

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Melodic and harmonic intervals.

In music theory, an interval is the difference in pitch between two sounds.[1] An interval may be described as horizontal, linear, or melodic if it refers to successively sounding tones, such as two adjacent pitches in a melody, and vertical or harmonic if it pertains to simultaneously sounding tones, such as in a chord.[2][3]

In Western music, intervals are most commonly differences between notes of a diatonic scale. The smallest of these intervals is a semitone. Intervals smaller than a semitone are called microtones. They can be formed using the notes of various kinds of non-diatonic scales. Some of the very smallest ones are called commas, and describe small discrepancies, observed in some tuning systems, between enharmonically equivalent notes such as C and D. Intervals can be arbitrarily small, and even imperceptible to the human ear.

In physical terms, an interval is the ratio between two sonic frequencies. For example, any two notes an octave apart have a frequency ratio of 2:1. This means that successive increments of pitch by the same interval result in an exponential increase of frequency, even though the human ear perceives this as a linear increase in pitch. For this reason, intervals are often measured in cents, a unit derived from the logarithm of the frequency ratio.

In Western music theory, the most common naming scheme for intervals describes two properties of the interval: the quality (perfect, major, minor, augmented, diminished) and number (unison, second, third, etc.). Examples include the minor third or perfect fifth. These names identify not only the difference in semitones between the upper and lower notes, but also how the interval is spelled. The importance of spelling stems from the historical practice of differentiating the frequency ratios of enharmonic intervals such as G–G and G–A.[4]


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Example: Perfect octave on C in equal temperament and just intonation: 2/1 = 1200 cents.

The size of an interval (also known as its width or height) can be represented using two alternative and equivalently valid methods, each appropriate to a different context: frequency ratios or cents.

Frequency ratios

The size of an interval between two notes may be measured by the ratio of their frequencies. When a musical instrument is tuned using a just intonation tuning system, the size of the main intervals can be expressed by small-integer ratios, such as 1:1 (unison), 2:1 (octave), 5:3 (major sixth), 3:2 (perfect fifth), 4:3 (perfect fourth), 5:4 (major third), 6:5 (minor third). Intervals with small-integer ratios are often called just intervals, or pure intervals.

Most commonly, however, musical instruments are nowadays tuned using a different tuning system, called 12-tone equal temperament. As a consequence, the size of most equal-tempered intervals cannot be expressed by small-integer ratios, although it is very close to the size of the corresponding just intervals. For instance, an equal-tempered fifth has a frequency ratio of 2712:1, approximately equal to 1.498:1, or 2.997:2 (very close to 3:2). For a comparison between the size of intervals in different tuning systems, see § Size of intervals used in different tuning systems.


The standard system for comparing interval sizes is with cents. The cent is a logarithmic unit of measurement. If frequency is expressed in a logarithmic scale, and along that scale the distance between a given frequency and its double (also called octave) is divided into 1200 equal parts, each of these parts is one cent. In twelve-tone equal temperament (12-TET), a tuning system in which all semitones have the same size, the size of one semitone is exactly 100 cents. Hence, in 12-TET the cent can be also defined as one hundredth of a semitone.

Mathematically, the size in cents of the interval from frequency f1 to frequency f2 is

Other Languages
čeština: Interval (hudba)
Frysk: Ynterval
galego: Intervalo
한국어: 음정
Bahasa Indonesia: Interval (musik)
íslenska: Tónbil
Кыргызча: Интервал
magyar: Hangköz
Nederlands: Interval (muziek)
日本語: 音程
Nordfriisk: Interval (Musiik)
polski: Interwał
Simple English: Interval (music)
slovenčina: Interval (hudba)
slovenščina: Interval (glasba)
српски / srpski: Интервал (музика)
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Interval (muzika)
suomi: Intervalli
українська: Музичний інтервал
吴语: 音程
中文: 音程