Learning Intervals on the Guitar Quickly

Understanding the relationship between the strings on a guitar is a helpful way to quickly build scales and chords. I created the graphic at the end of this post to help visualize the intervals going from one string to the next.

If you’re unfamiliar with intervals, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for intervals in music. Essentially, an interval is the distance between one note and another. Here’s a graphic from the Wikipedia page that shows the intervals in music notation:

The easiest way to memorize the different intervals is to associate each interval sound with a popular piece of music. For example, playing a note and the perfect fifth above it yields the first two pitches in a legendary score from a famous space fantasy film. Can you hear which one? (If you don’t have an instrument handy, you can play the sample for a perfect fifth on the Wikipedia page linked above.)

Understanding intervals across the guitar fretboard is especially useful for constructing chords. Rather than using rote memorization to recall all the chords under the sun, it’s far more useful to understand how each chord is built. Knowing the intervals helps you build these chords faster.

See the graphic below. The triangle identifies the root note, and the numbers to the right and left of each triangle represent the intervals in relation to the root note.

For example, for the first line, the root note is on the sixth string. Playing the note on the fifth string on the same fret would give you a perfect fourth above the root note. (For simplicity, I kept the naming of the intervals from 1-7 rather than identifying those beyond an octave above the root note such as 8, 9, etc.)

Of course, mastering intervals on a guitar goes beyond just knowing the relationship of pitches across one fret. This simple graphic, however, serves as a good starting point, especially when integrated with the study of scales and chords.

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  1. […] across the entire fretboard and my playing is faster and more accurate than ever. I began studying the relationship of notes across strings rather than memorized scale forms. I still have a lot to learn, but the added knowledge from […]


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