Pitch, Intervals, and Scales

Pitch & Fundamentals


Pitches are specific vibration frequencies. They are distinguished by a letter, number, and an accidental:

The octaves of C, labelled, can be seen below:

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Putting these three classifications together can allow a specific note to be referred to on the grand staff. For example, this note:

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This note is a C note with a # pitch following the fifth C, C5. This means it is a C#5 note.


Intervals---the space between two notes. Measured in steps (moving up by two notes, ex: C to D) or in half steps (moving up one note, ex: C to C#).

Generic intervals: unison, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8ve

Intervals can further be classified based on whether they are:

There are, however, some notes with special classifications, such as:

A list of intervals can be seen below:

Interval: Number of 1/2 steps:
Unison 0
m 2nd 1
M 2nd 2
m 3rd 3
M 3rd 4
Per 4th 5
Tritone 6
Per 5th 7
m 6th 8
M 6th 9
m 7th 10
M 7th 11
Octave 12

Miscellaneous information: a harmonic interval is when two notes are played simultaneously, while a melodic interval describes two notes played separately.


Major & Minor

Scales are arrangements of notes between two octaves. Major and minor scales are the most common types used today, and they can be constructed based on their intervals---that is, scales can be constructed based on where there are half steps (H) and where there are whole steps (W).


Major scales are arranged as follows: W, W, H, W, W, W, H

The steps can be seen below with the C major scale:

C Major with steps labelled


Unlike the major scale, there are different variations of the minor scale: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor.

A minor scale with steps labelled

Harmonic minor scale

Melodic minor


key (not to be confused with a key signature) designates the note which a piece of music is based around, known as the tonic, as well as the mode (major or minor, usually), which designates which other notes will be used, or the scale.

A piece in the key of C major will have its tonic on C, with the majority of its notes and harmony in line with that of the major scale.

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C minor will also have its tonic on C, but it its notes will be in line with that of the minor scale.

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Key Signatures

A key signature acts as a pair of glasses for the piece---they change how the notes are seen, but don't change the note that is on the page.

They can be helpful in determining the key of a piece, but they do NOT provide a direct role in deciding the key of the piece. In order to find the key of the piece, it is better to determine the tonic alongside an examination of the key signature, though, again the key signature must be used with caution.

Also be wary of:


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