Music Theory Quiz and tutorial - Intervals

An interval in music refers to the pitch difference, or pitch relationship, between any two notes. There are many types of interval and every musician and music student should have a working knowledge of them. Check out your current knowledge of them with this simple ten-question music theory quiz about musical intervals.

Interval Ear Test

The quiz below test your knowledge of intervals, but If you want to test your ability to recognise intervals by ear - click the link at the end of the article and see if you can identify ten intervals of the major scale.

Music theory quiz - Intervals

How did you do?

For any that you got wrong, the following tutorial explains the answers to each question and gives some detailed information on musical intervals in general. Have a look after you've taken the quiz.

Answers explained

  1. What's the smallest standard interval (between two notes of different pitch) in Western music?
    It's a semitone, or, as it's popularly called in the US, a half step. There are smaller intervals, called microtones, but they're not a standard part of the major-minor key system of Western music, although they may be used in any performances, such as vocal vibrato, slide, etc.
    A semitone is the smallest interval that can be formed on a piano tuned in the normal way. Guitar frets too are designed to accommodate intervals no smaller than a semitone, but smaller intervals can be achieved by bending strings, slide, 'off tuning'. etc.
    A semitone is the interval between any note and its nearest neighbours in the note naming system. For example, C & C#, or B & C, etc.
  2. Name the interval between any F note and the nearest F higher in pitch.
    It's an octave. The name, octave, derives from the Latin for eight. It refers to the fact that in a diatonic scale, such as major or minor scales, the eighth scale note has the same name as the first.
    Although we commonly refer to this interval as an octave, more precisely, it's a 'perfect octave'. There are also imperfect octaves, where both notes have the same letter name, but one has been inflected by an accidental, such as a flat or sharp. For example the note G all the way up to G sharp (a perfect octave plus a semitone) is called an augmented octave. G to the G flat above is called a diminished octave.
  3. How many semitones equal one octave?
    12 is the answer. In our current standard tuning system, known as equal temperament, a semitone is exactly one twelfth of an octave. Going back a few hundred years, semitones weren't all exactly the same size, which caused problems when playing music in certain keys. Making them all exactly the same size solved that problem.
  4. The interval between the 1st and 5th notes of a major scale is a what?
    It's a perfect 5th. Perfect is a term that is applied only to the intervals of a unison (two notes of the same name and pitch), 4ths, 5ths and octaves. The intervals of a 4th and 5th that occur above the first note of any major or minor scale are always perfect.
    As explained above regarding octaves, perfect 4ths and 5ths can also be increased by a semitone, which produces augmented 4ths and 5ths, or they can be reduced by a semitone, producing diminished 4ths and 5ths. Keeping the same letter names in all cases.
    Examples: G - D = perfect 5th: G - D# = augmented 4th: G - D flat = diminished 5th
    Perfect unisons can be expanded to become augmented unisons, e.g., the semitone C to C# is an augmented unison. Unlike perfect octaves, 4th and 5ths, however, unisons can't be made smaller, so there's no diminished unison.
  5. What interval lies between the first and third notes of a minor scale?
    It's a minor 3rd. It's 'minor' in the sense that being only 3 semitones wide, it's one semitone smaller than its counterpart in the major scale, which, being larger, is called a major 3rd. These two types of 3rds are defining intervals, and it's the presence of those intervals that give rise to major and minor keys, scales and chords found in most Western music.
    The answer choice, flat 3 is almost correct, but, strictly speaking, it refers only to the upper note, especially when it's a chord tone, and not to the interval.
  6. Intervals larger than an octave are called what?
    Compound intervals are simple intervals that have been expanded by one octave (or more than one). You can easily find the new number by adding 7 to the simple interval number. A minor 2nd becomes a minor 9th, an augmented 4th becomes an augmented 11th, and so on. The distinction is only useful in certain situations, because any simple interval sounds very similar in harmonic effect to its compound equivalent. Often we just use the simple interval names, even if the interval in question is actually a compound interval.
  7. If we reverse the pitch order of the two notes that form an interval, we do what to it?
    Invert it. Interval inversions are calculated by subtracting the given number from 9. So, all 4ths become 5ths, all 7ths become 2nds, and so on.
    Note however that inverting certain intervals causes them to change quality, as follows:
    Major intervals become minor, and minor intervals become major.
    Augmented intervals become diminished, and diminished intervals become augmented.
    Perfect intervals don't change quality when inverted.
  8. A major 6th when inverted becomes a what?
    A minor 3rd - As explained above, subtracting 6 from 9, gives 3, so it's a 3rd of some kind. Also, as explained above, major intervals become minor when inverted, so it's a minor 3rd.
  9. Another name for the interval of an augmented 4th is what?
    It's a tritone, meaning 3 whole tones (or whole steps). For example, the interval between any F and the B above it is three whole tones: F-G, G-A & A-B. Tritones are arguably the most important interval in Western music, as, being dissonant, they produce a driving force within major and minor keys. Originally, only augmented 4ths were classed as tritones, but diminished 5ths, which are also three whole tones wide, are also considered tritones.
    C-F# = augmented 4th = tritone
    C-Gb = diminshed 5th = tritone
  10. Name the note that forms a diminished 7th interval above the note C.
    It's B double flat (Bbb). The important thing about naming intervals is that the interval number must agree with the number of letter names that are spanned by the interval. Any kind of 7th above C, must be called B something because, if we count the letters separating them it comes to 7 (CDEFGA&B).
    C to B is a major 7th (B is the 7th note of the C major scale).
    C to Bb is a minor 7th (one semitone smaller than a major 7th).
    C to Bbb is a diminished 7th (one semitone smaller than a minor 7th).
    Bbb sounds the same as A, but, if the interval is to be called a diminished 7th, the upper note can't be called A, as A is a 6th above C (6 letter names).

Interval Ear Training and TEST

See the link below for a simple aural test and practice tips on recognising major scale intervals by ear:

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