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Theory of music (3)

Updated on September 8, 2014

More theory. An introduction to intervals and the bass clef

Theory of music can be great fun. It's a bit like doing a crossword fitting all the components together. Intervals and bass clef are two separate subjects but you need to be able to write intervals in the bass clef as well as in the treble clef. We looked at the treble clef in the first two sections of theory of music. You can find these lenses in the links below.

All the photos are mine.

The bass clef

Notes of the bass clef

Same old lines different letters

You may now wonder why we have to re-learn all the positions of the notes on the stave and give them different names. It's to do with how the notes fit on different instruments. If you kept to the notes of the treble clef you would find that for some instruments they would be playing below the main stave most of the time on little extra lines called leger lines which are not so easy to read. There will be several other clefs to learn in the future. The sign for this clef ( as seen in the introductory photo) is derived from a capital letter F. It starts with a blob on the fourth line of the stave, curls up and around it, then the two dots (denoting the two arms of the F) are either side of the fourth line all saying the note on this line is F. Remember this and then you can work out the other notes from that.

The bass notes have a letter name three notes up from the treble clef, except that they are also an octave lower. We need here to explain how you count notes in music. If you are going from A to C you count all the letter names to determine the distance A- B-C, three letters so three notes apart. It is not the same as the math way. You can also remember the letter names by saying,Great Big Dogs From America and taking the first letter of each word for the lines going from the bottom up and All Cows Eat Grass for the spaces.

Bass notes rising up the stave


from one note to another

A first look at intervals

An interval is the description of the distance between two notes.

The way of describing the difference between two notes is quite logical and straight forward. We make a start with major and perfect intervals. These are the intervals that occur in the major scale. The ones shown here are in C major. First we have them altogether side by side and then we will split them into groups of two.

A mellifluous one

and a crunchy one

A unison and a second

Is it a second or a third?

When determining the number value of an interval the method is straight forward. It is just as detailed above. You count all the letter names involved inclusively. So C to A involves C,D,E,F,G,A therefore we have six letters involved and the interval is a sixth. Above we have two C's, as if a flute and a violin were both playing the same note. This is known as a unison. This sort of unison is known as a perfect unison. You need to remember that the unison, the fourth, the fifth and the octave are all perfect in the major scale.

Get to play these intervals on the piano. They all have distinctive sounds. You need a friend with another instrument to get to hear the unison. Make sure they are in tune. With two instruments playing the unison an added depth is given to the sound

Also in the picture above we have C to D, that is two letters involved so it is a second and in the major scale this is major. In fact. in the major scale you have only major and perfect intervals. When you play the interval of a second you will get a really crunchy sound. We need crunchy sounds in music to give variety.

A bright interval

and a hollow one

A third and a fourth

Major third and perfect fourth

From C to E we have three notes involved in the count C,D and E. From C to F four notes are involved C,D,E and F. In the major scale we have a major third and a perfect fourth. Later we will move on the minor intervals and then diminished and augmented. This sounds scary but if you always start from the major scale the problems are minimal. It is all a matter of moving by semitones. A semitone is the distance between two next door notes on the piano, remembering to include the black notes. It always helps to find these things on the piano or keyboard.

Can you

work these out for yourself?

A fifth and a sixth

Count the notes involved

Use the method we have already used to clarify these intervals in your mind. If you play the notes of the fifth, two C's and then two G's you will find that you have the first four notes of "Twinkle, twinkle little star." Using well known tunes is a very good way to learn the sound of the intervals. See if you can find the beginning of more tunes to help you recognise each interval.

Another crunchy one

and a solid one

A seventh and an octave

Can you go further?

With these last two we have reached the top of the scale. You can however go on to 9ths, 10ths, 11ths etc. but they are all closely related to the previous intervals. The 9th is like the 2nd, the 10th like the 3rd etc. Those can be left till later when you have gained confidence. Now you can try taking the scales we looked at in lens 1 and 2 and see if you can make these intervals in the other keys. At this time always use the first note of the scale as your bottom note of the interval.By all means contact me if you are having problems. There is a contact button at the top right hand of this lens. Or leave a comment further down and come back later to see my reply.

You may like to learn your intervals using a guitar

Is there anything you don't understand? Tell me - then I can make improvements to this music theory lens

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    • firstcookbooklady profile image

      Char Milbrett 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      i have added four of your lenses to my simple tune lens. Thank you for writing these music lens. I took piano lessons 40 years ago and failed. Then, my father gave my daughter my mom's Gulbransen organ. She can play. I cannot. Perhaps, with your lens, I can learn.

    • javr profile image


      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I took music many years ago. My daughter was a very good musician with the clarinet and oboe. She started to learn the piano on her own and with help from friends. She entered formal piano lessons at grade 6 and passed the exams. I was very proud of her. She aced her music theory exam and got an award for that. Aptitude is great but instruction is also essential for any child interested in music.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Dropped by to say..Great music theory site...and added it to my

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 

      7 years ago from West Virginia

      Cool! Now I've got something to refer to for the bass clef notes. Lensrolled to we got the beat music.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      8 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      Hello Liz ~ I love your series! I hope you continue it. I've thought about creating a lens on each aspect of music theory, but just haven't had time to get going. These resources will help many. :)

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Unfortunately, I know very little about Music except that I enjoy it so hopefully you have taught me something with this great lens.

    • Momtothezoo profile image

      Eugenia S. Hunt 

      8 years ago

      Liz, this is great! I feel that piano is 25 percent knowledge and 75% practice. I was only able to take nine months of piano as a Senior in High School and have taken that and what I have learned singing and applied it to practice. I only play on about a four year level but I have managed to teach myself to play the piano and I really enjoy it. Thank you for this wondeful lens.


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