Compound Intervals And Musical Literacy

Musicianship & Musical Literacy

Enrolling in music school as a self taught musician, and not adequately prepared for the experience, I quickly found myself being overwhelmed with all the jargon and terminology to which I had become exposed. Most troubling, was the numbering system associated with the intervals of the major scale, these intervals, were in use and came up all the time and all sorts of moments in my discussions like ” modulate up a third” or ” it’s the minor sixth” served only to add to my confusion.

I adopted a study habit, and by simply using pencil and paper I quickly solved my problem. I would simply write down the major scale in the key of C and then put the formulas and spellings for as many chords and scales as I can think of down on that paper. Eventually, when I became a teacher I refined this into a series of exercises that we are going to begin to study here in this lesson.

Many players pretend to be proud of their lack of knowledge concerning music theory, reading, writing and analysis. But you can believe me, there is no glory, benefit, or mystical power in not knowing something. I will admit some of the greatest music in the world has been made by people who are self-taught and have not been formally trained. I also know that it is true that many of these players, if not all have gained some expertise in the field of music theory and have developed their own elaborate systems of organizing the elements associated with music theory. Virtually no one can play well from the standpoint of complete ignorance.

Here in this lesson, I encourage you to obtain a music writing book, also called manuscript paper, and begin your writing career right now! Below you will find a table of the intervals associated with the major scale. As we learned earlier, an interval is the distance between two notes, and we studied diatonic intervals which you see listed below. The new concept in this lesson, is called compound intervals – intervals larger than one octave. In your music writing book write down the information you see in the graphic below. Try to be as accurate and complete as possible


The writing exercise you have just completed will serve to reinforce the names of the basic diatonic intervals – those smaller than octave. When studying the compound intervals – those larger than an octave, you will notice some inconsistencies when it comes to the G note and also when it comes to the B note. Since it is a chord tone, the G note is always referred to as a fifth and never the 12th. The same thing goes for the B note, since it is a chord tone is always referred to as the seventh and not the 14th. The third note of the scale, E can be referred to as a 10th however.

At the outset, music theory is apparently full of many inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies. As you progress through the writing exercises so many of your questions will be answered and your level of understanding will quickly increase. I will be honest, just below is a difficult and time-consuming writing exercise done in the key of C. This is exactly the type of exercise that helped me turn a real corner in terms of my general overall ability to function as a musician.

The first exercise has you writing, spelling, and transcribing major scales, major chords and dominant seventh chords. Do not cut corners. I suggest you complete this, and all exercises on this page twice in your music writing book


Putting Pencil To Paper

Remember to complete these written exercises exactly as you see them above. I completely guarantee and promise you that faithfully completing all the exercises suggested in this course will be 100% effective and help you quickly attain your educational goals. As I have said earlier in this lesson the ability to do this exercise quickly, in each of the 12 keys, was one of the turning points in my personal journey towards musical expertise. In addition, these exercises have proven successful in a similar way with a good many of my advanced students who also cite the ability to do this exercise quickly in all 12 keys as a turning point, a watershed moment, in their musical growth and educational journey.

Guitar Wise

Below are the most common voicings (versions) of the 7th, 9th and 11th chords you have been doing your written practicing withonly now you can relate them to a sound. . All of the chords use the C note located on the third fret of string 5 as their root. On the guitar, playing chords with these extended harmonies is not a cut dried issue of simply adding a higher note like it is on the keyboard – we have to take what the guitar will give us, adding the 7, 9 and 11 tensions where we can find them and maybe omitting the 5th or a root note in certain cases.

Ust the exercises below to listen to the chord voicings and then play them on your instrument. Notice how the neck mechanics of the guitar forces us to come up with unusual (by normal instrumental standards) but good sounding and powerful voicings. Finally, all of the chords below would be considered easy or common knowledge voicings.


“My first experience with the guitar was taking lessons from Karl Aranjo as a high school student. His lessons were more than just a collection of tips and riffs: they were a method. As I look through, I get to take a trip back through those lessons and am reminded about I loved about them. His strong focus on the fundamentals quickly draws a connection between general music theory and the particulars of how that theory can be applied to the guitar, even allowing us as guitarists to use our instrument as an abacus-like tool to enhance our musical insight. In high school, Karl’s lessons got me up to speed to jam with my friends and in the school band almost immediately. In the almost 20 years since I left high school and had my last lesson with Karl, the things he taught me have continued to serve me well; I’ve played almost continuously in a variety of styles (jazz, rock, funk, folk), both as a hobby and as a part-time professional (currently playing with San Francisco’s Smash-Up Derby). If I hadn’t grown up in the same town as where Karl taught, I might have missed out on a lifetime of fun playing the guitar. With, wherever you are, you can benefit from the same quality instruction that I had!

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