How to play intervals on guitar

Last updated on November 6th, 2023


In this post, we’ll cover what music intervals are and how to play them on the guitar. We’ll include notation examples and guitar charts to help you apply this music theory concept.

In short, learning music intervals help you to:

We’ll first define this term and get into what each music interval is called.

What is an interval in music?

An interval simply means a specific distance between two notes in music. Each distance or “interval” has a particular name that we can use to explain music theory concepts and practical musical application. Let’s look at what each interval is called in the chart below.

Music intervals chart

Interval nameAbbreviationDistance in stepsExample
Perfect unison or
“unison”
P10 C to C
minor 2ndm21 half stepC to C#
Major 2ndM22 half steps
(1 whole step)
C to D
minor 3rdm33 half steps
(1.5 whole steps)
C to Eb
Major 3rdM34 half steps
(2 whole steps)
C to E
Perfect 4thP45 half steps
(2.5 whole steps)
C to F
Augmented 4th
or diminished 5th
(a.k.a. tritone)
A4 or d56 half steps
(3 whole steps)
C to F#
or C to Gb
Perfect 5thP57 half steps
(3.5 whole steps)
C to G
minor 6thm68 half steps
(4 whole steps)
C to Ab
Major 6thM69 half steps
(4.5 whole steps)
C to A
minor 7thm710 half steps
(5 whole steps)
C to Bb
Major 7thM711 half steps
(5.5 whole steps)
C to B
Perfect octave
or “octave”
P812 half steps
(6 whole steps)
C to C

Unison interval on guitar

Here are 3 ways to play the same note C note on the guitar. These notes are considered unison intervals because they are in the same register, meaning one location on the staff.

Unison interval notation

Unison shape examples

Unison interval notes on guitar

minor 2nd interval examples

minor 2nd shapes

minor 2nd Interval examples on guitar

minor 2nd variations

minor 2nd variation shapes

minor 2nd Interval shape examples on guitar .png

The last shape here on the 5th string shape may not be practical if your guitar is not suitable to play past the 12th fret.

Major 2nd interval examples

Major 2nd shapes

Major 2nd interval examples on guitar

Major 2nd variations examples

Major 2nd variation shapes

Major 2nd interval examples on guitar - variations

minor 3rd interval examples

minor 3rd shapes

minor 3rd interval examples on guitar

minor 3rd interval variation examples

Minor 3rd interval examples on guitar

minor 3rd variation shapes

Minor 3rd interval examples on guitar - variations

Major 3rd interval examples

Major 3rd interval notation examples

Major 3rd shapes

Major 3rd interval shape examples on guitar

Major 3rd interval variation examples

Major 3rd interval notation examples

Major 3rd variation shapes

Major 3rd interval examples on guitar - variations

Perfect 4th interval examples

Perfect 4th shapes

Perfect 4th interval examples on guitar

Augmented 4th interval examples

Augmented 4th shapes

Augmented 4th interval examples on guitar

Perfect 5th interval examples

Perfect 5th shapes

Perfect 5th interval examples on guitar

Perfect 5th interval variation examples

Perfect 5th variation shapes

Perfect 5th shape variation examples

minor 6th interval examples

minor 6th shapes

minor 6th interval examples on guitar

minor 6th interval variation examples

minor 6th variation shapes

minor 6th interval examples on guitar - variations

Major 6th interval examples

Major 6th shapes

Major 6th interval examples on guitar

minor 7th interval examples

minor 7th shapes

minor 7th interval examples on guitar

Major 7th interval examples

Major 7th shapes

Major 7th Interval examples on guitar

Octave interval examples

Octave shapes

Octave interval examples on guitar

Applying intervals to scales

Once you understand how intervals work, you can create a visual map to identify the relationship between notes. For example, let’s take one position on the fretboard and see what the intervals look like in relation to the root note.

Intervals guitar chart

The following chart shows all of the intervals in one position of the guitar.

Intervals guitar chart

By knowing where your intervals are on the fretboard, you can figure out how to play any scale if you know the formula. For example, the Major scale has the following intervals in relation to the root note: Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, and Major 7th.

Major scale on guitar using intervals

In this case, the notes in dark blue circles belong to the Major scale and the notes in light blue are the ones that are omitted.

Major scale on guitar using intervals

Using this concept of mapping out intervals will also help you find the notes in triad chords and 7ths chords. This is necessary to know so you can choose the right notes when improvising, regardless of what area you are playing on the fretboard.

For other scale examples, also check out minor scales, pentatonic scales or blues scales.

Compound intervals / chord extensions

Compound intervals are another way to label the distance between notes larger than an octave. For example, a Major 10th interval is basically a Major 3rd placed an octave above. You may often hear some of these intervals referred to as “chord extensions”, “extended chord tones”, or “upper extensions”. These terms are usually used interchangeably.

See the chart below for more examples of compound intervals.

Compound intervals chart

Interval nameAbbreviationDistance in stepsExample
Minor 9thm9Half step above octaveC to Db
Major 9thM9Whole step above octaveC to D
Minor 10thm101.5 whole steps above octaveC to Eb
Major 10thM102 whole steps above octaveC to E
Perfect 11th
or “11th”
P112.5 whole steps above octaveC to F
Augmented 11thA113 whole steps above octaveC to F#
Perfect 12th
or “12th”
P123.5 whole steps above octaveC to G
minor 13thm134 whole steps above octaveC to G#
Major 13thM134.5 whole steps above octaveC to A
minor 14thm145 whole steps above octaveC to Bb
Major 14thM145.5 whole steps above octaveC to B
Perfect 15th or
double octave
P156 whole steps above octaveC to C

What is the difference between scale degrees and intervals?

While intervals refer to the distance between any two notes, scale degrees refer to the distance in relation to the root note. These terms are closed related but have slightly different names to refer to the distance between notes.

Here is a chart to help you understand the relation between intervals and scale degrees.

IntervalScale degree
UnisonRoot
minor 2ndflat 2 or b2
Major 2nd2
minor 3rdflat 3rd or b3
Major 3rd3
Perfect 4th4
Augmented 4thsharp 4 or #4
Perfect 5th5
minor 6thflat 6 or b6
Major 6th6
minor 7thflat 7 or b7
Major 7th7
minor 9thflat 9 or b9
Major 9th9
Major 11th11
Augmented 11thsharp 11 or #11
Major 13th13

Another thing worth mentioning is that scale degrees are also synonymous with chord tones to refer to notes in relation to the root note. Chord tones are the notes that determine the quality of a chord. For example, a Major 7 chord has the chord tones 1, 3, 5, and 7. We would say a C Major 7 has the “chord tones” C, E, G, and B.

Wrapping up

Intervals are an important music theory concept to learn because it allows you to understand how scales and chords are built. Once you understand the structure of each interval, you can apply them through your instrument to play ideas throughout the guitar fretboard.

As you start learning to visualize where you intervals are in any given area of the guitar, you’ll get more comfortable at making note choices when playing melodies, improvising, or thinking of chord structures. For an example of this, I recommend this post on how to harmonize a melody using 3rds and 6ths.

I hope this information helps you to have a clearer understanding of music intervals and how to apply them on guitar.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to learn how to build extended chords on guitar.

Get the free guitar practice guide here!

All the best,

JG Music Lessons

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