Short, to-the-point, and easy-to-understand classical music composer biography on Claude Debussy provided by Five Minute Mozart.

Understanding Intervals And Accidentals

Run time: 4m 42s  |  Release Date: June 18th, 2012

Let’s start to talk about some really basic intervals. An interval is the distance from one note to another note either above or below the original note. Now, the two most basic and most important intervals to know about are a half step and a whole step.

Let’s start with a half step. A half step is the distance from one note to the very next note either directly above or below the original pitch. This is probably most easily understood by looking at the keyboard a piano. For those of you who are not familiar with the note on a piano, here they are. Now, if I was to for instance start on the note B and go  up one half step I would end up on the note C. The very next note above the note B is C. Likewise, if I was to start on the note C and go down one half step I would end up on the note B. The very next note below the note C is B.

Let’s try it again this time starting on the note E. Starting on E and going up one  half step would take you to the note F. The very next note directly above the note E is F. And just like earlier if our original note was F and we went down one half step we would end up on the note E. The next note directly below the note F is E.

This is very important to remember. B and C, and E and F, are the only two sets of natural notes which are separated by half steps. All other natural notes are separated by whole steps.

Now that we know what a half step is a whole step will be much easier to understand. A whole step is simply the distance of two consecutive half steps. Let’s start on the note A. If we go up one half step from the note A it will take us to this black key. Now, we know that a half step is two consecutive half steps so if we go jump another half steps to this black key we will end up on this note, B. Let’s just review that quick. If we start on A and go up one whole step we end up on the note B.

Let’s try it one more time this time we’ll start on the note D. Just like before, if we start one the note D and go up two half steps we end up on the note E. Two half steps equals one whole step.

Now, these black keys do actually half letter names. This is where the term accidentals comes in. An accidental is a symbol placed next to a note that raises or lowers that note by step. Here’s a list of commonly used accidentals. The first one, sharp, raises a note by one half step.  This means that being that this black key is one half step above the note F then this black key is actually the note F-sharp. One half step above the note F is F-sharp.

This second accidental, flat, does the opposite of a sharp. A flat lowers a note by one half step. If we take a look at the note E and see that this black key is one half step below the note E, then this black key is actually the note E-flat. One half step below E is E-flat.

Now, you may be thinking that this black key, E-flat, is also a half step above the note D, and you’re right. Each of the black keys can technically be called two different letter names, one sharp and one flat. Here are the letter names of all the black keys on the piano.

Before we wrap up, let’s quick take a look at a few whole steps and half steps which incorporate accidentals. If I start on the note G-sharp and I go up one half step I’ll end up on the note A. One half step above G-sharp is A. If I was to start on the note C-sharp and go up one whole step I would end up on the note D-sharp. One whole step above the note C-sharp is D-sharp.

Now that you know a few basic intervals as well as the letter names of every note, natural - sharp - and flat, in the next video lesson we can finally start to discuss the construction of a Major scale and see how what we’ve been learning can be incorporated into real music. But before one move on don’t forget to check out for free helpful practice sheets and more in-depth explanations of everything discussed in this video.

Watch Next:

10a - Intervals (Intro).png

In order to become a well-rounded musician, it is vitally important that you learn about and become proficient in your ability to read and write each different interval. In this video series we are going to discuss what constitutes each interval, see how they pertain to the scale, and learn how to properly read and write each interval on the staff. Additionally, we will go over a number of tips of tricks which will make working with intervals much easier.

Before we get started, if you are unfamiliar with half steps and whole steps, please take the time to watch our video on covering this subject by clicking on the link in the description below.