Ah yes, the musical intervals. One basis from which we can potentially learn the true character and personality of our artistic selves and advance a potentially limited number of possibilities to the infinite. Are personality and character illuminated by which intervals we are instinctively drawn too? Are infinite possibilities created simply by one's perspective?
In the tonal scheme of things, each of the intervals creates their own unique quality, has their own unique sense of tonal gravity and as we progress in our art, we each find for ourselves our favorite ones, the intervals whose quality we seem to innately know. For some players these are the blue notes, which can anchor lines venturing into the furthest reaches of the tonal sphere with a mere whispering. For some it is the perfect 5th and it's dominance of tonal gravity in structured tonality. Many players dig the quality of the major 3rd and the spiritual joy and brightness it creates. To each their own yes? Coolness emerges in knowing a bit of the theory, which helps us to organize our favorite intervals and gradually place them in different environments, expanding our options.
From one perspective, musical intervals are simply numerical labels to measure the distance between two pitches. This mathematical measuring of intervalic distance can basically be broken down into half and whole steps. Another perspective is to search to discover the strengths and emotional relationships between one pitch and another, or many pitches when working with harmony. To be consciously aware and responsive of the forces of tonal gravity, and learn how to begin to enjoy this natural force in our own artistic creations as we weave between tension and release. Learning the numbers part of musical intervals might take a couple of weeks of diligent study. Finding the ones you like and getting them firmly under your fingers takes awhile. Understanding the tonal gravity aspect of musical intervals is perhaps the easiest, because we physically and emotionally feel and respond to its forces. Attempting to successfully recreate this tonal gravity on our chosen instruments as we tell our stories is the fun part.
All of the following exercises are purely diatonic, utilizing only the pitches of the key of C major. Try to expand these exercises over your full range of your chosen instrument. Write out extended versions of the exercises if necessary. The following studies are more directed towards the career musician, as they demand a higher degree of discipline and general perseverance. The brightness of the tempos of the examples which follow attempt to bring forth the potential excitement of rapid articulation of the studies, helping the emerging artist to experience the excitement and encouraging the shedding to achieve this level of performance. Personally, I've been playing these exercises on and off for many years. They help me to warm up before a performance and oftentimes generate an idea or two to start the process.
Practice format for interval studies with the major scale. The gist of the presentation of the major scales in these pages is to provide a learning format that will attempt to thoroughly exhaust all diatonic possibilities, in each of the 12 major keys, throughout the entire range of your instrument. These scales form the basis to eventually execute any and all melodic possibilities from any pitch on the instrument. That is our goal. Later in this program well add the arpeggiated approach to harmony, in a similar format to the interval studies to complete this approach to the musical resources. So with this in mind...
1) Learn, memorize and develop the ability to spell out by letter name all twelve major keys, i.e., know the pitches theoretically as well as on your chosen instrument. The chromatic scale is a good way to master all of the pitches on one's chosen instrument.
2) Working with a metronome if available, start slowly and learn, memorize and develop the ability to execute all twelve major scales throughout whatever is your comfortable range on your chosen instrument. Use a pictorial organizer for the 12 keys such as the cycle of fifths, cycle of fourths, or perhaps chromatic motion to cover all the keys. Perhaps all three eh?
3) Once your reasonably fluid with moving up, down and around each of the 12 major scales, simply begin to play each of these groups of pitches in thirds. There are a couple of suggested ways to permutate in thirds in the examples that follow. Permutate each of the12 keys in thirds, using your chosen organizer. Once fluent in thirds, go on to fourths. Same program, different interval. Then fifths, sixths etc. Sky's the limit. Your call. Tempo, or how fast you go, plays a huge role in these exercises. Start slowly with each interval level, keeping in mind your tone, articulation and especially dynamics. Work up to a comfortable but confident level of execution before tackling the next level. If you want to be able to really burn or play fast, you gotta shed, it's that simple. Your choice.
4) Of course, the above ideas are only suggestions. If you want to start with fifths, by all means. As always, explore and experiment, find what you dig, thoroughly internalize those components then expand outward from there. By necessity, the following exercises are written out in standard musical notation in the key of C major to facilitate learning but once learned, should be committed to memory. As the term implies, improvisation is to improvise, actual creation done in this idiom is generally not written out ( dah! ).
Interval studies examples. The low to high pitch range of the following ideas is quite large, simply adapt the interval motion to what ever pitches are best under your fingers.
Diatonic C major scale in major and minor seconds. Example 1.
Ascending in thirds. Example 2.
Descending thirds moving up stepwise. Example 3.
Alternating upward and downward thirds. Example 4.
Alternating downward and upward thirds and stepwise motion. Example 5.
Motion upwards in fourths. Example 6.
Motion down in fourths ascending stepwise. Example 7.
Up a fourth then up stepwise followed by motion down a fourth. Example 8.
Basically the reverse of the preceding example. Example 9.
Diatonic motion upwards in fifths. Example 10.
Diatonic motion downward in fifths. Example 11.
By fifth then stepwise then down by fifth. Example 12.
Reverse of above idea. Example 13.
Motion upward in diatonic sixths. Example 14.
Downward motion in sixths. Example 15.
Upward by sixth then by step. Example 16.
Repermutation of above idea. Example 17.
Moving in sevenths. Example 18
Motion downward in sevenths. Example 19.
Motion by seventh then by step. Example 20.
Retrograde inversion of the above lick. Example 21.
Octave motion up and down. Example 22.
By octave then step. Example 23.
Compound intervals. Compound intervals are those that exceed the span of one octave. Although usually associated with the chords / harmony, we do find the compound intervals melodically, especially in the improvisations. Continuing with the above format, the following possibilities emerge.
Upward and downward diatonic motion by major 9th. Example 24.
By major 9th then step. Example 25.
Upward and downward diatonic motion by major 10th. Example 26.
By major 10th then step. Example 27.
Upward and downward diatonic motion by perfect 11th. Example 28.
Cool so far ...? Is there a lifetime of shedding with the interval studies ...? Pretty much ... Kinda like doin daily exercises when younger then evolving into yoga as the years go by ... so very simple and cool.
Not to get to far ahead but, if your lucky, there may come a time when you will experience players who will repeat verbatim on their instruments what was just played by another. When players spontaneously do this it is pure magic to behold and can be majorly inspiring to the emerging artist. This might well be one of the ultimate ideals of the improvising musician. Spontaneous repetition of any lick, from any source. Handy! Anyway, shedding through any interval studies can surely help head a player in this direction.
The next level of of melodic development within this text is found in the permutation / sequencing section. Click here to go there.