Melody is the part of music that we sing or hum along to, and it’s what makes a song memorable and catchy. Melodies are created by combining different intervals and scales. In this lesson, we’ll be breaking down the classic tune ‘Happy Birthday to You’ to show you how different intervals and scales are used to create a memorable melody.
What is an interval in music?
First, let’s define intervals. An interval is the distance between two notes. Intervals are measured in half-steps, which are the smallest distance between two notes on a keyboard or guitar. For example, the distance between C and C# is one half-step, while the distance between C and D is two half-steps.
Would you be able to answer questions related to intervals now? What is the interval between C and G? .
To get from C to G, we count up five notes (C, D, E, F, G) and find that the distance between C and G is seven half-steps.
Now, let’s try another one. What is the interval between E and B? This one is a bit trickier, so take your time and think it through.
The interval between E and B is made up of seven half-steps. To get from E to B, we count up five notes (E, F, G, A, B) and find that the distance between E and B is seven half-steps.
From now on, you can refer to this intervals table where we show all notes and their total half-step distance between. By understanding the intervals between different notes, you can start to create your own melodies and harmonies and explore the world of music in a new way. Use this table as a reference guide as you continue to learn and practice the principles of intervals and music theory.
Now let’s talk about scales.
What is a scale in music?
A scale is a series of notes played in ascending or descending order, usually starting and ending on the same note. Scales are the foundation of melody, and they provide the framework for creating musical phrases and ideas.
The most common scale in Western music is the major scale, which is made up of seven different notes and has a distinctive sound that is happy and uplifting.
To create a major scale, we start with a root note and then add six more notes, each one a certain distance away from the root note. The distances between the notes are determined by the pattern of whole steps and half-steps. The pattern for a major scale is: whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. It can also be shown as the distance in tones and half-tones, like this:
So, for example, to create a C major scale, we start with the note C and then add the notes D, E, F, G, A, and B, each one a certain distance away from C. Listen how the C major scale sounds in a stringed instrument:
Note that the C major scale in this audio is played with all seven notes, plus the C repeated an octave higher. It is important to note that the last note, the C in a higher scale, is not part of the major scale. This is a common mistake made by beginners. The major scale only consists of seven notes.
The final note played in the audio is actually the first note of the next octave, which is used to complete the scale and bring it to a satisfying conclusion.
What to do with intervals and scales?
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you might be tempted to try combining notes in unusual ways. The theory of intervals and scales will help so that you can do this in a way that still sounds harmonious and pleasing to the ear. For example, let’s say you decide to combine a group of notes to see what happens:
Combine C, A, F, and B in any order
You might end up with a jumbled mess of sounds that clash and feel dissonant rather than creating a cohesive melody. Hear this audio as an example to what might happen to you if you try it without any understanding of the theory:
But fear not! There is a way to combine notes from different scales in a way that still sounds good. By understanding the intervals between the notes and the structure of different scales, you can create unique and interesting combinations that still sound harmonious. For example, you might decide to combine only the notes of a C major scale to do improvisation. By paying attention to the intervals between the notes and using your ear to guide you, you will be on a safe space, and will be able to create your first melodies.
Let’s give it a try! Combine any of the notes of the C major scale:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B
Once you’ve identified these notes on your instrument and you respect the rule of only making sounds with these 7 notes, guess what… It will actually sound good! listen to this example below:
Feels fresh and exciting, right? While still adhering to the fundamental principles of music theory you are now empowered to create your own music!
So go ahead and experiment with different scales and intervals. Once you get familiar the basics of intervals and scales, you can continue with more evolved concepts, like using chord progressions to create a harmonic framework that supports our melodies and gives them meaning and depth.
Here’s one more for inspiration, using a piano. Which one you think sounds better?