What Are Intervals and How Do You Play Them On a Bass?
The word “interval” describes the distance (in terms of pitch) between two musical notes. The smallest interval on the fretboard is a semi-tone. It’s the distance between any note and a note that is one fret above or below on the same string. There are 12 notes in an octave which means there are 12 semi-tone intervals. If we play these 12 semi-tone intervals one after the other then we are playing the “Chromatic Scale”. This isn’t a very interesting sounding scale but it’s really important to understand the chromatic scale if we’re going to understand intervals.
One octave chromatic scale starting and finishing on C
Because there are 12 semi-tones in an octave, it is possible to play 12 different intervals within an octave (including the interval of an octave itself). Here is a list of all 12 intervals (plus 4 more intervals that are larger than an octave) along with tab showing how to play them on the bass.
The interval called a “tone” is equal to two semi-tones or you can think of it as the distance of two frets on a single string. Tones and semi-tones can also be called whole-tones and half-tones and also whole-steps and half-steps.
An interval of three semi-tones is a minor 3rd and four semi-tones is a major 3rd. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 1 where I show you how to make chords by using intervals of major and minor 3rd’s to harmonise scales.
Fourths, Fifths and Sixths
Five semi-tones gives us an interval of a 4th. A 4th is neither major nor minor. This interval is often described as a perfect 4th. Six semi-tones gives us an interval called a sharpened 4th because it’s one semi-tone bigger than a 4th. The same interval can be called a flattened 5th because it’s one semi-tone smaller than a 5th. It’s also sometimes called a tri-tone because six semi-tones is equal to three tones. Seven semi-tones makes a 5th or a perfect 5th. Eight semi-tones creates a minor 6th and nine semi-tones, a major sixth. Check out Playing Chords on the Bass – Part 2 where I use intervals of 4th’s, 5th’s and 6th’s to harmonise scales.
Seventh intervals and larger
Ten semi-tones make an interval called a minor 7th. Eleven semi-tones is a major 7th and twelve semitones is an octave. It’s important to note that after the octave the intervals start to repeat the same notes. However, we do still have different names for intervals above an octave. For example, a flattened 9th interval will give you the same note as a semi-tone. A natural 9th interval will give you the same note as a tone. A minor 10th interval is effectively the same as a minor 3rd and a major 10th is the same as a major 3rd
In this second part in my series of videos about playing chords on the bass, we’re going to continue looking at how we can make chords by playing double stops (two notes played at the same time) over open strings. In Part 1 we harmonised scales into intervals of a third and in Part 2 we’re going to see how we can get a whole new set of sounds and chords by changing the interval we use to harmonise our scales.
If you’re not sure what an interval is or how we play intervals on the bass then check out my video called Intervals which is also available on this site and it will explain everything.
In Example 1 I’m playing a C major scale harmonised into intervals of a fourth.
In Example 2 I’m playing the same C major scale played in fourths. I’m playing it over an open A string. Then in the following examples I’m still playing a C major scale over an open A string. However, I’m changing the interval that I’m using to harmonise the scale. In Example 3 I’m harmonising the C major scale in fifths and in Example 4 I’m using sixths. You can hear that each different interval gives us a different sound even though I’m harmonising the same scale over the same note.
* I’ve marked some chords * in the above examples because they don’t contain thirds. The Am7 and Am9 chords could also function as A7 and A9 because they don’t contain the note C. Which is the minor 3rd. I’ve labeled them as minor chords because if we were to add a third in this key it would be a minor third C. Not a major third C#. The G9/A chords in Examples 2 & 3 also don’t include the 3rd B but again I’ve labeled them according to what they would be if we added a 3rd in this key. The same is true for the chords marked in the examples below.
Fourths, Fifths and Sixths
The next examples are a similar idea. Only this time I’m harmonising a D major scale and playing it over an open E string. This gives us a Dorian sound. In Example 5 I’m harmonising the scale in fourths. In Example 6 I’m using fifths and in Example 7 I’m using sixths.
Notice how in Example 7 using the open E string instead of the open A string gives us a different option for fingerings when we play the scale in sixths. We can now play the lower of the 2 notes on the A string. The higher note on the G string while we leave out the D string altogether.
These examples are just a small demonstration of some the sounds that you can come up with using this idea. It wouldn’t be impossible to list here all the possible variations you can achieve by harmonising scales over open strings. So, I really want to encourage you to experiment and come up with ideas of your own.
A melodic minor in sixths
Before I leave you, I’m going to share one more idea. Here’s what the A melodic minor scale that I introduced at the end of Part 1 sounds like when you harmonise it in sixths and play it over an open A string.
This is my new Warwick Alien Deluxe. I’m very impressed with it for a number of reasons. It’s my first 6-string acoustic bass and my biggest concern was that the bottom B-string would be weak. I’ve played 5-string acoustics before and none of them have had such a clear and powerful low B-string as the Warwick Alien Deluxe.
How does it sound?
I’ve tried to demonstrate in the video that the Warwick Alien Deluxe has a very clear sound across it’s entire range. From the clear low B-string all the way up to soloing above the 12th fret. It has a very clear and pleasant acoustic sound.
How good is the build quality?
Very good. Surprisingly good in fact. All of Warwick’s acoustic basses are now made in China. Even the more expensive Warwick ALIEN. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 features all of the standard Warwick hardware including Warwick Machine heads and Just-a-Nut III. It also features Fishman electronics including a piezo pickup and a Fishman Prefix Plus T Electronic preamp.
However, the most important thing about the build quality, and the thing that makes Warwick instruments stand out in general is the quality of the woods used. The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 boasts a mahogany neck, a wenge fingerboard, a laminated spruce top and, as you can see in the video, beautiful back and sides made of laminated Bubinga. It’s the quality of the look of these materials and the tones that they produce that really makes you feel like you’re playing a high quality professional instrument.
The Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is an outstanding, high quality professional acoustic bass guitar. It is fairly expensive, but not considering the build quality of the instrument and the quality of the materials used.
If you are looking for a high quality, great looking acoustic bass with a clear sound across a wide range from low B-string and playable above the 12th fret then the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 is the instrument for You.
In the video, I play the Warwick Alien Deluxe 6 through my Warwick Hellborg rig. The Hellborg Preamp is quite simply the best preamp for bass on the market and I use it for virtually all my recording. It’s so good that I use it when recording other instruments and vocals as well.