Rapid Skill Development with the Cycle of Thirds

Created by
Max Maxwell

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If you have mastered the first three steps in this course, which give you the Cycle of Thirds as a musical interval calculator, you are ready to learn how to spell intervals. Now that you have a musical interval calculator in your head, learning to spell the intervals will be easy. Your goal is to be able to spell intervals with as much ease as you can count with numbers. If you do this, your ability to work with pitch differences in music theory and composition will be greatly improved.  We will start with Perfect Primes and 2nds. You do not need a musical interval calculator to spell Primes and 2nds. It is easy to simply count half steps.

How to Find Perfect Primes and 2nds

You already know how to find the interval of a Major or minor 3rd above or below any note. In the following lessons you will learn to do the same with other intervals. In this lesson we learn about Perfect Primes, the intervals of a Major and minor 2nd and how to know what note is that distance above or below any given note.

Perfect Primes

You know that an interval is a measure of the distance in pitch between two notes. The Perfect Prime (also called a Unison) is an interval name for two notes that are the same pitch. This means that a Perfect Prime has no distance in pitch. There are no Perfect Primes that are “above” or “below” your starting note. The Perfect Prime is always the exact same pitch and therefore the same note name. A Perfect Prime for C is C. A Perfect Prime for Gb is Gb, and so on.

What is an interval of a 2nd?

A 2nd interval is always one letter name away from your starting note. If A is the 1st, then B is the 2nd. B is just one letter name away from A. Just like 3rds, there is a Major 2nd and a minor 2nd. A Major 2nd has two half steps. A minor 2nd has one half step.

How to Find Major and Minor 2nds Above or Below Any Note

Because Major and minor 2nds are so few half steps away from a note, it is easy to find them. Just remember that the letter name of a major or minor 2nd will always be one letter name away from your starting note.

For a Major 2nd above, just go one letter name above the starting note and adjust the answer (if needed) to make sure it is two half steps away from your starting note. In the illustration above, the next letter name is B. B is also two half steps away from A, so B is a Major 2nd above A.

For a minor 2nd above, just go to the next letter name above the starting note and adjust the answer (if needed) to make sure it is one half step away from your starting note. In the illustration above, the next letter named note is B, you must drop it to Bb to make it one half step (minor 2nd) above A.

If you were starting on B, the next letter name above B is C. But B and C have no black key between them (see illustration below), so C is a minor 2nd with only one half step above B. Raise C by one half step to C# to get the Major 2nd, with two half steps, above B.

Major and minor 2nds below work in the same way. Just move in the opposite direction. If you are starting on C, then B is a minor 2nd (one half step) below C. Bb is a Major 2nd (with two half steps) below C.

If you remember a minor 2nd is always one half step above or below your starting note and a Major 2nd is always two half steps above or below your starting note, then you can find them without much effort. You just need to be able to count notes chromatically. This means that you know the order of all the notes as they appear on the piano keyboard.

The Chromatic Scale

A      A#/Bb      B      C      C#/Db      D      D#/Eb      E      F      F#/Gb      G      G#/Ab      A

A Chromatic scale is one that includes all the pitches in a specified range. Look at the illustration below. If you start with A on the left and count keys to the right, including all the white and black keys, you get a chromatic scale. If you are unfamiliar with the basic order of notes, you should memorize the chromatic scale. Remember that all adjacent notes on the keyboard have a sharp or flat (black key) between them, except between B to C and E to F. You must memorize the chromatic scale.

The Chromatic Order of Notes on the Piano Keyboard

Exercise:
Cover the illustration above. Name the note that is a minor 2nd above the given note. Remember that “above” is to the right on the piano keyboard. The letter name must be the next letter name above the given note. Example: The minor 2nd above A should be called B
b not A#. Because numerically A is 1st and B is 2nd.  This holds true even if you need to use a double flat or double sharp. Use the interval charts on the answer charts page to check your answers.

 1. A  _________ 2. Eb  _________ 3. B  _________ 4. F  _________ 5. C#  _________ 6. D  _________ 7. Gb _________ 8. A#  _________ 9. Db  _________ 10. B#  _________ 11. C  _________ 12. G  _________

Exercise:

Fill in the blank with the minor 2nd below the given note. Remember that “below” is to the left on the piano keyboard (see above). Use the interval charts on the answer charts page to check your answers.

 1.  _________ A 2.  _________ Eb 3.  _________ B 4.  _________ F 5.  _________ C# 6.  _________ D 7. _________ Gb 8.  _________ A# 9.  _________ Db 10.  _________ Bb 11.  _________ C 12.  _________ G

Exercise:

For each blank, write the note that is a Major 2nd above the given note. Use the interval charts on the answer charts page to check your answers.

 1. A  _________ 2. Eb  _________ 3. B  _________ 4. F  _________ 5. C#  _________ 6. D  _________ 7. Gb _________ 8. A#  _________ 9. Db  _________ 10. B#  _________ 11. C  _________ 12. G  _________

Exercis:

For each blank, write the note that is a Major 2nd below the given note.

 1.  _________ A 2.  _________ Eb 3.  _________ B 4.  _________ F 5.  _________ C# 6.  _________ D 7. _________ Gb 8.  _________ A# 9.  _________ Db 10.  _________ Bb 11.  _________ C 12.  _________ G

Daily and Weekly Practice

Your daily practice consists of reciting the Cycle of Thirds forward and backward for at least two minutes a day. Your weekly practice is at least five minutes a week spelling chords. Five minutes a week may not seem like much, but after a few months of spelling chords with this method, you will have ingrained the process into your brain for long term storage. Just make sure you spell at least one chord for each chord type with a randomly chosen root. In addition to chords, for each interval you learn to find, now begin to spend at least five minutes a week practicing finding notes that are a specified interval above or below random notes. So far you know how to construct primes, 2nds and 3rds. You must remember to also practice 3rds below a note. Use the charts in the appendix to check your answers when you drill on creating these intervals.

For Major 3rds, minor 3rds and Major 2nds, your best practice is to recite a series of ascending intervals. Pick one of the three intervals above or below, pick a random root note and keep adding that interval to your answer.  For example, if you chose a Major 3rd above C, a Major 3rd above C is E, above E is G#, above G is B#, then D##, etc. When you hit a triple sharp or triple flat, pick a new interval and start again.

For minor 2nds, do not practice a series, but pick a new random root each time. 2nds quickly run into triple sharps and flats.

The above are the recommended minimums. You are encouraged to do more. Practice as much as it takes to make all of the skills taught in this course as quick and easy for you to use as possible. If you are interested in spending a significant amount of time in your future with the study of music theory, you will not regret the time you put into mastering this course. Spelling intervals, chords and scales are basic skills you want to develop as much and as early as possible in your musical studies. The full advantage of The Music Theory AdvantageTM is not fully realized until the skills taught in this course are second nature to you.