The intervals in music theory: definition, story & examples

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A simple note alone is not music. Its sound just floats in space without a specific meaning. It takes at least two notes to create an atom of music. The relationship between these two notes is the interval, characterized by the distance between the two sounds, whence its name originates. With three or more notes and therefore with more intervals, the musical meaning becomes more poignant and the emotional tension for the listener will be stronger. It is an important word, interval, because it is the very essence of the music.

Music intervals have fascinated many spiritually elevated people, mathematicians like Pythagoras or mediums like Gustavo Rol.

All these renowned personalities have studied their characteristics and above all their ability to generate specific psychophysical effects in humans. Rudolf Steiner analyzed them to present his research at a conference in Stuttgart in 1923.

According to Steiner with the “experience of the fifth” one feels an exit into the universe; with the “experience of the third” one feels like returning back home. Between the two lies the “experience of the fourth”, a very strong experience because it is in fact at the boundary separating the experience of the fifth (exteriority) from the third (interiority).

But Steiner was not the only one to study and be fascinated by music intervals.

“I discovered a terrible law that links the color green, the musical fifth, and heat. I have lost my will to live. I am frightened by power. I shall write no more!”

You can buy the book
Let Me Tell You About Music
History, genres, characters, curiosities, legends and secrets of musical theory and harmony

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For sure a very effective phrase, which has always intrigued not only all esoteric scholars but also the physicists. It was pronounced by Gustavo Rol, a sensitive, a seer, reserved and sincere person, incredible man, outside of time, apparently endowed with powers, he lived a reserved life, always in search of pure knowledge. Even Benito Mussolini took such an interest that in 1942 he invited him to Villa Torlonia, where Rol predicted defeat in the war. Hitler also wanted to know him and ordered his people to seek him out to take him to Berlin. Three times Role was hidden by the men of the Duce, protected from the SS. Charles De Gaulle declared that he felt unsafe when Rol was around because he was able to enter the minds of people and potentially discovering even the most delicate state secrets. Even in America they took an interest in him. Walt Disney wished to meet him and Kennedy, in his only trip to Italy as president, travelled to Turin specifically to meet him.

Rol has always attributed his extraordinary power to the discovery of three elements that enables him to create and shape the material as he pleased. Among these there was exactly a musical interval, in particular the fifth interval, capable to generate a perfect consonance.

Among the most fascinating intervals in music is the tritone. Technically it is the interval of an excess fourth or diminished fifth (depending on whether you see it as a fourth or a fifth), in simple words there is a distance of three tones between the two notes. Another important feature of the tritone is that it divides the octave in half.

This interval has a reputation far from impeccable and in history it has been the protagonist of one of the most famous libel campaigns.

In the Middle Ages it was given the name of “Diabolus in Musica” and its use was forbidden as it was believed to be the work of Lucifer.

The reason of the association between the tritone and the evil is shrouded in mystery.

Probably the real reason was that such a dissonance for the ear of the time was particularly unpleasant and unresolved.

As a matter of fact, if we play for example C-F # together, for example, produces an “out of tune”, somewhat unstable sound, at least to our western ear. In the Middle Ages when music was written exclusively to celebrate and praise God, such dissonance could not be tolerated.

You can buy the book
Let Me Tell You About Music
History, genres, characters, curiosities, legends and secrets of musical theory and harmony

on Amazon

After centuries of persecution and defamation, the tritone has been cleared from all accusations and, since its dissonance draws immediate attention, it is often used for police sirens. An institutional role that repays it back and deletes its past. Today it is also used in a very lighthearted way. Can you believe it?

I bet you find the Simpsons a lot of fun and that seeing them relaxes you from everyday problems. Here, their credit song is characterized by the tritone.

Read more about the history of music in the dedicated Auralcrave book