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Augmented and Diminished Intervals

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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If an interval is a half-step larger than a perfect or a major interval, it is called augmented. An interval that is a half-step smaller than a perfect or a minor interval is called diminished. A double sharp  or double flat is sometimes needed to write an augmented or diminished interval correctly. Always remember, though, that it is the actual distance in half steps between the notes that determines the type of interval, not whether the notes are written as natural, sharp, or double-sharp.


Figure 4.35 Some Diminshed and Augmented Intervals

Listen to the augmented prime, diminished second, augmented third, diminished sixth, augmented seventh, diminished octave, augmented fourth, and diminished fifth. Are you surprised that the augmented fourth and diminished fifth sound the same?

Exercise 4.14

Write a note that will give the named interval.

Figure 4.36 Exercise 4.14

As mentioned above, the diminished fifth and augmented fourth sound the same. Both are six half-steps, or three whole tones, so another term for this interval is a tritone. In Western Music, this unique interval, which cannot be spelled as a major, minor, or perfect interval, is considered unusually Consonance and Dissonance and unstable (tending to want to resolve to another interval).

You have probably noticed by now that the tritone is not the only interval that can be "spelled" in more than one way. In fact, because of enharmonic spellings, the interval for any two pitches can be written in various ways. A major third could be written as a diminished fourth, for example, or a minor second as an augmented prime. Always classify the interval as it is written; the composer had a reason for writing it that way. That reason sometimes has to do with subtle differences in the way different written notes will be interpreted by performers, but it is mostly a matter of placing the notes correctly in the context of the key, the chord, and the evolving harmony. (Please see Cadence for more on that subject.)

Figure 4.37 Enharmonic Intervals
Any interval can be written in a variety of ways using enharmonic spelling. Always classify the interval as it is written.