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Perfect Intervals

22 July, 2019 - 10:18
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Primes, octaves, fourths, and fifths can be perfect intervals.

Note: These intervals are never classified as major or minor, although they can be augmented or diminished (see below).

What makes these particular intervals perfect? The physics of sound waves (acoustics) shows us that the notes of a perfect interval are very closely related to each other. (For more information on this, see Frequency, Wavelength, and Pitch and Harmonic Series.) Because they are so closely related, they sound particularly good together, a fact that has been noticed since at least the times of classical Greece, and probably even longer. (Both the octave and the perfect fifth have prominent positions in most of the world's musical traditions.) Because they sound so closely related to each other, they have been given the name "perfect" intervals.

Note: Actually, modern equal Equal Temperament tuning does not give the Pythagorean Intonation perfect fourths and fifths. For the musictheory purpose of identifying intervals, this does not matter. To learn more about how tuning affects intervals as they are actually played, see Tuning Systems.

A perfect prime is also called a unison. It is two notes that are the same pitch. A perfect octave is the "same" note an octave - 12 half-steps - higher or lower. A perfect 5th is 7 half-steps. A perfect fourth is 5 half-steps.


Figure 4.31 Perfect Intervals

Listen to the octave, perfect fourth, and perfect fifth.