The old adage states that first impressions count, and nowhere is that as true as in your songwriting. While lyrics and chords all create emotion in your song, there is one tool that can add mood instantly. That is the interval.
The interval is a true musical hero, able to impart meaning into sound with just one movement from a note to the next. But how can you actually use this when writing a song?
What Is an Interval?
An interval is a gap between two notes in a scale. These gaps can each produce a certain meaning or feeling in the listener. Different intervals each have different emotions that they can impart.
It sounds complicated, but it isn’t. Listen to the first two notes from the melody of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Pay attention to the notes when the syllables ‘Some’ and ‘Where’ are sung.
They use the large leap of an octave, a C to the higher C on piano. It gives the listener a sense of a journey, of traveling far away, but also of wholeness and happiness.
Now listen to the first two notes of the guitar riff in Iron Man by Black Sabbath. This uses the interval of a minor third. Even without distorted guitar and heavy drums, you could still tell the somber mood of the song.
The riff for this song is not a happy, joyful tune like Somewhere Over the Rainbow. This is because of the gaps between the notes (intervals) it has chosen.
How Do I Write Using This?
First of all, play a major or minor scale. If you need help with major and minor scales click here. Once you can play the scale, experiment with jumping from the first note directly to some of the other notes.
Think about which leaps (intervals) fit with the theme of your song. Once you have a few you like, try linking them together into a tune. You may decide to use some interesting notes or runs to link them together.
How Do I Know Which Intervals to Use?
If you are using a major scale, the intervals from the first note to the other notes should all give a happy, uplifting feeling. Try to avoid the seventh note as it is the only one that has a clashing, dissonant sound (unless that is what you want).
When playing a minor scale, moving from the first note to a third, sixth, and seventh will give a mean and moody sound. This can add a touch of anger or melancholy to your song.
How Can I Emphasize the Interval?
Emphasizing the interval can really hammer home a point. This is usually done by holding the notes longer than the others in the melody. You can also pick out keywords in your lyrics to combine it with, enhancing the impact.
As a case study, listen to the Main Theme to Star Wars. After the short three-note brass burst, the interval of a fifth is played and emphasized. This is because the interval of the first note to the fifth note in a scale is the strongest relationship.
This interval is emphasized as it denotes heroism and power. You will find it in most Hollywood action movie themes. Indiana Jones? The Avengers? Superman? All use this interval as a tactic.
Rounding It Off
Once you have a melody that utilizes intervals combinations, start to add your chords and lyrics. You can find a handy guide on how to find lyrical inspiration here, so you will have written that perfect tune in no time!