interval, in music, the difference in pitch between two tones. Intervals may be measured acoustically in terms of their vibration numbers. They are more generally named according to the number of steps they contain in the diatonic scale of the piano; e.g., from C to D is a second, C and D being the first two notes of the scale of C. The fourth, fifth, and octave are termed perfect intervals as they have a characteristic sonority quite unlike any other interval. An interval between two natural notes, neither note being a sharp or a flat, is a major interval; if it is reduced by a semitone, it becomes minor. If a perfect or a minor interval is made half a step smaller it is called diminished, and when half a step larger, augmented. An interval may also be expressed by means of the ratio of the frequencies of its two tones. For example, the octave may be expressed by the ratio 2:1 because its upper tone has a frequency twice that of its lower tone.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.