Understanding Intervals Part 4 – Fifths

Happy Holidays, Shredders!!

If you missed the previous blog entry on fourths, please go read that one first. I talk about perfect intervals, the tempered scale and all that jazz there so it won’t be repeated here.

Perfect Fifths are the stuff of legends. Metallica and heavy metal would not exist without them. They are the lion’s roar of power chords.

Ok, so what are they?

A perfect fifth is 7 half steps higher from any starting point. Let’s go back to the key of G:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 2 3 4
G A B C D E F# G A B C

So throughout the key here are our fifths:

Root Fifth
G D
A E
B F#
C G
D A
E B
F# C

And like I stated in the previous post, perfect intervals are not major or minor. They are perfect, as most of them here, augmented (raised 1/2 step) or diminished (lowered 1/2 step). The only diminished interval here is the F# to C – it’s 6 half steps and is the same thing as the augmented fourth I talked about last post – it’s a tri tone.

So you’ll see these lay out well on the guitar. G (6th string 3rd fret) to D (fifth string 5th fret) lie well with your first and third finger.

Think back to your chord theory. Chords are built in 3rds and a G major chord is G B D. Every chord has a 5th interval in it. The third determines whether the chord is major or minor but the fifth is androgenous.

So power chords typically lack the 3rd. Meaning at most, you’ll play Root – Fifth – Root up an octave and that’s it. Think of the intro for Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” song – it’s all fifths.

(As a side note: when I was a music major in school, fifths moving together were called “parallel fifths” and was considered an unwanted sound in composition and we were always marked down in 4 part harmony if we had them. Contast that to heavy metal bands!! )

So solo wise, how can we incorporate fifths into our playing?

While they can be played like the chord shapes discussed above, I also like another way of playing them. The fifth can be found like this:

A (6th string 5th fret) to E (4th string 2nd fret). This skips a string. What’s nice about it is I play chord shapes (triads) this way in my soloing. So I’ll be playing the root with my 4th finger and the fifth with my first finger. Get used to skipping the string. The intervals we have next are 6ths, 7ths and octaves and they all involve skipping a string. With time you’ll get accurate with your pick and it won’t be that hard anymore.

That’s it for now. Gear up for New Years Eve and I’ll be continuing this series on intervals…

Spencer Out