Whats "Minor" about a 2nd?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by eSmith, Sep 7, 2010.

  1. OK, I'm a bass newbie and have a question that is bugging me and I'm hoping someone here can help me make sense of it.

    So, concerning intervals, the differance between Major and Minor scales is that the 3rd, 6th and 7th scale degrees are flattened a half step. So, a "Major" 3rd flattened half a step is considered a "Minor" 3rd. (same for the 6th and 7th's) This makes sense to me.

    My question is, if it is a whole step between the first and second intervals in BOTH the major AND minor scales. Then how and why do we call the second interval a "Minor" 2nd if it is flattened half a step? The minor scale simply doesn't have a flattened second so why do we label it as if it does?

    Hope I got the question correct so you guys understand what I'm asking.


  2. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    No strict rule, but in general:
    "Minor" intervals do not get their name for being part of the Minor Scale.
    "Minor" means 1/2 step lower than its "natural" position in the major scale.
    "Minor/Major" usually applies to 2nd,3rd,6th,7th.

    The 4th and 5th don't change from Maj to Min scales,and are "Perfect/diminished/ augmented",
    so it's not unreasonable to suggest that the 2nd should also do this. In fact I see people refer to the "augmented 2nd" often enough.

    Part of the reason could also be to avoid confusion with chord types:
    When we say Major, Minor, Augmented or Diminished, there are certain assumptions
    about the 3rd and 5th that might be unintentionally inferred.

    Note that many intervals are enharmonic (Major6th and Diminished 7th, or a Minor 3rd and a Augmented 9th)
    and the most appropriate name will depend on the context (usually what chord it shows up in)
    lowplaces likes this.
  3. I think the problem you're experiencing arises because "minor" and "major" are used to describe several different things in music (intervals, chords, keys, scales). You're mixing up a couple of those uses. Major as applied to intervals is not the same as major as applied to keys, chords, or scales.

    All an interval is is a measure of distance between two notes. E to G is always a minor 3rd, regardless of whether you're in the key of C, G, F minor or whatever.

    A scale is made up of a certain set of intervals in a certain order, or, to look at it another way, a certain set of intervals from a specified starting note.

    One way of looking at a major scale is to say that it consists of a major 2nd, a major 3rd, a perfect 4th, a perfect 5th, a major 6th, a major 7th, a perfect octave. These are all intervals specified in relation to the same starting note: C-D, C-E, C-F, C-G, C-A, C-B, C-C.

    But you could equally well look at a scale as a sequence of whole and half-tones (IOW, major and minor 2nds) from each note in the scale to the next one: C-D, D-E, E-F, F-G, G-A, A-B, B-C. So in a C major scale, the sequence is WWHWWWH. IOW, major 2nd, major 2nd, minor 2nd, major 2nd, major 2nd, major 2nd, minor 2nd.

    What this means is that whether an interval is a major or a minor interval does not necessarily have to do with whether you're playing a major or minor scale, or are in a major or minor key. Both minor and major scales can include major and minor intervals, depending on how you look at them.

    Basically, major and minor just mean greater and lesser, respectively. That's why when you take down a major interval, it becomes a minor one.

    Does that help?
    lowplaces and Sav'nBass like this.
  4. +1 I do this all the time...
  5. slybass3000

    slybass3000 Inactive

    Nov 5, 2004
    It has to do with the distance between two notes in a scale or in a key. A major second is a whole-tone and a minor second is a semi-tone. That's all.
    Groove Master likes this.
  6. brimfire


    Mar 31, 2009
    The way I look at it (I'm new too), if you're in a major key and start an arpeggio on the root, that's major. If you start on the second note (2-4-6), that chord is minor. So a chord progression would be ii-V-I, not II-V-I.
  7. Slight correction: roots and tonics are not the same thing. Keys don't have roots, they have tonics. Chords have roots. They may be built on any degree of the scale, including the tonic, but whatever note the chord is built on is the root of that chord, regardless of whether it's the tonic of the key.

    So in C major, C is the tonic, but it's also the root of a C major chord. D, however, is NOT the tonic in C major (it's the supertonic), but it is still the root of a D minor chord. F is the subdominant in C major, but it is still the root of an F major chord.
    Sav'nBass likes this.
  8. sub-

    (sorry to make another slight correction ;))

    Excellent posts!
  9. You're right, of course. Corrected.:oops:
  10. brimfire


    Mar 31, 2009
    Thank you for that correction in nomenclature, but I hope I was getting to the heart of the OP's question on why it's a minor second when the second isn't actually minor (two different contexts of "minor"). So it's a minor second chord, but not a minor second note.
  11. Sorry, but I think you're still confused. That's not correct either. There's no such thing as a minor 2nd chord. A minor 2nd is an interval. Thus there's no such thing as a minor 2nd note either. You need TWO notes to have an interval, by definition.

    However, that doesn't really address what the OP asked, which he asked because he didn't get the difference between (a) "minor" as a description of an interval and (b) "minor" as a description of the quality of a chord, scale, or key.

    Or the difference between (a) "second" as the name of a type of interval and (b) "second" as a number for one of the degrees of the scale. I think you have mixed up these two when you say: "Why it's a minor second when the second isn't actually minor."

    You can have a minor chord built on the 2nd degree of the scale, however, if that's what you meant. And the 2nd degree of a given scale can be a minor 2nd away from the 1st degree (tonic), as in the Phrygian mode (E phrygian=EFGABCDE, where the distance from E to F is a minor 2nd interval).
  12. brimfire


    Mar 31, 2009
    That's exactly what I was getting at, thank you. I just didn't feel like the talk of subdominants and "minor second" as meaning simply a half-step were answering the OP's question, even though I don't have the necessary knowledge to answer it correctly :) You might have given the above answer in other terms in your first response to his question, but it was over my head . . .
  13. Frohman


    Nov 24, 2009
    Ever heard of the frygian or the locrian mode? Play E to E, or B to B, only white keys, on the piano, and you'll hear the distinct dissonant sound of the minor second. It's simply evil.
  14. Any time you have two sequentially named notes that are a half step apart (B-C, E-F, A-Bb, B#-C#, Eb-Fb), you have a minor 2nd interval. This is true in any key or scale or chord, at any time, regardless of which degrees of the scale we're talking about.
  15. Frohman


    Nov 24, 2009
    True, but it is more effectful when the interval follows the root, simply because it's almost no other scale use them. When you hear a half step interval in a standard western minor or major scale it sounds normal because we're accustomed to it and therefore expect it.
  16. Fair enough, the phrygian and locrian do have a different kind of sound for that reason--"evil" if you like. But IMO that's kind of peripheral to the main point of the OP's confusion in this thread, which was how two sequential tones a half-step apart could be called a minor anything if they weren't in a minor chord or scale.
  17. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    but the minor scale could have a flattened second. 'major' and 'minor' are convenient labels for the two scales that are most commonly used; but they are only labels. forms with minor 2nds like

    C C# D# F
    C C# E F

    are just as legitimate major and minor, but in practice are not used as frequently. consider, in arabic music the two forms above are more prevalent than the western major and minor...this boils (mostly) down to aesthetic preference.

    when you look into scales that are beyond the plain ol' major or minor, you'll find that it's very practical to name intervals in this fashion. you can't always assume that a major 2nd is implied. in jazz, they will specify a minor 2nd as a flat 9th extension, regardless of whether the chord tonality is major/minor.
  18. Except that C-C# is not a minor 2nd but an augmented unison.

    In any case, the original problem wasn't so much about not knowing other types of minor scales as it was about making a category error by confusing (1) minor as an attribute of an interval with (2) minor as an attribute of a scale, key, or chord.

    IOW, even if you grant that there could be a "minor" scale in which the 2nd degree is a minor 2nd above the tonic, that still doesn't have anything to do with why the intervals B-C, E-F, C#-D and so forth are ALWAYS minor 2nds regardless of whether they occur between the 1st and 2nd degrees of the scale, the 3rd and 4th, the 7th and 8th (1st), or any other adjacent pair. That's what the OP seemed really to have been confused about.
  19. uethanian


    Mar 11, 2007
    do you mean because i used C# rather than Db? don't see how it makes any practical difference in 12-tone equal temperament. and i'd consider an augmented or diminished unison a comma away, not an entire half-step away.
  20. Yes, because it's not a 2nd unless you use Db. And yes, an augmented unison is in fact an entire half-step away, by definition, but it's not and never can be a minor 2nd.

    Practical difference aside, this is a matter of accurate nomenclature. Everybody knows that in the tempered 12 tone system we mostly use, C# and Db are treated as enharmonic equivalents and there is a half-step between C and C# just as there is between C and Db. But one is a minor 2nd and the other is an augmented unison. For an interval to be a 2nd, of any kind, the two notes must have two different (and adjacent) letter names (with G-A of course counting as adjacent in this context). If two notes making up an interval have the same letter name and are in the same register, that interval must be a unison of some kind, even if the notes are physically a half-step apart.

    That's just how it is. That's what these things are by definition. Understanding these kinds of differences will help you understand other things.
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