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How to Measure Intervals on a Guitar

Just as builders use measurements to identify distances between points, guitarists use intervals to identify distances between pitches. Intervals are important to understand because you use them to build scales and chords and to describe musical movement.

The tape measure used in music is called the major scale. The major scale has seven pitches that are separated by a series of intervals known as whole and half steps. Here’s what the major scale formula looks like:

W-W-H-W-W-W-H

The Ws represent whole steps, and the Hs represent half steps. Starting on any note, you can follow this basic step formula to produce the major scale. Here is what the major scale looks like when you start on G.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Before you can look at each interval individually, analyze its steps, and explore how it looks on the fretboard, you need to see the major scale in a few different positions, which are shown below. You don’t have to memorize these scale patterns right now; they just provide a visual reference.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna
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