If you have studied intervals before, then let me ask you this one question:
What are the first words that cross your mind when you think of a minor 2nd interval?
For most musicians they interpret not only the isolated sound, but the thought of a minor 2nd as dissonant, rough, or harsh. This way of thinking is completely understandable and although music is very subjective, most of us will agree with the previous statement.
However, what if I were to tell you that it is possible to use a minor 2nd interval to form some of the most beautiful, lush, and colorful chords that exist within our Western Music "vocabulary".
You may be thinking to yourself "Hey, wait a minute! I learned in school that 3rds and 6ths were the most "pretty" and ideal intervals for harmonizing a melodic line!"
I will concede to that point, 3rds and 6ths do sound great and this is what they teach you at most schools. However, if used properly the minor 2nd can make your chord/melodic line "shimmer" unlike any 3rd or 6th ever could.
In fact, my favorite chord for the acoustic guitar is a C# minor9 in root position with the high "E" string ringing out. The Minor 9 chord already has a beautiful quality to it, but there is a reason why I specifically like and prefer the C# minor9. That reason is the minor 2nd interval between the D# (9 of the chord) being played on the "B" string, while the high "E" string is ringing out. When isolated this is a very dissonant and harsh sound; however when it is mixed in with the rest of the notes in the C# minor9 chord it sounds phenomenal!
Don't believe me? The notation/tab for this chord is below, however if you would like to listen to an example of me playing this chord just go here and sign up to receive the link instantly.
So, if you have your guitar handy (especially if it's an acoustic guitar), go ahead and play this chord so you can hear it. Of course this is all subjective, but I believe this chord sounds beautiful with the Minor 2nd interval on top; although this is obviously contrary to the reputation of the Minor 2nd we defined previously.
Also, if you listened to the example I provided, you will hear me play the isolated Minor 2nd interval between the "D#" and "E" before we hear the full C# Minor9 chord. This is because I wanted to emphasize how easy it is to "mask" this harshly dissonant sound.
Alright, so that's one example and this same Minor 2nd concept can be heard in some other frequently used chords (especially in Jazz and Classical Music). How about Melodic Motion though? How could we use the interval of a Minor 2nd in a melodic line and have it "fit" or sound like it "belongs to a chord progression?"
Well, it just so happens that I have another example for all of you to listen to. The link to do so once again is right here.
For the rest of you that would like to play the example, I will supply it below so you can play through it. I will then discuss where the Minor 2nd interval is and why this specific example works.
Alright, so hopefully you listened to the example or played through it yourself. If so, then you will notice a few things about this specific example. First, you will most likely notice that the second chord played in the progression is the "odd man out" so to speak because it is more dissonant than its two counterparts. This is a Minor Major7 chord and it is used more often in Jazz music than anything else, however you can find this chord randomly throughout the musical world.
Next, you will most likely notice the chromatically descending line moving from the "D" (Root of chord) to "C" (7th of the chord). Also, you may have already noticed that throughout this entire example, we still stay on the same basic triad (D Minor). This specific example denotes a very common movement for descending chromatic lines and if you are interested in hearing it "in action", George Benson has a great song titled "This Masquerade" which uses an identical progression (although it be on a different chord).
So, not only is this line moving down in Minor 2nds, but one could argue that we still hear the high "D" from the original Dm triad and the "C#" from the Dm Ma7 chord. In effect, this creates the auditory illusion of a Minor 2nd interval. Personally I don't think it's to farfetched, as we definitely recognize the 2nd chord as the "dissonant one" and part of that perception may be reinforced by the "solidarity" of a basic root position minor triad that we hear for 3 whole beats before the Dm Ma7 chord.
So, what does all of this really mean? Well, without using any big or fancy words I think most of us can agree that this specific example has a little extra "color" to it. I personally interpret the descending minor 2nd line and this 3 chord progression as slightly dark in emotional quality. However, your interpretation could be completely different and that's what makes music so great. One thing can actually mean many different things to different people.
Now on to the section where I would explain why this works and/or how come it sounds so good! Well as I've mentioned numerous times before, music is completely subjective and you may think this sounds like complete crap. So if this is your position, then I personally understand because I had to build my "musical palette" up over many years to fully appreciate and understand a complex "color" like the Dm Ma7 chord. So for the sake of not rambling on for a few more pages, I will end this article right now. However, if you truly do like the sound of the Minor Major7 chord and would like to know more about how you can use it in your own music, I invite you to read the rest of this article here.
Well, I hope this article has been beneficial to all of you and please do feel free to not only listen to the examples (here), but also send me an e-mail if you have any questions.
Take care, and keep composing fellow artists!
Kole is currently studying music composition and classical guitar at Indiana University; and will be transferring to GIT, in the fall of 2007. He also is completing his debut album "Exile" through Empire Records and teaches many students for guitar and songwriting.
He has also just finished co-authoring a great new instructional e-book for guitar titled "The Next Step: Serious Improvement for the Developing Guitarist," which can be found and purchased at thenextstepguitar.com.