Something Surprising About The 6th Interval

How To Find 6th Intervals On The Piano

Many of the intervals we play on the piano are easy to physically play. But, the 6th interval is the start of a series of intervals that require just a little stretch to reach.

This is part of a mini series about intervals on your piano. Click here for 2nd and 3rd intervals and here for 4th and 5th intervals. This article references things already mentioned in those articles.


What Does It Sound Like?

Imagine the beginning of “In My Life” by The Beatles or “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. Do they bring a smile to your face? They sure do for me! The first two notes in each song start with a 6th interval!

“In My Life” uses a minor 6th interval to start. It also uses a modified pentatonic scale for the rest of that intro melody line!

“My Way” takes a slightly different approach to the intro. The melody alternates between the notes in a Major 6th interval. Isn’t it amazing how simply going between two notes can create a signature sound?

To hear these intros, watch the video below or click here.


Chord Inversions and 6th Intervals

One of the most common ways we hear and see 6th intervals is through chord inversions. When you play a chord inversion, take out the middle note and you automatically have a 6th interval.

Here’s something surprising … just because a chord is Major doesn’t mean it will automatically be a 6th interval though. Here’s how it works out …

Major Chord:

  • 1st inversion (outside notes) = minor 6th … even though chord is Major.
  • 2nd inversion (outside notes) = Major 6th like the Major chord.

Minor Chord:

  • 1st inversion (outside notes) = Major 6th … even though chord is minor.
  • 2nd inversion (outside notes) = minor 6th like the minor chord.

To see what this looks like on a piano, watch the video above or click here.


Why Are Some Intervals Major or Minor?

Rather than using the key a song is written in or the quality (Major or minor) or the chord, intervals like to do things a little differently.

Interval quality is determined by the bottom note of the interval. Based on that bottom note’s scale, is the top note part of the Major or minor scale?

Let’s pretend the bottom note is C and the top note is A. Based on the C Major scale, A is part of that scale. Therefore, this interval is a Major 6th.

But what if the top note is A flat? That is part of the C minor scale and automatically makes this pair of notes a minor 6th interval.

However, change the bottom note to a C sharp and the interval quality changes to reflect what notes are in the C sharp Major or minor scales.

To see what this looks like on a piano, watch the video above or click here.


6th Intervals On The Piano

Intervals help you understand the relationship between scale notes and chords. The 6th interval is a great example of this!

Remember the 6th interval …

  • Can be Major or minor
  • Is formed by the outside notes of chord inversions

And, for all intervals, the interval quality (Major or minor) is determined by the lowest note … not the actual chord or key of the song.

What was your biggest ‘ah ha’ moment learning about 6th intervals?

Let me know in the comments!


Imagine learning how to play piano through fun activities, improvising (creating music in the moment) plus writing your own music!

As a parent, imagine your child’s smile as they have fun learning piano and creating music … plus, family and friends as they hear the music your child has created.

As a teen or adult student, imagine jamming with musician friends .. or wowing them with the latest song you wrote.

If you want to jump start your piano playing, click the button below or here.

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