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Paul Gilbert: A Music Theory Concept That Opened Doors for Me

(Image credit: David Wolff-Patrick/Getty Images)

GuitarWorld.com has posted several stories about intervals—both the band and the musical concept—over the decades. After all, intervals—the space between any two pitches—are a priceless musical commodity, being one of the most fundamental building blocks of scales and guitar solos.

Why, just the other day, Ultimate Guitar's Justin Beckner was having an intervals chat with Paul Gilbert.

"One thing that really opened doors for me recently is the language of intervals," Gilbert said.

"A scale is just the notes that are in a chord played one at a time instead of together. That's what has allowed me to go through the possible notes that work with a chord and make choices about which ones I like best. I go through by ear; you can do it by theory too, but the best way is to learn by ear.

"Maybe on a certain chord you want to emphasize the second rather than the third. You can choose what works best for a certain context. So I became very interval-aware. It helped me to listen to the intervals and see what works best melodically, and the second thing is to find out how they fit on the fingerboard.

"There's always more than one way to play the same notes because of the nature of guitar. Every shape you discover for the intervals you like, every shape had rhythms living inside it. Whether you play it horizontally or vertically, it's going to heavily influence what kind of phrases and vibrato are possible and what will work."

Anyway, on guitar, an interval is simply space between any two notes on the fretboard. An interval on guitar consists of only two parts: the root note and the interval (or intervals). The building blocks of intervals are half steps and whole steps. A half step, sometimes known as a semitone, is a distance of one fret. A whole step, sometimes known as a whole tone, is a distance of two frets.

For more of this sort of thing, step right this way:

• Guitar Intervals Explained

• Adding Dynamic Appeal to Your Power Chords with Intervals and Dyads

• Power Chords, Perfect Fifths and the Consonant Interval

• Building Chords and Melodies from Fourth Intervals

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Damian Fanelli
Editor-in-Chief, Guitar World

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas (opens in new tab), was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron (opens in new tab), a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (opens in new tab). He now plays in two NYC-area bands.