Placement of Accidentals #1 – Harmonic Interval Accidentals

Harmonic Interval Accidentals Blog

Harmonic Interval Accidentals have specific Accidental Placement Rules.

In this first blog in my "Accidental Placement" Series, we will look at how accidentals are placed (written) in Harmonic Intervals when:

  • Both notes have accidentals
  • Ledger Lines are involved
  • The given Lower (Bottom) Note already has an accidental

So, what is a Harmonic Interval?

An Interval is the distance between two notes.  An Interval is identified by a Number and by a Quality/Type (Major, minor, etc.).

An Interval can be written as a Harmonic Interval - together.  Both notes are played at the same time, so they are written one note above the other (or directly beside, touching, the other note).

An Interval can be written as a Melodic Interval - separately.  Both notes are played one after the other, so they are written one note beside another (with an "empty area" between the two notes - they are not touching).

Harmonic Intervals are taught in Lesson 5 of the Basic Rudiments Workbook.  The Rules for Writing a Harmonic Interval are:

  • Harmonic Intervals of a 1st and 2nd are written one note touching the other.  The Lower Note of the Harmonic Interval should always be written on the Left (get it - Lower on the Left!).  For specific information on the Harmonic Second, read the blog:  Writing a Harmonic Second.
  • Harmonic Intervals of a 3rd and larger are written one note above the other.
  • Harmonic Intervals will share one stem.  The stem direction is based upon the note that is written the furthest away from the middle line.  Check out the blog:  Harmonic Interval Stem Direction.
  • Harmonic Intervals with flags also have special rules.  Check out the blog: Eighth Note Harmonic Intervals.
  • For dotted notes, each notehead of the Harmonic Interval will have it's own dot.  See my blog on Dotted Notes - Harmonic Second Interval.
  • Harmonic Intervals of an Augmented 1st have specific placement rules.  Those are reviewed in my blog on Harmonic Augmented First.   (And remember, there is no such thing as a diminished first!)

As you can see, Teachers and Students often have questions about writing Harmonic Intervals (and I love answering these questions in Blogs!).

This is the first blog in my Placement of Accidentals Series.  In Blog #2, we will look at the Placement of 3 Accidentals in a Chord or Triad.  In Blog #3, we will look at the Placement of 4 Accidentals!

Harmonic Interval Accidentals - Both Notes Using Accidentals

Harmonic Interval Accidentals are written before the notes (and after the names).

For Harmonic Intervals of a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th, when both notes have accidentals, the accidental is written closest to the higher note and further away from the lower note.  (Remember the hint - Lower Accidental on the Left.)

For Harmonic Intervals of a 1st to 6th, do not write the accidentals directly above one another to avoid the accidentals "touching".  While it is OK for noteheads to "touch" in a Harmonic Interval, it is NOT OK for accidentals to touch other accidentals (or the noteheads).

Blog 1 -Harmonic Intervals Top Bottom

For Harmonic Intervals of a 7th and higher, when both notes have accidentals, the accidentals are written lined up vertically (above each other, directly beside each of the noteheads).

Harmonic Interval Accidentals - Notes on Ledger Lines

Ledger Line Notes can be tricky.  The "rule" is that the Ledger Line is to be long enough so that the notehead fits on it, but not TOO long.  To review these rules, read the blog "Confused About Ledger Lines".

When Accidentals are involved, the Ledger Line is not extended to go through the notes and the Accidentals.  The Accidentals are simply placed to the left of the noteheads (before the note, after the name).

Blog 1 - Harmonic Intervals, ledger lines and accidentals

Harmonic Interval Accidentals - First and Second

Did you notice that the Ledger Lines for the Harmonic 1st and the Harmonic 2nd are longer than the Ledger Lines for the larger intervals?

We do this to make the Ledger Lines long enough so that both notes are written correctly. All Ledger Lines in an interval must be the same length.

Harmonic 1 and 2

Harmonic Interval Accidentals - With Given Note

Harmonic Interval Accidentals for Intervals of a 1st to 6th will require a different placement of the upper (top) accidental when the given (lower, bottom) note already has an accidental!

As you can see in the example, I wrote in the notes and accidentals using my computer "mouse" pencil.  When adding these upper notes, the accidental for the upper note has to be placed further away - to the left of the given accidental.

Do not "cross out" the given accidental for the given lower note.

Simply write the upper note in the correct position (either beside the 1st or the 2nd) or directly above the lower note (for intervals of a 3rd and larger).  Then write the accidental for the upper note to the left (further away) from the given accidental on the bottom (lower) note.  The accidentals will not be in the "usual" placement, but this IS acceptable only when the lower note and accidental are already given.

Harmonic Intervals with Given Note

Intervals are a big part of music.  They are in our playing, our sight reading, our ear training and our technique!  It is so important to teach our students how to read and write intervals properly.  The Ultimate Music Theory Series is here to help.

For beginner students, and those students in the beginning levels of their Method Series (or in Prep A, Prep B or Level 1 RCM), start them in the Ultimate Music Theory Prep 1 Rudiments Workbook.

Also start with the UMT Prep Level Supplemental Book to meet the criteria of the new RCM 2016 Theory Syllabus.

For students in the more advanced levels of their Method Series (or in Level 2 RCM up to Level 7 RCM), start them in the Ultimate Music Theory Basic Rudiments Workbook.

Also start with the UMT Level 3 Supplemental Book to meet the criteria of the new RCM 2016 Theory Syllabus.

For information about the UMT Supplemental Series, and how it works for you, check out the Free Teach the UMT Supplemental Series and other FREE RESOURCES for teachers and students!


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Shelagh McKibbon-U'Ren


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