The DNA of Creativity

TC loves applying interval theory to the guitar. You are most likely familiar with Diatonic chords. In Interval Theory, we think of vertical structures as interval combinations (ICs) in interval theory. This shift in perspective opens up an entirely new world of sounds that is not easily accessible using conventional theory.

Note: Please note that there are many musical demonstrations in the audio version of this episode, which are not accessible in the transcript.

Interval Combinations (ICs)

Today's topic is the application of intervallic thinking on the guitar. You know, I'm a lover of the guitar and, as a professional, apply Interval Theory to this brilliant instrument every day. And guess what? Interval Combinations really work!

I get amazing results using proven techniques, which we will talk about. I will share some of these techniques with you during this episode and the podcast.

Great acoustic guitar transition; I'm loving it! Okay, let's ask ourselves a question, "Why should we listen to this podcast? This guy, TC, is talking about applying intervals to the guitar. I already know the Pentatonic scales and a ton of chords ..."

Okay, fair enough, but you're here for a reason. It's because you're curious, and you might be missing something. If you're a composer and use the guitar to compose music or songs, you got to ask yourself the following questions.

Do you ever experience frustration when trying to expand on an excellent musical idea, melody or phrase, or chord progression?

Or how about this one ...

Do you find you can compose great melodies but can't finish or even find a chorus?

Or how about this one ...

If you are a pro guitar player or composer, are you repeating yourself and finding it difficult to develop fresh new licks or original new ideas?

If your answer is 'yes' to any of these questions, then you are in the right place to begin fixing these problems. So, let's get started.

Explaining Triads with ICs

I always love that swampy guitar feel; it reminds me of the south. On the guitar, the fretboard shapes help us remember the ICs (Interval Combinations). If we connect these shapes or learn such sequences, we can free ourselves from the Diatonic system. The term 'Diatonic' means: Pertaining to a scale. That'll help us discover new and fresh-sounding guitar licks and ideas. I don't want to give you the wrong impression: all scales contain ICs.

However, if you're thinking in terms of Interval Combinations, you don't have to be connected to a scale; you can be connected to many different systems or even be free.

Let's talk about one of the most common chord progressions: I, IV, and V, and we'll do it in the key of D.

  • These are major triads and consist of the IC '4+3'.

The 4 - meaning, there's four chromatics or half steps between the first two notes and the 3 - meaning, three chromatics between the second two notes. Let's use an A-major chord, the 5-chord in the key of D.

Now let's put them together, and you'll hear those two intervals make a major chord.

So now, what happens if we take that IC, 4+3, and make it 4+1? How does that change our I, IV, V-progression? By replacing the 3 with a 1 in a major triad, you get beautiful, close voicings, and those will inspire you to hear better melodies, different melodies, and chords. What you have done is you've used a technique of replacing one interval with another to get inspiration, so let's get inspired.

We took the most common chord progression, changed the Interval Combination that makes up the major triads, and got a completely fresh new sound, hopefully inspiring a new melody for our song, film score, TV show, or videogame themes. Interval Combinations are extremely powerful, and they make up the DNA of musical creativity.

Okay, right now, you're asking yourself, "Those are beautiful harmonies, but how do I do that?" Don't worry, we'll get to it, and it's a simple technique on how to harmonize Interval Combinations.


We know that a major triad consists of the IC '4+3', and that we can substitute a 1-interval for the 3-interval, which gives us a '4+1'. Now, let's invert the original '4+3' to a '3+4'. This will create a minor triad. The bottom interval became 3, and the top interval 4. Put these two intervals together, and we have a minor triad.

Let's do the same thing that we did with the major triad to the minor by taking the 3-interval and replacing it with a 1, and now you have '1+4', which reflects the '4+1' we had with the major triad. Beautiful sound! Now let's put a little progression together, A-minor, D-minor, and G-minor.

Beautiful and inspirational. Once again, we've applied our interval substitution technique to get inspired.

That concludes our episode for today. On behalf of the Music Interval Theory Academy, thank you for listening.


The ICs are a significant shift in how you see vertical structures. They let you easily substitute any interval for another one and show you new sounds to experiment with.

Author: Thomas Chase Jones