The Nature of "1"

It's about time to dive deeper into one of the spiciest intervals we have available; the minor second, or the "1" how we call it in interval theory. We'll listen to many applications on the guitar, but the concepts work the same way on any other instrument and composition.

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

Determining the Church Modes via "1s"

I've been a man with a dream for years, and my dream is to apply interval thinking to the guitar. And it's a wonderful dream because it will set you free.

Let's start with one of the spiciest intervals available to us, interval 1, a semi-tone. 1 can significantly influence the guitar player's ability to solo comp or compose original pieces for any medium, orchestra, or solo guitar playing. The interval of 1 is the smallest interval we have in Western Diatonic music. It may be small, but it is powerful!

We will explore how this interval can be used in guitar-playing, but first, let's demonstrate some of its natural appearances. And so, before we get started, let me tell you that I'm using a Paul Reed Smith custom guitar because it gives a clean and simple sound, and I want you to be able to hear what's going on. So, let's not cover the sound with lots of effects. 

Interval 1 occurs in all of the church modes. It's powerful because it determines the mode's sound by where it appears.

Let's take the Lydian, for example. It occurs between the 4+ (or the raised 4th scale step), the 5th and the 7th scale step, and the octave or the 8th.

Interval 1 occurs in two places in every Church mode. Depending on where they occur, they shape the mode's flavor. For example, in the Ionian, it occurs between the third scale step and the 4th, the 7th scale step and the 8th. In the Lydian mode (and guitar players love the Lydian mode), it occurs between the raised 4th or the 4+ and the 5th step and the 7th and 8th steps. The 8th equals the octave, of course.

Interval 1 is difficult on the guitar if you want to sustain both notes. It will require a stretch of at least five frets. But interval 1 is simple when playing lines or solos. But when you want to sustain both notes, which sometimes guitar players like to do, it's a little more difficult and requires some practice.

You want to practice your scales, sustaining some of the notes. The 1s are great because they put a nice rub between all the other tones. Also, it's a great way to dirty up your lines a little bit when you're soloing, but you have to practice playing those big stretches. That's right! The power is in your hands. 

1s and 11s - Position Change (PC)

The nature of 1 is that it has two positions—position meaning, what's on top. If I take a 1-interval, let's say, a D# and an E, and we put the D# up one octave, we now have an 11. 1s and 11s can be the same notes, the first set of tones is a wider voicing, and the other is closed.

1s are very powerful, but 11s are super powerful.

Great! Those are the 1s in an E Lydian scale or mode. Each mode has a set of two 1s. There are two places in each mode where 1 occurs, and we call that a set of two 1s. We can take these sets and make lines out of them.

1s can expand, and by expanding, they actually resolve. 1s resolve to 3s. I'm sure you can hear how much more beautiful they are when they resolve.

You also may have noticed that a 1 can resolve in several ways: The top tone can move, or the bottom note, or both.

This is a big part of 1's nature. The ability to make a resolution by moving either the top tone or the bottom tone can take us someplace and help us write lines for solo guitar-playing.

The position change of 1 is 11, and 11s can also resolve. 11 resolves to 9, so you can resolve the top tone down, the bottom tone up, or even both.

Our next step is to combine 1s and 11s using lines.

Line Writing

The resolutions of 1s and 11s are very useful for seeing lines, connecting chords, or going to new tonalities. Many Jazz chords, for example, contain these intervals, especially the 11s, because they are open. Close voicings on the guitar are much harder, and open voicings fall more naturally underneath the guitar player's hands.

13th chords are common Jazz chords, and they have an 11 in them. This is interesting because we know that 11s resolve, and we can actually write a little line that resolves the 11-interval within the chord.

Let's isolate the intervals of each of those chords and when we get to the 11, resolve it. It's really interesting to note that you can just use the 11 intervals and get the sound of resolution as if you're playing a "II, V, I" or a "III, VI, II, V, I" sort of progression.

These intervals, 11s, can really sound like a chord, especially in an ensemble. 

Or maybe you have a keyboard player, and you're just outlining the chords. Let him fill in the gaps. It's a beautiful sound, and keyboard players will love you for it because you give them plenty of room. 

So I'm going to play the full three-part 13th chords, and then I'll just play the outside interval, which is an 11, and you can hear that this would be just fine playing in an ensemble.

The technique of playing the outside intervals of a chord progression is very powerful, easy on the hands, and you can play a little bit faster, too. 11s also make significant connecting structures from one chord to another.

That wraps up our little demonstration and episode on 1s and 11s. I hope you enjoyed it, and we'll see you the next time!


Go through all the seven Church modes and determine where the 1s appear on each mode. You'll recognize a pattern that will even help you remember the modes and make it very easy to switch between them quickly in your playing.

Author: Thomas Chase Jones