Theory Shmeary: Sixth and Thirds
What Are 6ths and Thirds?
“Sixth and Thirds ” is common musical term.
It is often confusing because it is referred to in different contexts.
Generally in musical terms when we talk about a Sixth or a Third we are referring to a musical interval.
Ukulele players often refer to thirds as a technique or an act of playing the instrument.
For Example: “playing up or down the neck using thirds”
You’ve probably heard the sound of a Sixth or a Third without even knowing it.
Sixths and Thirds are used throughout pop music. You’ve heard them in the intro to Margaritaville, by Jimmy Buffet and in the intro to the ukulele favorite Brown Eyed Girl by the Van Morrisson.
You’ve also may have heard it songs like Peace Train by Cat Stevens or I’m Yours by Jason Mraz.
What are intervals?
Intervals are the distance between the sound of two notes.
If we made a scale comprised of 8 notes and we put them all in a row starting on C and numbered them it would look like the diagram below
Intervals are generally counted from the lowest pitch to the highest.
If we made a scale comprised of the letter names 8 notes of a C scales and numbered them we could then count the distance from the lowest pitched note to the selected higher pitched note.
If you start on any note name and count up 3 letters the distance between each note is 3, or an interval of a third.
Those 2 notes played together make the sound of a third.
Likewise if they are 6 letter names apart they would be an interval of a Sixth .
The example below shows how we count the distance between notes
These examples of a Third and a Sixth interval are counted using the easiest to understand method of counting.
Here is where it gets a bit confusing.
We have two ways to string a ukulele.
Using a High G String Set
Ukuleles Strung with a High G string use re-entrant tuning. Meaning the strings are not in order from lowest to highest pitch. Instead the 4th string (G) is higher in pitch than the thicker 3rd string (C).
In the example to the right the A note is higher in pitch than the F note. We would count the distance from the F to A to determine what the distance is.
Using a Low G String Set
On ukuleles strung with a Low G string, the 4th string is an octave below the sound of a ukulele with a high G string. Low G strings also have four additional notes not available on a ukulele strung with a high G string.
Since we use the lowest tone first in the interval shape to right we would use the A note as our starting point and count up to the F note to determine the interval name. This shape, on this string set would be a 6th, with a quality of Minor. Its proper interval name would be a Minor 6th.
Dang it. It keeps getting more and more confusing.
The goal of this post was to give you a basic understanding of the concept of what an interval is and what the difference is between an interval of a third and a sixth.
Don’t Get Theory Overwhelm
Intervals, or the distance between two notes, are counted in steps. An Interval can contain sharps and flats each having different tonal qualities, they all have different fancy shmancy names and designations.
They are divided into Major and Minors, they can be augmented or diminished. Intervals can be stacked or played together to form chords….
but all of that is for another time..
In summary: Wrapping it up.
Learning Theory Shmeary can be overwhelming. It takes a while for theory to sink in, and you should remember that it’s only useful if you understand it and can apply it.
For now just eat that elephant one bite at a time and go make music. Play on!