~ major 10th ~

'simply the major third above the root, moved up a full octave ...'

In a nutshell. Simply that all things major 3rd are basically all things major 10th. So the major 3rd of really anything major sounding including; scales, arpeggios, chords, licks, keys, songs, symphonies etc.

So why a major 10th ? Well, we've passed beyond the octave and further into the upper structure of our more harmonic leaning resource. Example 1.

scale degrees
two octave C major scale

Theory names: 10th, major tenth. Well, our major tenth interval is simply boosting our major third up an octave. No more no less. Examine the numbers, letter names and sound of the interval of a major 10th in the key of C major. In this next idea we also compare the sound of the major 3rd to the major 10th. Example 1a.

Sweetness. Can you hear and sense the sweetness of the major tenth interval? It'll become a fond friend as we develop our chord voicings for both guitar and piano. It's probably cool in arranging for horns and other orchestral settings as well. Hearing a pure third atop any collection of notes and instruments is often like a refreshing breath of inspirational fresh air. The cherry on the top? Yep.

So where is the major tenth colortone the music. Well, as the major third and the major tenth are the same pitch, we most often theoretically merge them together as the major third. Just easier. So anywhere we have a major third, we might, if we take it up an octave, have a major 10th. So is there anything in particular with the major tenth that makes it unique and distinct from the major third?

Chord voicings. In our modern day homophonic style of music, where one distinct melody line is supported by vertical chords, we often find the interval of the tenth, both major and minor, in various chord voicings. Piano players often sound this interval in the left hand. Here are the three chord types featuring a 10th. Example 1b.

Sounding this interval can be a chore as the size of one's hand plays a role. The pitches can be 'rolled', one then the other. Another way is with the sustain pedal. You might want to get with a piano player you dig and talk voicings. Once you find a few that work for you, run them through all the keys.

Arrangers of larger ensembles will also have wider intervals in the lower pitches. Even many of our guitar voicings move the 3rd up an octave to the 10th. Here's an organic part of our why.

Harmonic series. Our chord voicings basically try to follow the sequence of pitches as created by the naturally occurring harmonic series. The core of the idea is the wider intervals at the beginning of the series of pitches. Examine the harmonic series from our fundamental pitch C and its first 16 partials. Note the clef change in the example. Example 2.

The first five partials. In the first five partials we can get a sense of the way the intervals / pitches naturally evolve from the natural properties of sound. Thus, our initial octave ( partials 1-2 ) is followed by its fifth, then the octave / tonic pitch returns. Next is the 5th partial, the pitch E, which would be a major 10th interval above our 2nd partial. In some theory circles, leaving off the first octave aligns our numbers and pitches more closely. This is the natural basis for wider intervals in the lower pitches of our chords.

Partials / string harmonics. We can recreate these partials to a certain extent on our stringed instruments by finding our string harmonics. The octave is at the midpoint, usually designated by the double dots along the edge of the neck. Lightly touch the string over the 12 fret with one hand and start the string in motion with the other. A softer pitch one octave above the fundamental note should ring. The fifth is found at the seven fret / dot. Octave above at the fifth fret. Major third at the fourth fret. Explore and discover.

string harmonics


Guitar chord voicings. In many of our coolest root position guitar chords, we'll most often find the third of the chord up an octave to the major tenth position. Examine the various chord voicings that do just that. Example 3.

Musical styles. This last example has a couple of interesting things for the evolving, modern guitarist. We have voicings arranged by strings, different chord types and different musical styles represented. All of the chords are movable so that if you master these 10 shapes times the first 12 frets of our instruments, makes 120 different chords. Thrown in the half step lead-in filter and whammo ... 'chords r us !'

Review and forward. The interval of a major tenth is simply the same pitch as our major 3rd but one octave higher. We identify it as such in the theory just to keep things straight in our chord voicings. It's still a major third above our root pitch, just up an octave.

chord type
"Music washes away the dust of everyday life."
wiki ~ Art Blakey ~

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(1)Duffin, Ross W. How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, p.32. USA W.W.Norton and Company, NY, New York. 2007.
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.

Russell, George. The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization. USA Concept Publishing Company, Cambridge, Mass. 1982