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Diabolos in Musica: The Most Evil Musical Intervals

Peter Hodgson
|
07.21.2011

Today we’re going to look at some of the most evil musical intervals known to man – some of the most dastardly, unsettling, creepy, ghoulish musical notes ever. Notes so dark, so twisted, so evil that they lay awake at night formulating new taxes, new places to hide your guitar picks when you need them and new ways to make you late for work. Notes so malevolent that Ozzy himself can but cower and tremble in their ghastly presence.

I’m talking about the minor second, the minor third and the flattened fifth.

Scared yet?

No? Well, you will be. Crank up your amp and lay into Figure 1 at around 50 beats per minute.

This creepy little number should be played slow with dirty, ratty distortion and maybe a little bit too much reverb. Try to conjure up the feeling of a morbid dungeon of doom (or maybe my first share house). This simple little riff plays on the relationship between the root note (in this case, E) and the minor second (F. *In the E Major scale, F# is the second, and it’s a whole step away from E. Flatten the second – that is, drop it down by a semitone – and you’re off and racing.)

Next we have the minor third. Much like the minor second, the minor third also has a kind of evil vibe. Check it out in Figure 2.

Note the evil bend on the second bar, which will really sound brutal with all that reverb. The minor third is also heard in the blues quite a lot, as it’s the second note of the Minor Pentatonic scale. It carries with it a musical tension that you can use in interesting ways. For instance, you can use it at the end of a riff to create a sense of drama, or you can use it at the start so that when you go back to the root note, you create a feeling of resolution.

Figure 3 will introduce to you the flattened fifth. This is the big one: Diabolos in Musica. Back in the Middle Ages, you could actually be hanged for playing this interval. It was considered so evil that it had the power to summon the dark lord himself, which was considered quite a bad thing, especially when you’re getting over a bout of plague or whatever.

You can hear this interval in all sorts of Black Sabbath riffage, including their namesake song as well as Symptom of the Universe. Interestingly, it’s also the interval that you need to add to the common Minor Pentatonic scale in order to turn it into the Blues scale.

Each of these exercises is simple and slow because their aim is to just make you think about the interval itself: the relationship between the root and whichever note it’s paired with. (It also helps that they happen to sound like metal riffs.) You can incorporate these notes into much faster riffs and solos, but their impact is best felt at slower tempos where you can really play off the tension created between the two notes. Try to come up with your own minor second, minor third and flattened fifth riffs!

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