Second (music)

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Diatonic intervals
semitone / whole tone
Special intervals
Ditone Tritone
Natural septime

The second or second (from Latin secunda = "the second") is used in music to describe the interval between two adjacent levels (e.g. c – d ). In a narrower sense, the second is also understood to be the second pitch of a diatonic scale. The complementary interval of the second is the seventh .

The second is counted among the dissonant intervals; it can generate particularly strong harmonic or melodic tension. In some harmony teachings (such as Frank Sikora's jazz harmony theory), the small second and the small ninth (small second + octave) are mentioned as the strongest dissonance. The complementary interval of the minor second, the major seventh, is just as exciting.


Note example: second intervals
Note example: second intervals

The interval second (s) can occur in four variants:

interval Number of semitones example Reversal interval
(a) great second 2 ( whole tone ) C - D , E - F #
"Al le my ducklings"
minor seventh
(b) small second 1 ( semitone ) C - Des , E - F
"If a bird comes flying"
major seventh
(c) excessive second 3 (hiatus) C - D flat , B - C sharp diminished seventh
(d) diminished second 0 (confused enharmonic) Cis - Db , H - Ces excessive seventh

In the different tuning systems of music, the second can assume very different frequency relationships (see whole tone and semitone ).

Small and large seconds occur melodically the most frequently of all intervals, since most scales also consist of second steps . The major second is used more often than the minor second, which usually only occurs twice per octave in a scale.

Meaning in the composition

In contrapuntal compositions from the end of the 15th century, a treble clause often appears at the end with a lead in the voice.

Treble clause

The second can be seen as the interval of emphasis and tension, which in classical vocal music is often associated with pain, suffering, death and threat.

Don Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (around 1566–1613) used excessively dissonant harmonies and progressions with small seconds or excessive primes in his madrigals .
Two passages from Gesualdo's madrigal Moro lasso . (Harmonic intervals of a small second or an excessive prime are red, a minor seventh or major second orange, the tritone jump green, melodic semitones are marked in brown and yellow)

Examples of the second as a continuous, formative principle of a composition:

Furthermore, the striking beginning of the main motif (the so-called " ritornello "), which is constantly repeated through the piece , is based on the world-famous piano work Für Elise by Ludwig Van Beethoven .


The stringing together of several seconds results in ascending or descending scales , which as figures in compositions from the Renaissance to Romanticism have symbolic meaning as symbols or are intended to trigger affects . The passus duriusculus played a special role .

Secondary steps form the basic elements of the ornamentation of the Baroque and Classical periods as in trills, impact trills and mordent.


As mentioned above, the dissonant second counts - especially when two tones are sounded at the same time - in classical Western music culture as particularly dissonant and particularly uncomfortable with small seconds; in certain styles they always had to be resolved into consonant intervals. In the four-tone harmonics (from the end of the 17th century) such dissonances establish themselves as a chordal phenomenon and play a correspondingly prominent role in the cadences .

With the increasing dissolution of the tonal system in modern music, the second loses its former emotional significance. In modern composition, several seconds are put together in clusters in order to avoid any association with the tonal system (see the works of Henry Cowell , Charles Ives and Krzysztof Penderecki ).

Audio samples

Web links

Wiktionary: Second [2]  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations