What is a low Interval Limit?

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brass trumpet in grayscale photography

Cover Photo by B Mat Angelo

low interval limit

The above is an example of a ‘Defeat Theme’ included in the Practical Application of Genre & Styles course. Consider it as a brief musical bumper, something that you might hear when failing a mission in a retro-style video game.

The tuba begins with a melodic figure that tumbles downward, and horns move up a step from C♯ to D before jumping down to B♭. We chose lower register instruments like tuba and cello, and we wrote for horns near the bottom of their register for a dull, unfocused sound. Even these simple elements like register and melodic direction influence the mood of the piece.

Underneath, horns 3,4 and cello sustain G and E, a minor 3rd apart (①). Ordinarily, we might avoid writing notes so close together in a low register. However, we want a dull, muddy sound in this instance to reflect the feeling of rejection.

Low Interval Limit

Low Interval Limits

Low-interval limits refer to the lowest recommended pitches for every interval (from minor 2nd to major 10th) before two notes start sounding muddy and blurry. For instance, two notes a  minor 3rd apart start to sound indistinct and muddy when they are placed below C3 & E♭3 (an octave below middle C). 

In Arranging for Large Jazz Ensemble, Dick Lowell & Ken Pullig suggest following Low-Interval Limits “to ensure that your voicings create a clear impression and that the intervals they contain will be heard distinctly (…)”

This post was brought to you in collaboration with our partner site Behind the Score. Discover the Harmony Secrets of Modern Film and Video Games.