What Is A Tritone? And Why It's Called The Devil's Interval Friday June 23 2023, 8:45 PM
Yona Marie
Singer, Songwriter, Producer.
What Is A Tritone? And Why It's Called The Devil's Interval

What Is A Tritone?

Why does it sound so ominous? So, let's start with the basics. A tritone is a musical interval that spans three whole steps or six half steps.

Imagine jumping across the musical scale, skipping a few steps in between, and landing on what seems like the one wrong note you want to avoid.

This interval creates a distinct sense of tension and dissonance due to the clash between the notes involved. It's like an attention-grabbing twist in a musical plot.

The interval between the two notes is simultaneously an augmented fourth and a diminished third, which is strange and magical all at once.

The Devil's Interval 

Now, here comes the intriguing part—the tritone's association with "the Devil's Interval." Back in the day, this interval was considered pretty unsettling.

It had a reputation for its dissonant sound, which led to its spooky connection with all things dark and forbidden in music.

Legends and myths only fueled the fire, claiming that playing the tritone could summon the Devil himself. While these stories are more fantastical than factual, they undoubtedly added to the mystery and allure surrounding this musical motion.


Genres Rich With Tritones

Classical Music

Think of classical composers like Beethoven and Wagner. They knew how to employ the tritone to add drama and intensity to their masterpieces.

You'll find this interval cropping up in symphonies, operas, and chamber music, creating breathtaking musical moments.

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Jazz musicians love to incorporate tritones into their improvisations and chord progressions, infusing their music with an edgy and unpredictable quality. Legends like Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane were masters of this art.

Heavy Metal

When it comes to heavy metal, the tritone reigns supreme. This genre thrives on its dark and aggressive sound, and tritones play a pivotal role in achieving that atmosphere.

Bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica have skillfully wielded the power of tritones to create a sense of heaviness and foreboding.



If you want to experience the bluesy side of tritones, look no further than the blues genre.

Blues guitarists often incorporate tritones into their solos and chord progressions, infusing their music with soulful and gritty vibes. It's the sound that reaches deep into your soul.


Tritones have found a cozy spot in the realm of rock music. From Led Zeppelin to Jimi Hendrix, rock artists have harnessed the power of tritones to craft powerful riffs and hooks that resonate with audiences.

It's that element that gives rock music its punch and intensity.

Tritone Resolution

Even though it's known for its dissonance, the tritone often finds resolution and stability in other intervals.

Composers and musicians employ a technique called tritone resolution, which involves moving the two notes of the tritone to a more harmonically stable interval, such as a perfect fourth or a major third.

It's like untangling a musical knot, providing a satisfying sense of resolution. This resolution creates a smooth transition and a more consonant sound.

For example, if we have a tritone interval between the notes C and F#, the resolution would be to move the F# down to F and the C up to C#, resulting in a major third interval (C# to F).

The resolution of a tritone can be found in numerous musical compositions across different genres. It serves as a powerful tool for creating tension and release, heightening the emotional impact of the music.

In addition to traditional resolutions, composers often explore more complex and unconventional resolutions that add unexpected twists and flavors to the music, keeping the listener engaged and intrigued.


Tritone Substitution

Now, let's delve into the fascinating world of tritone substitution—a harmonic technique that adds a touch of musical wizardry to chord progressions.

Tritone substitution involves replacing a dominant seventh chord with another dominant seventh chord whose root is a tritone away. This substitution introduces unique harmonic colors and creates intriguing harmonic progressions.

Let's consider an example. Suppose we have a standard dominant seventh chord, such as G7 (G-B-D-F). By applying tritone substitution, we replace the G7 chord with its tritone substitute.

In this case, the tritone substitute of G7 would be Db7 (Db-F-Ab-Cb).

Although the notes and intervals are different, the tritone substitution still maintains the dominant function and the inherent tension associated with the dominant chord.

Every dominant seventh chord also happens to have a tritone in it between the 3rd and the 7th intervals.

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Easy Ways To Recognize A Tritone 

Some popular tunes can easily come into your mind if you are trying to help to train your ear to recognize a tritone. 

The instantly recognizable theme song of the popular TV show "The Simpsons" features a tritone in its opening melody. The notes G and C# clash together, creating the playful and whimsical atmosphere associated with the show.

The famous Broadway tune "Maria" from West Side Story contains a tritone in the melody during the line "Maria, I just met a girl named Maria." The leap from an E to a B creates a distinct and memorable dissonance.


You could also try to go the solfege and remember that instead of singing from Do Re Mi Fa, to jump from Do to Fi (which is the raised fourth), but only big music nerds would think of that.

Related Post: What Is Solfege? Learn Scales And Hand Signs

"Black Sabbath" by Black Sabbath: It's no surprise that a band named Black Sabbath would incorporate tritones into their music.

The main guitar riff in this heavy metal classic consists of the tritone interval between the notes E and Bb, creating a dark and sinister sound.

One of my favorite examples, although it's brief, is in "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix. The iconic guitar riff in the intro of this rock classic features a tritone.

The notes E and Bb create a dissonant clash that sets the stage for the energetic and otherworldly atmosphere of the song.

Yona Marie

As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 300 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, and features, Yona spends her time creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Check out Yona’s latest releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share if you like it!

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