I'm trying to figure out what is the fifth of a chord, in order to determine which note to play for alternating bass line technique with guitar.

According to wikipedia:

the fifth factor of a chord is the note or pitch five scale degrees above the root

For example, if the chord is C, then the fifth of it is G. But as I count, G is only 4 step above C. D=1, E=2, F=3, G=4.

If we count as C=1 and C to D = 2, then G will end up to be the 5th. But that also mean D is 2 steps above C, and 1 step above C is still C. It doesn't make sense.

  • Wikipedia is wrong because you don't count intervals with scale degrees, you count the notes, inclusively (So to find the fifth of C you would count C as 1 and D as 2 and so on, til you got to G, the fifth.) Dec 20 '16 at 16:29
  • 2
    Wikipedia is changed.
    – margalo
    Dec 20 '16 at 16:43
  • 1
    It's the difference between inclusive and exclusive counting. Ultimately, it's why two thirds don't add up to make a sixth, but rather a fifth.
    – Richard
    Dec 20 '16 at 17:23
  • First degree of scale is counted as 1.
    – zeukin
    Dec 20 '16 at 23:53

When you count intervals (such as fifths) it's inclusive; you count the starting note.

So the finding the fifth of C is gonna look like

C(1) D(2) E(3) F(4) G(5)

The letters represent the note names (obviously) and the numbers represent the iteration of counting, and, consequently, the interval.

You could keep going, of course (now I feel like I'm trying to teach you how to count. "You know how to count, right? I guess I should stop now." - Annoying Mother)

  • The names of intervals are inclusive, but that doesn't justify saying "the fifth factor of a chord is the note or pitch five scale degrees above the root".
    – topo morto
    Dec 20 '16 at 16:29
  • @topomorto Woah, hold on a second, are chord factors and intervals entirely separate concepts? Because if so, I repent. I'm just explaining the "right" way to do it. Dec 20 '16 at 16:31
  • From the looks of it, the original poster is counting intervals by counting the steps in between the notes, which is not correct. I was trying to explain the correct way to count intervals. Dec 20 '16 at 16:35
  • Yes, sorry, I wasn't contradicting what you wrote - I just thought we should be clear that Wikipedia was "taking it too far".
    – topo morto
    Dec 20 '16 at 16:49
  • @topomorto Aha! I see. Sorry, I have a bit of a phobia of being wrong on Stack Exchange. They aren't as forgiving on SO... Dec 20 '16 at 22:49

The other answers have explained where the misunderstanding was, but on guitar (or bass) an alternating 1-5-1-5 is so simple, it's not even necessary to know what the 5 note is. Others will doubtless say the opposite, but here it is anyway. If the 1 is on the bottom string ( and you will know what 1 is, even if you don't know what 5 is) the 5 is on the 5th string, 2 frets higher. If 1 is on the 5th string, 5 has two homes - same fret 6th string, or two frets up on the 4th string.

It'll be there always, unless it's a dim or aug 5, which won't happen very often. Only kidding about the importance of knowing notes, but in this case, on guitar or bass, I doubt if anyone actually thinks about the name of the 5th. Just play!

Check out a previous question - 'Why intervals are not named after distance'.

You asked about if the bass note is D open 4th. Well, the 5th of it is the open A string - same 'fret', one string lower. There is another D at 5th fret 5ths string, and yet another at 10th fret, 6th string. Or, next string higher (in pitch) 2 frets up, gives 3rd string 2nd fret, like I said.

The bottom string is what we call low E - the fattest string.

  • Thanks for the tip, but I'm not quite understand. What do you mean by bottom string? How can your rule apply to this case: D chord bass is 4th string, and its 5th is A-5th string, same fret (open). Also I found that if the bass line is B-5th string 2nd fret, then its 5th is indeed same fret 6th string, which is F#. But I thought if we count up from B, should it be F instead of F#?
    – Hp93
    Dec 20 '16 at 18:08
  • 2
    You are on the right track. Except that we're talking diatonic, as in the notes from a particular key. So, if B is the 1, then in the key of B, F# is 5. F is 5 if 1 is Bb. Believe me, it's far simpler and works well to use the strings and frets idea. It works, without involving theory, which has been known to befuddle intelligent people.
    – Tim
    Dec 20 '16 at 18:46

Just to add to the other answers you call C to D a second because from the root note that is exactly that, the second interval. The Unison is actually the first interval from the root note and then you get the second and so on and so forth.


As this recent question and other answers here have highlighted, intervals are named 'inclusively'...

... but that's a red herring here, because

"... is the note or pitch five scale degrees above the root"

doesn't mention the interval name; it states that the interval in question is the fifth degree above the root. As such, it was a wrong statement; just as wrong as saying 'the root of a chord is the note one scale degree above the root'.

So you were correct to be confused! At the time of writing, the page has now been corrected (by margalo) to say

the fifth factor of a chord is the note or pitch that is the fifth scale degree, counting the root or tonal center.

  • I still think it's more important to correctly explain the "right" way to do it. Dec 22 '16 at 16:39

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