This is the second in the series of posts about ear training skills. Today I’ll talk about interval recognition – the ability to recognize the difference between two pitches.

An interval is just a combination of two notes either played together (harmonically) or one after another (melodically).  A melodic interval is considered “ascending” if the pitch of the second note is higher than the first.  Otherwise, the interval is considered “descending”.  Each pair of notes contains an interval between them, and those intervals have names.  It is important to mention that interval names are distinct from the note names.  The actual notes are often not very important as far as interval recognition is concerned.

Like rhythm recognition, interval recognition is one of the most essential ear training skills.  Remember that rhythm recognition allows you to memorize and reproduce the rhythm patterns.  Similarly, interval recognition will allow you to memorize and reproduce melodies, a pair of notes at a time.  This ability is often referred to as “relative pitch” because pitches are recognized relative to each other, as intervals like “Major 3rd” or “Perfect 5th,” and not as specific notes, such as “A” or “C.”

The intervals are named based on the distance, in semitones, between the first note and the second.  Here are the important ones:

  • Minor second – 1 semitone
  • Major second – 2 semitones
  • etc.

Probably the most popular approach to learning interval recognition is by song association.  The idea is to associate memorable parts of songs you know to the correct interval names.  This works because intervals sound similarly regardless of what the actual notes are.

Many people use a separate song for each single interval, but it’s really up to you.  Any song will work, as long as it has the desired interval in a memorable part.  For example, can you the hum the first two notes of “Happy Birthday”?  If you can, you now know what an ascending major second interval sounds like. The same technique can apply to all the other intervals.

Here are some song suggestions for the intervals I listed above.  For the sake of simplicity, each song features the interval as the first two notes.

  • Minor Second
    • Pink Panther theme
  • Major Second
    • Happy Birthday
  • Minor Third
    • O Canada (Canadian Anthem) or Greensleeves
  • Major Third
    • Kum ba ya
  • Perfect Fourth
    • We Wish You a Merry Christmas
  • Perfect Fifth
    • Twinkle, Twinkle
  • Minor Sixth
    • My Way (Frank Sinatra)
  • Major Sixth
    • Hush little baby
  • Minor Seventh
    • There’s a Place for Us
  • Major Seventh
    • Fantasy Island Theme
  • Octave
    • Somewhere Over the Rainbow
Photo credit: The-Lane-Team

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