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Recognizing Intervals
Topic: The End Result Subtopic: General Level: All Levels Number of Readers: 73699

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Recognizing Intervals

Recognizing intervals at first seems very difficult, and to be able to recognize any one seems like an impossible task. But if we break it down into simple parts, this branch of ear training becomes very straight forward.

First, you'll need some method of having notes played to you. You can get someone else to do it, or you can get a computer program that will do it for you. Often these programs come with many other built in features, and this can really help you with your ear training. There are some floating around on the internet. If you can't obtain one for any reason, you'll have to do it the old fashion way, and see if you can sucker someone into playing intervals for you.

What the person or machine will do is play unknown intervals for you(while you're not looking) and then you must identify the unknown interval.

The way to do this is to first start off with very few intervals, that sound completely different, and then add them gradually. For now, we'll concentrate on two intervals, the major second and the octave.

Get someone to play some intervals to you, telling them they're only aloud to play either a major second or an octave. You'll have to identify whether it is a major second or an octave. What you'll want them to do is to play the notes in succession, and not at once. Because there are only two intervals, you have a 50/50 chance. Also, because the two are so different, you it's easier to tell the difference between them. This method is better than trying to learn them all at once, or trying to learn two that are closely related. For example, if you were trying to learn the major second, and the minor second at once, you'd mostly likely become confused, because they are so close to one another. In the method above, the person could throw a trick at you and play a minor second, and you would say it was a major second. Even though you'd do this, you'd still know it was definitely not an octave, and that's what's important.

So practice with the major second and the octave, and once you get good with these, you can start adding more. I'm going to make a list or which ones you should add first, but if you feel that adding a different one at some point is more appropriate for some reason, feel free.

major second
perfect octave
perfect fifth
major third
perfect fourth
minor third
major sixth
minor second
major seventh
minor sixth
augmented fourth/diminished fifth
minor seventh

Intervals such as the augmented fifth are exactly the same as the minor sixth, so they're not learned individually.

It will take a long time to become good at this. Something that I feel can really help you is applying tunes to every interval. When you hear the interval, you can compare the interval to the tunes you use for this, and then you can match the interval with the correct one and know what interval it is. This is a memory device, because it is easier to recognize the beginning of a familiar tune than it is to recognize an interval standing by itself. Eventually you'll be able to recognize intervals simply by comparing them to the intervals you can hear mentally, and you'll dispense with the tunes.

I know a few tunes for some of the intervals, so I'll write them here. But what you can do is see if you can find a song that YOU know that has the interval as the first two notes. I haven't just listed songs here, I've listed other things that help me remember the interval. Whatever helps you to remember will work.

major second		do re...(first two notes of the major scale)
perfect octave		somewhere... over the rainbow....
perfect fifth		star wars theme
major third		West Minster's chimes (backwards)
perfect fourth		auld lang syne
minor third		o Canada
major sixth		my bonnie lies over the ocean...
minor second		smallest interval
major seventh		(sounds very dissonant)
minor sixth		don't know one
augmented fourth/diminished fifth	don't know one
minor seventh		don't know one

Notice that for the major third, I've written 'backwards' beside it. This is because in the song, the higher of the two notes is played first.

That's something I should have told you before. When learning these, get whoever is playing them to always play the lower note first. After a while, you can tell them to play either note first. The reason for this is because if you wanted to compare a backwards interval to a song where the interval isn't backwards, you'll have to mentally rearrange the notes in your head. This is difficult at first, and not something you should worry about when first learning intervals. After you've had some experience, you can practice this too. Just like everything, it gets easier with practice.

Remember, don't try to be smart and learn them all at once. You'll become really confused. Pick two, learn which one is which, then start adding more. When you have about a few, you're going to start making lots of mistakes, and that's fine. Just learn from your mistakes, and eventually, with lots of practice, you'll be able to tell the interval between any two notes.

Things to remember from this lesson:

1. Learning to recognize intervals takes a lot of practice, but it is not impossible.
2. To practice, you must have someone or something sound an unknown interval for you, and then you must try to identify it. Make sure they sound the two notes in succession, and not at once. Also, at first tell them to sound the lower note before the higher note.
2. Start by learning to choose between only two intervals which are already very different.
3. Gradually add more intervals, until you are choosing between all of them.
4. To help you with this, see if you can compare the unknown interval to familiar tunes which use a specific interval as their first two notes.
5. Practice lots, and eventually this will become easy.

Question posted by Danny on 2000-01-09
Feedback: Excellent lesson! Spelling error: "...Get someone to play some intervals to you, telling them they're only *aloud* to play either a major second or an octave..." Also: I think it would be useful to talk briefly about "Why" learn to recoginze intervals. Keep up the good work.
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Question posted by Unknown on 2000-07-21
keep that filthy language to yourself
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Question posted by Nicole on 2000-07-30
Great lesson! Some more intervals incase you're interested in including them: minor second - "Jaws", major second - "Happy Birthday to you", minor third - "Que Sera, Sera", tritone (augmented fourth) - prelude to "The Simpsons theme", minor 6th - "Close Every Door to me" (Joseph and Technicolour Dreamcoat), major 7th - "Maria" (Westside Story?).
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Question posted by Andrew on 2000-11-20
I thought a major and minor scale only differed with the 3rd and 6th (semi-tone down) so isn\'t a minor second the same as a minor second? Or are you calling a minor second a semi-tone?
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Question posted by Unknown on 2005-06-20
I think this lesson is not to bad.Many people dont even have a clue what intervals are.This is a free eye opener.I do my intervals in a diffrent manner.This lesson will help meney beginners out,thats cool!!!!!! Cliff
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