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I would like to piggyback on this question: If someone can sing a melody, why can they not also recognize the intervals within that melody?

The OP is asking why it is easy to sing a song we know, meaning we memorized the intervals, why is it difficult to name intervals when we hear them.

My twist on this is:

If I play with apps that train me to recognize intervals, it takes some warmup period before I'm able to do it decently, then accuracy goes up. But somehow, each time I try to play again, I am back to the same, without the warming up I'm not so good. But overall, if this was a competition, I wouldn't be so good, despite having started to play instruments some 40 years ago :)

However, when I hear an interval, I'm usually able not only to replicate it on a guitar with good accuracy, but I'll hit the first note quite close to the original as well.

(To some extent I can do it on the piano too, but not as well as on the guitar.)

Has anyone an idea why there is such a difference?

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  • A sort of analogy might be - if someone can say a word, why can't they spell it?
    – Tim
    Jun 11, 2020 at 18:48
  • You can't identify something you were never taught.
    – user50691
    Jun 11, 2020 at 19:38
  • How long have you been using the apps? If you've been using them for half an hour a day for 6 months, for example, I'd be concerned about your slow learning rate.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jun 12, 2020 at 14:13
  • haha, no, I've been using them .. when stuck waiting in the car for my gf to be ready :) maybe 1 time a month or so in the last couple years
    – Thomas
    Jun 12, 2020 at 14:39

3 Answers 3

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Part of this may be a form of instrument-specific absolute pitch. Although most of my students don't have absolute pitch, many do have terrific pitch memory on their instrument: thus pianists can recognize pitches that are played on a piano, but not those played by a cello. It sounds like you have better pitch memory when it comes to the guitar than on the piano. (Absolute pitch is, after all, just really good pitch memory.)

As for errors creeping in before a warmup period, consistent practice often involves occasional steps backwards where we briefly forget something or are briefly less successful than we once were. It happens when learning foreign languages, and it certainly happens in our musical lives. I wouldn't stress too much on where the beginnings of your sessions are, as long as the ends of your sessions show improvements.

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The simple fact is that these are all different skills.

Also keep in mind the fact that our brain is very good at learning to perform different tasks with the least possible effort, but also without learning anything more than absolutely necessary.

For example, if you learned to write with your right hand, and it might seem logical to conclude that doing the same action with your left hand should be just as easy, but it turns out it is not...

In a similar way, repeating what you hear with your voice is one thing (which by the way parrots and other birds can do pretty well, too), but understanding intellectually what interval that is according to a certain system (temperate tuning) is quite another thing. And having learned what intervals they are, being able to play them smoothly on a physical instrument, is yet another different thing.

So, they are just different skills that require different physical and conceptual types of practice to be mastered. Of course some components are overlapping, but many other components are not, and for that dedicated practice is required.

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Intervals between two strings on a guitar have a particular shape - P4 on adjacent strings is the same fret, wherever it is played (obviously not between strings 2 and 3!). On piano there's a whole host of different looking intervals; that same P4 can be white/white, black/black, white/black or black/white. So it won't be as easy to pick out, unless you know your intervals intimately.

Difficulty naming them? Most folk can sing an interval without even realising that's what it is, never mind what it's named. And then there's always - 'is that an aug.4 or a dim.5..?

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