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I've been doing some ear training, I'm quite at ease when recognizing melodic intervals, whether they are ascending or descending intervals, yet when it comes to harmonic intervals, I don't know how to go about it.

Should I be able to sing each note of the melodic interval in order to recognize it? Or... Should I be able to recognize them only by their unique flavour?

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Should I be able to sing each note of the melodic interval in order to recognize it?

You don't need to be able to sing the interval in order to recognize it, but it's still a great idea to do so! Your voice is the best device you have available in ear training, since it's the more direct way to get out of the abstract world and experience the interval as a literal experience.

At least for me, the most effective and efficient ear training exercises involve singing in some way or form.

Or... Should I be able to recognize them only by their unique flavour?

You should be able to do both, and more. An interval can be seen and identified from multiple perspectives, and while it's useful to isolate one of those perspectives for training, in the actual practice you are using all those perspectives at the same time.

More concretely, while listening to melodic intervals focus on:

  • Discern one note from the other. If you already internalized the interval melodically, separating one note from the other makes the recognition somewhat similar to melodic intervals. Harmonic interval exercises are as much about identifying qualities as about leaning to "see" where one note ends and the other begins.

  • You should also be able to discern the interval by its "flavor" or quality, without necessarily thinking in melodic terms. For example, minor seconds and major sevenths have a very distinctive beating because of the semitone distance. Major seconds and minor sevenths still have a beating, but much reduced in intensity (beatings in general are more noticeable in the lower registers). Perfect intervals (4ths, 5ths, 8ves) are ridiculously stable. Thirds basically sound as their respective triads. And so on.

How to recognize harmonic intervals?

In short: You should be able to separate the notes in your head and identify them in a similar way to melodic interval recognition, but you should also be able to identify them by their quality or "flavor" without thinking in melodic therms. In practice, you are using both perspectives at the same time.

Depending on your background, it's possible that you'll find one perspective much easier to apply that the other. That's perfectly normal and don't worry too much about it. Just try to apply both in your training and practice, and with time both will get in a good form.

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Should I be able to sing each note of the melodic interval in order to recognize it? Or... Should I be able to recognize them only by their unique flavour?

Both. Moreover singing what you hear is a very good method to learn. I guess you're practicing with recordings or some training app, but try also practice with an instrument (e.g. piano, guitar): play two notes, then sing them. This might be easier, because you know what you're playing.

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  • Great, I tried with both, a piano and a guitar. It was certainly easier to hear the lower and higher notes and not only the two melted notes, maybe because of the volume?
    – Juan Luis
    Dec 27 '20 at 3:58
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I also think both ways will be helpful!

But here is a 3rd technique, starting from your first impression:

What do you hear? Consonance or dissonance? Perfect consonance or imperfect? Sharp or mild dissonance? Long distant or short distant? Then you can continue with the finer analysis.

Most successful to me is to have for every interval a beginning motif of a popular song, so I have immediately the association of this song when I hear e.g. a minor third (coucou) or an ascending fourth (upbeat). You can create your own list. It will be helpful for ear training and solfege (sight reading).

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Had to check up on this! A melodic interval occurs when two notes are played or heard consecutively, and a harmonic interval is when two notes are played or heard together.

If you find the melodic easy, then just change the harmonic in your mind - or sing each note.

There are certain intervals which are notable when heard harmonically. A violin playing two adjacent strings gives P5. Same sound as a 'power chord'. Probably the most harmonious are M3 and m6 - inversions of each other. Bagpipe drones are usually P5. Emergency vehicles often use m3 - but Doppler messes that up!

Instead of practising just melodic intervals, try playing the two notes both ways before deciding. Play one note, at the same time singing the other, then play the two to check.

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