I am trying to learn to determine scale degrees by ear. I stumbled across this exercise: https://tonedear.com/ear-training/functional-solfege-scale-degrees, but so far my guesses are not much better than chance. Is there any method to hearing them? I know that I need to practice more, but I can't figure out any strategy that would allow me to determine the step.

  • Are you asking for single tones of a scale or the chords of the dehrees? Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 19:26
  • Single notes for now, once I get that down I'll move on to chords)
    – Ira I.I.
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 19:29
  • Look up the related questions and answers on the right side (green squares). You’ll find many good hints. Sing motifs and triads from the beginning, not only isolated degrees, always make the references to the root tone! Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 19:43

3 Answers 3

  • Sing the intervals (sequencing 2nds, 3rds, 4ths etc.) scale up and down: domi refa miso and dofa reso mila ... etc.

  • practice the scale going back to the root tone: dore, domi, dofa, doso ...

  • sing the triads from all degrees

  • sing all 7th chords and their resolution: e.g. sotirefa mido.

  • each degree has a function and tension: stable, unstable, lead tone, root note, home feeling, dominant. always be aware of this function, e.g. fa-ti-do.

  • sing the pieces you play on your instrument and all songs you know or learn on the syllables of do re mi.

Also practice the cadence, singing the voicing 4 parts as a canon: dodotido, solasoso, mifaremi, dofasodo.

There's also a trick to memorize intervals by song beginnings: here's always mentioned Maria (augm 4th) and Somewhere (minor 7th) rom Westside Story. But this makes only sense if you know this songs very well.

Thus you have to choose songs that are printed in your heart from your childhood: Baby songs, folks songs, making groups of similar beginnings, turns, endings for the motives where you feel the root tone (home-tone) like:

doremido, mifaso

domiso, sofamiredo

doremifasososo, sofamiredododo

Mozarts first composition all ended: lasofa mi re do.

somi is the most important to start from - in our curriculum: the coucou third.

you can go on: solasomi (silent night, blowing in the wind, we shall overcome ... etc)

  • Why sol-mi is the most important? Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 15:15
  • well I said, it is the starting point in our curriculum. Everybody knows the coucou, but it's even not sure whether the coucou sings a minor or major third. You can as well start the up beat fourth: so do, or the scale doremifasososo, also miredoremimimi, or with the motif: so so la la so mi, which is well knwon in children songs and also in silent night, oh du fröhliche, we shall overcome, where have all the flowers gone, how many roads must a man walk down and so on. (by the way: sol mi is also named the Rufterz, that means the third of calling, the first interval which children shout. Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 14:40
  • Try it out: call the name of anyone, e.g. Johnny, come home, dinner is ready: you may use the motif so mi, do somi, do so so so mi mi. youtube.com/watch?v=vKY29mEh5z4&ab_channel=BlueSilverstar youtube.com/… Commented Dec 17, 2023 at 14:46

Being able to sing up and down the major scale is a good starter. And each note needs a name. That's where 'movable do' comes in. Listen to the Sound of Music's song - Doe, a Deer, to get started. It may be twee, but it is actually spot on - specially later, where the notes are moved around, still using their names.

Always use an instrument - piano/keyboard is best - so you can physically see distances, as well as hear and possibly feel them. Stick to the white keys, hence key C, for now. You may consider using actual note names instead, there's no problem in that. (It's getting into 'fixed do ' territory, but that won't matter as long as you don't try to combine the two!)

Initially, always start with the tonic - here, do. Sing up (and down) the major scale a few times. Then do something like C>E, first by going up C, D, E, then singing only C and E out loud, the D being inside your head. Go through the whole scale this way. Mix it up by singing (and playing), say, E>G, G>B etc.

You'll benefit from knowing what intervals are called, and why Find some songs that alternate between two notes of specific intervals - Over the Rainbow uses m3 at the beginning of its middle section, for example - and sing along with them.

Consider that you are the teacher, and you have a student with your problem. Come up with some strategies of your own that will help them. Almost like inventing your own app.


Practice. This is not easy for beginners. It's like learning a new language and at first you my forget the sound of different intervals. Constant regular exposure is key for developing a good ear.

I use a commercial s/w called EarMasterPro. It may be no better than what you've found so I'm not endorsing it, but I like it.

One thing that helps is that the lessons are very focused. Rather than just identifying any interval it has a lesson on 2nds, then 3rds, 4th and 5th, then dim 5th, each comparing only two intervals. After those are mastered it combines all 2nds and 3rds, then adds the 4th through 5th.

After the intervals up to P5 if goes through 6ths and 7ths. This systematic approach helps you develop good recognition. Similar exercises exist for triads, 7th and extended chords, modes, inversions, progressions, etc.

  • ...each comparing two intervals - or each comparing two notes - one interval? (3rd para.)
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 20:55
  • 2 intervals. A lesson might be to identify M2 from m2 with notes played ascending, then descending, then together, then any of the three previous states. You are not comparing M2 to m2 to ID which is smaller (though that is a beginner lesson). What makes it easy is that you know the answer has to be a 2nd, and you just need to hear M or m. For beginners that is not easy. After some time anything in the chromatic scale is fair game.
    – user50691
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 21:18

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