Originally I tried to recognize intervals by ear through the use of songs (e.g. m3 = first two notes in Greensleeves). This worked until I got to m6-M7, where the songs I had for downwards intervals didn't really stick. So I started recognizing them by humming out the downwards interval, then the upwards one back to the first note (e.g. m6: C-E-C).

This is working, but it feels like a 2 step process, when I should actually try to recognize them right away (e.g. m6: C-E). Am I handicapping myself with this method? Or will I eventually start to recognize the downwards intervals without having to go back up?

4 Answers 4


Eventually, if you keep practicing, all intervals will be obvious to you without having to relate to a song. At least by then it will not matter.

I was taught (for some really tricky non-tonal sight singing ear training exercises) to use all tricks I could think of to find the next note. Suggested tricks included such as

  • humming scale steps up or down to the next note to sing,
  • humming, for the context, an easy interval - such as perhaps a fifth - and finding the tricky note some major or minor second interval from there, or adding/subtracting two intervals - perhaps an octave and a third - to find the next (tricky) note,
  • relating the next (tricky) note to a previous note still in your ear memory instead of the last one.

In time less and less tricks will be needed. So in conclusion I think that whichever tricks that help you on your way are valid. So by all means do your two-step trick for now. However you should consider trying to eliminate the extra step as a good exercise in order to progress!

  • That first method was the one I've been using for the ascending 6th and 7ths. I can recognize a perfect 5th and an octave, so I'd hum up or down until I found it. I think that's the best trick I've heard. It also feels like it helps you develop an ear for both the interval you're hearing, and the adjacent ones you're going through until you get to your comfortable interval.
    – Voriki
    Oct 5, 2013 at 17:12

Bearing in mind that each interval going up has a 'partner' the other way, it won't matter. For example, your maj. 3rd of C-E is 'opposite' to the min.6th that E-C gives. The perfect 4th of, say, A-D is 'opposite' to the perfect 5th of D-A. So you could say that you only have to learn half as the examples show.

You should be able to sing up and down intervals.The general rule will involve the number 9. (maj 3-min.6 etc.)

  • 1
    Yes! The sum makes 9, minor becomes major and vice-versa, diminished becomes augmented and vice-versa, perfect stays perfect. Very helpful for 6ths and 7ths :)
    – kurto
    Oct 5, 2013 at 9:59
  • That's an interesting trick. So for example: if you're trying to recognize a descending A-D (P5), you could find the corresponding ascending A-D (P4) to the next D note. Is that right?
    – Voriki
    Oct 5, 2013 at 17:19
  • 1
    Yep, it always works.Obviously the rule of 9 will only work within an octave though...
    – Tim
    Oct 5, 2013 at 17:30

I think it's ok. Besides, relying on songs to remember intervals is a two step process as well: you recognize the song, than the interval. However, as you progress you won't need to rely on the songs anymore, and you'll be able to instantly get the right answer.

I also think it's ok to cheat for a while and sing the intervals backwards if it helps you. As long a you keep practicing, no matter how much you cheat the intervals will start sticking in your memory eventually.


Any trick you can use to find the right note is fine. As you practice, you will "memorize" the correct notes, and use the tricks less and less.

It's like when you were learning arithmetic as a kid. There are tricks that you learn when you need to multiply by 5, for example, such as counting by 5s and using your fingers. Eventually, you do enough math problems that you just remember that 7 x 5 = 35.

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