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I have started doing ear training, I've been using an App called Ear Gym. I'm doing OK, first with ascending intervals and now with descending (using the reference song method) but I'm struggling with harmonic intervals and when I get it wrong I am often choosing the inversion of the correct one - any ideas that might help?

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  • Maybe try singing both notes first.
    – Pistos
    Aug 27, 2022 at 5:54
  • @Pistos That is common advice but relies on the ability to hear both notes. Sep 15, 2022 at 21:04

3 Answers 3

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It seems that if you are mixing up the octave, some singing practice that works around octave might help.

Practice by singing at the keyboard. Play a pitch on the keyboard, like C4. You might need to first sing that pitch, but try to just hear it in your head. Then sing something like the P5 above it, the G4, then sing the G3, the P4 below. Alternate the two and try to feel the difference in beating in your throat. There should be different physical sensation for the P5 versus P4.

An interval and its inversion share a certain sameness that is hard to describe. Seconds and sevenths are both dissonant. Thirds and sixth have a sort of "trembling" consonance. Fifths and fourths have a sort of "hard" consonance", etc. etc. But the physical beating may offer a way to distinguish inversion equivalents.

You can come up with variations on the exercise above, like singing portions of a scale in various parallel intervals. Ex. play C4 D4 E4 F4 G4 F4 E4 D4 C4 while singing E4 F4 G4 A4 B4 A4 G4 F4 E4 versus E3 F3 G3 A3 B3 A3 G3 F3 E3. Then do the same for other interval pairs.

If a singing approach doesn't work, you might try some kind of personal labeling. To me...

  • thirds are close and intimate, sixth a distant and ethereal
  • fifths are bright, fourths growl
  • seventh clang, seconds buzz

...maybe you have your own associations that will help.

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Practice makes perfect. Just keep at it, there is no secret solution and no one is going to give you any tricks that magically makes your ears(or anything) powerful. E.g., no one can say anything to you that will magically make your muscles stronger.

There is no tricks. There are better ways to practice, of course, but practice is all you can do. It takes time to connect what your mind hears and understands with the nomenclature and structure of music that we use.

When I first started I couldn't tell the difference between a P4 and a P5... and no one could. Some people pick it up quicker than others, usually that is due to experience and practice.

What helped me a lot was playing music and knowing what I was playing. They say, for example, to memorize intervals of the opening melodies of songs that you know and can sing. That is a vast simplification.

You would take entire pieces of music and memorize the intervalic structure, be able to perform it on an instrument, and sing it. You should then also make sure to recognize harmonies and learn chords and the notes with in them.

Each note in a harmonic context has a distinct sound. There are "12 notes" and each note will sound different over some chord(and this system is "movable" so you just pick a chord and try each note... but you must do this for all chords). The same goes for intervals.

The reason you are not hearing inversions correctly(I had this issue too) is because you are not understanding what an interval is. It's good if you can hear the correct interval inverted though, that is a start.

I can't really tell you how to figure out how to do it since your brain is different than mine but for me, I was trying to hear the individual notes and pick out the lowest and highest... to some degree this is true but, in fact, every interval, just like every note, has it's own sound when played over some context(harmony).

3rds are vastly different than 6ths even though they are inversions. You probably get these right though? P4's and P4's are more tricky for some... but, in fact they too have their distinctive sound. The more you play these intervals on an instrument(or sing them) the more you internalize their sounds. Rather than trying to hear the notes individually try to hear the interval as a entire sound. You actually already do this but if your brain works like mine you spend so much time trying to hear something else(like the individual notes) that you miss the forest from the tree's. It's actually a lot easier than you think. Play a bunch of intervals and compare and contrast and convince yourself that they are different. Find contexts where it is obvious and that you have it easily memorized... and make sure to do it in all 12 keys(one key is not enough because you are not hearing the invariance of intervals).

Just practice practice practice(not just one type, it's a whole mind experience). Give it time too. Always try too use your brain and be conscious of what you are hearing. Pieces you can hear in your head, if you know the intervals involved then you already know their names... you just have to consolidate all that info. Your brain has to figure it out, there are no tricks.

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  • How do you conclude the OP doesn't understand what an interval is? Sep 12, 2022 at 17:37
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The 'rule of 9' should help. Along with maj/min and aug/dim. Listening to a small interval won't give you the answer of a big one! A m3 , with its inversion of M6, for example. One's a lot wider spaced than the other.

By using the lower note - whichever way you hear the two notes, you'll have more chance to get it right.

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  • I don’t understanding this answer. A) What is the rule of 9? B) Use the lower note how? Sep 12, 2022 at 11:49
  • @ToddWilcox - I'm sure you know it - m3 inverted = M6, M2 inverted =m7, P4 inverted =P5 - 'rule of 9'. Use the lower note as the datum point, rather than work backwards from the higher note.
    – Tim
    Sep 12, 2022 at 12:03
  • Ok I’ve never heard it called that. Assuming one can discern which is the lower note, what exactly is the next step? How is the rule of 9 applied? And BTW my questions here are authentic, not pedantic. I’m currently struggling in ear training I class. Sep 12, 2022 at 12:17
  • @ToddWilcox - I'd hope most would be able to discern which note is higher/lower. Counting up from that, once recognised, the interval is found. Put that lower note as the top note, you have the inversion. So, hear C>E, M3, thus E>C must be m6. (Rule of 9, M<>m, P<>P, d<>a.) Thanks for lack of pedancy! Using kbd, it's probably easier to understand.
    – Tim
    Sep 12, 2022 at 12:27

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