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I've been trying to train my ear to distinguish intervals for quite some time but I don't get very good at it. I've got a hypothesis that it's because ask the interval training programs, websites and videos use equal temperament intervals and that I hear the impurity and it confuses me. Hence the question.

How can I do interval ear training with pure intervals (e.g. fifth = 3/2, fourth = 4/3, major third = 5/4)? What app, program, videos, audio recordings or something else is there for JI interval training? Or maybe there is a way to do it another way, using drone notes, whistling, vocal cords, a musical instrument or something like that?

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    I feel that the differences in pitch between intervals in various temperaments are so small, that's not your problem. Most instruments (excluding violin family and trombones - and vox) will use 12tet, so there is far more mileage getting used to intervals in that temperament.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 8:53
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    @Tim It's still an excellent skill for everyone to have, despite the 12-TET hegemony, because it helps people understand the basis behind alternative tunings such as 19-TET and 31-TET more easily AND it allows intervals in alternative tunings to not sound completely alien to people.
    – user59346
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 13:43
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    @ElEctric ok but a 5:4 major third doesn't sound alien to most people. Even a 7:4 minor seventh, as part of a dominant seventh chord, usually goes unnoticed except by virtue of the chord's texture.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 18:10
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    @phoog 12-TET's "approximation" of 7:4 is extremely off since it's sharp by 31 cents, so a true harmonic seventh is likely to sound quite flat to most people. Also, 12-TET's major thirds are 5.03968:4 which is 13.7 cents sharp of 5:4, and I've noticed that just major thirds of 5:4 tend to sound too flat to most non-classical musicians. The same goes for 6:5 minor thirds—most non-classical musicians think that just minor thirds sound too wide since they're so used to 12-TET, which tunes the major thirds to about 5.946:5, 15.6 cents flat of just.
    – user59346
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 18:58
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    @ElEctric I'm fond of Cleartune for that reason. You can often find it being used on a harpsichord before an early music concert, to dial in the temperament. I like that it has a "violin family" preset. Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 14:41

2 Answers 2

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I second both Tim and El Ectric: There's no harm in using just intervals for this purpose, but I also doubt that it's your main difficulty. There are many questions about ear training on the site with lots of good practical information, but there's one bit I don't see represented in them. I would question whether the electronic audio tools you're using are the most effective for you.

I find that timbre matters a lot to me for pitch identification. I have "acquired pitch"; from playing violin for years, I can recognize pitches that I hear, but have more accuracy in the violin range, and have difficulty with some instruments like saxophone or the human voice. I also have difficulty identifying pitch from pure sine waves—which is what a lot of apps use.

The quickest thing I'd suggest is trying other apps that might use different sample banks and seeing if it's easier. But there could be some good reasons to move to an actual analog instrument. Real instruments, like a piano, have complex waveforms rich in overtones. An excellent sample might do a great job of capturing them, and excellent speakers might do a great job of reproducing them, but something will always get lost in translation. Using an actual acoustic instrument will give your ears and brain more data.

Further, you'll be "playing" an additional instrument: the room. If you've been primarily training with headphones, then you're vibrating very little air. An acoustic instrument interacts with its space, and the acoustics of the room become additional data for your senses. This is especially important when training intervals. When two pitches are played simultaneously, their sound waves collide and interact, canceling or reinforcing each other. They can combine to create new pitches. If you, say, simply play one pitch into one side of your headphones and one into the other, then these interferences are never actually happening in the air, just in your perception. Even if you blend the two pitches in headphones, that's still a much quieter sound in a much smaller space; a low-energy wave in your ear canal rather than more energy in the air of the room, with more chance for the waves to interact.

Finally, identifying a simultaneous interval is much harder than identifying a sequential interval (i.e. play the first note, then the second note). Make sure you've mastered that before moving on.

Of course, there are some impracticalities: to play notes on a real piano and guess what they are, it's best to have another person play them. Even if you don't look at the keyboard, you might have a sense of how far apart the keys are. So if you don't have a piano and assistant handy, you could get creative. You could get hold of a pitch pipe like this one:

enter image description here

... and, without looking at the top, play a note, give it a spin, and play another note. Or even simply unplugging the headphones and using good speakers for apps or websites might be a step in the right direction.

It can also be very helpful to simply play notes even if you do know what you're doing. Sit down at a piano and really intentionally study the sound of minor thirds; play them in various ranges, over and over, and listen intently. Pursue playing an instrument. Ear training is usually done in support of making music, and every time you play a note you "smuggle" an awareness of it, and of its relationship to its neighbors, into your subconscious.

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    +1 is an absolute minimum for this answer, wish it could be more!
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 15:37
  • I didn't know that collisions and stuff in the space around me give me clues. I will try this.
    – CrabMan
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 20:03
  • The pitch pipe idea is an excellent one! Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 23:09
  • The issues with timbre is exactly why, shortly after I started showing chords, intervals, and songs in alternative tunings to my friends, I realised that sawtooth waves are not a very good way of showing what chords and intervals sound like.
    – user59346
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 8:57
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As far as just intonation interval training, you could use a digital piano that lets you change the tuning. On the software side, you could try a plug-in like Entonal Studio.

The only other thing I would add to the already excellent answers given here, is that singing the intervals out loud is a must.

Best of luck

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