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I've been using some of those interval training games like this one and I have tried some on my phone as well.

The problem is that I don't think I'm making any progress. Right now (on the website I linked to above) I have it set to only play Major 2nd, Major 3rd, and Octaves, but I still get Major 2nd and Major 3rd mixed up. It really frustrating.

Are there some intervals I should focus on first? Any tips on how to make it sick, so to speak, when trying to internalize the distance between notes?

  • Not sure what was edited, but I don't recall you mentioning having trouble with those two intervals in general. If you check out my answer with the drones, after singing/playing for more than a few seconds you will find it very hard NOT to distinguish those two intervals because of how dissonant the major 2nd is and how consonant the major 3rd is. Once you hear the harmonic component of how the major third sounds, the interval itself becomes much easier to do in isolation. – mkingsbu Jun 27 '15 at 12:36
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There aren't any special intervals you should focus on. All of them are equally important. What you can do is to find songs you know, with melodies you can sing, and see what kind of intervals they use.

This way you'll remember what the intervals sound like. Now, no one can really suggest these kind of songs to you. They have to be songs you know and remember the melody, otherwise they won't help you.

So, find a dozen songs you like and see the music sheet. Mark down the intervals and then listen to them again, more carefully.

This has helped me a lot in my ear training.

see if you can find some kids' songs, like happy birthday, that everyone knows, have simple intervals and are easy for ear training

Here is a good video example I found online, where the singer says what interval he sings:

  • Some intervals are more common than others. For example, I would argue that recognizing a major third is more useful and important (and easier) than recognizing a major seventh. – Peter Olson Jun 9 '15 at 1:14
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    @PeterOlson There aren't that many intervals, so almost always the goal is learning them all. In that sense, it doesn't really matter which one is more common or useful, since you end up learning them all anyway. – Lyd Jun 9 '15 at 3:18
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Any tips on how to make it sick, so to speak, when trying to internalize the distance between notes?

There are three ways you can easily get those intervals in your head.

Sing

Singing the intervals will make learning them much more easier and effective. Try this before doing your interval exercises:

  1. Pick one interval you are having troubles with.
  2. Play the interval in the instrument you are most familiar with (or a piano app or whatever)
  3. Sing the interval in two different ways: "la, la" (or whatever your favorite syllable is) and using the interval name: "la, la, minor second".
  4. Repeat until you become more familiar with it. You don't have to internalize it in one sit, you can do it just a few times a day and you'll eventually get it in both your mind and your voice.

You should be singing the intervals doing the actual exercises too:

  1. Listen to the interval given by the app.
  2. Sing it.
  3. Tell the direction of the interval (ascending, descending, at the same time) and the interval itself.

Singing is not only very useful when internalizing intervals, but for developing your musicality in general. Interval recognition exercises that include singing are a basic part of most improvisation programs, where being able to sing a specific interval or a given string of intervals is very useful, to give one example.

Associate an interval with a part of a song that you know

If you are having troubles memorizing a specific interval, try finding it in a song you like, and make a mental note about it. It'll stick like glue.

For example: the major third interval can be found in the first notes played by the bass in Radiohead's "National Anthem". Once I noticed it and made a mental note about it, it was very easy to recognize the interval in isolation.

The perfect fifth can be found in the first two notes of Top Gun's main theme, and that's what first came to my mind when I listened to it in isolation (I don't even remember the movie that well), and that's how it stayed in my memory from the start. It also works with Jurassic Park's main theme.

Once you associate an interval with a part of a song that contains the interval, a song that you like or can otherwise easily remember, memorizing intervals will become many times easier.

In your major 2nd and major 3rd case in particular, you can think about the major scale. Can you sing it? If you can then the 2nd major interval is the first two notes of the major scale, you already know it. If the interval sounds like it is starting a major scale from the root, then there's your major 2nd (it could also be starting other scales, but the major is by far the most common to know and the one most people can sing).

Practice regularly

Twenty minutes a day, every day, should be the minimum practice time and frequency if you are looking for serious progress. You don't have to practice intervals only, you can practice scale and chord recognition too.

Are there some intervals I should focus on first?

Find two intervals that are easy to recognize for you, and start with those. I started with perfect 4th and perfect 5th, then added the tritone, and kept adding intervals every time I felt like I could handle one more.

If you can't recognize intervals that are close together yet, try with other pair of intervals that are farther apart. In your case, try major 2nd and perfect fourth instead. The difference should be more evident. Once you can distinguish that pair, try adding other interval to the mix.

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    100% agree on the singing. Practice singing up chromatically (in half steps) and diatonically (in the scale) from the first note to the second note. You could also learn Solfege! That helped me some, too. Oh and to distinguish between P4 and P5, I'd just see if I could hear "1, 4, 3" (Do, Fa, Mi) in my head. – ksoo Jun 9 '15 at 12:38
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To these excellent suggestions I would add -- every time you practice, don't just rely on the computer app and don't just rely on your singing voice and your ear. Also go to an instrument and play those intervals while you study. Pick any note at random and find the specific interval above and below. Train not only your voice and your ear, but also your fingers to find those intervals. Piano or other keyboard is very useful in this regard because you can clearly see the layout of the keys and count the white and black keys up or down to the interval, which reinforces what you are hearing.

I tell my students: train your eye, your ear, and your fingers at the same time, with every music lesson. This will engage your whole brain and will increase your retention of what you learn.

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Melody and harmony are highly intertwined. As such, I've found that practicing intervals as a function of harmony to be the most practical and useful way to work on ear training both personally and with students.

I do this by singing against/with a drone; I personally use the Tuning CD (http://r.duckduckgo.com/l/?kh=-1&uddg=http%3A%2F%2Fraschwartz.wix.com%2Fthe-tuning-cd), but there are plenty of others out there, like Cello Drones and functions of your tuners.

For example, put on a "C" drone. Sing/play the notes, "CGC." (Do all notes ascending, descending, or a mixture; the more the better!) With the drone being a pedal, you can hear both the melodic function (I-V-I) and the distance between the two notes.

A very useful and inexpensive resource are church hymnals. I purchased 4 Baptist hymnals for about $12 on Amazon and use them for singing or playing with friends. I would start with the bass voice, even if you aren't male and even if you have to sing it up 1/2 octaves. Being able to hear that direction is the foundation for aural training, especially if you can sing / play it with a drone.

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I had a go on the website to whcih you referred - that's a great site ! I did quite well I think but it seems for me the larger intervals - 7ths / tritones etc are harder to get.

I'm quite good at recognising chord structure and intervals in songs by ear. That's a bit different to the exercise on that website because there's generally a key and a context in music peformance. A turning point for me was when I worked out how to play a few specific tunes (or riffs - I'm a guitarist) with which I'm familiar.

Examples : "Love is a stranger" by the Eurhythmics. The first part of sung tune is a major 3rd and 4th, then back to the root note of the key of the verse. There's a little riff whcih runs through the song which is 2 notes on a 5th then back to th root note.

When I learnt that on the guitar, I memorised the intervals (part of learning to play them I guess!) and now if I hear somethign else which uses the same intervals I can pick it out quite easily.

Another is a part of - beethoven's 6th symphony - 25:07 in this example (sorry, I'm not familiar with the movement names).

That's a minor 3rd interval, but actuially related to the root note it's a major 3rd and 5th, which is a quite common theme. That piece is quite familiar to me so I can recognise that in other tunes.

My point isn't 'use these specific songs to learn these intervals' - they're just examples that worked for me- it's more that generally speaking by identifying known intervals and progressions in tunes that are familiar to you, you can go some way to effectively memorising intervals and recognising them in other places.

By "Known" I mean memorising that a specific tune involves specific intervals. For me, that's learnign to play them on a guitar. You don't mention whether you play an instrument, but I'm thinking that learning to play something probably helps a LOT with the memory. I would think it's possible to do this without playing something if you have a good audio memory, but probably not so easily.

The reason is probably that "triangulation of memory" thing where if you try to remember a number on its own, likely you'll forget it, but if you associated it with somethign else then you stand a better chance. Eg I can remeber a friend's phone number as 707622 = 'village-trombones-ducks' (obviously, haha .. 70 = village dial code, 76 = trombones like the song, 22 = like two ducks next to each other -as he explained it, drunkenly).

Visualising where your hands are on guitar strings (or piano or anything) combined with the sound of the interval and the context of the tune all goes towards helping memorising it.

To help with a genuine minor 3rd, perhaps identify a melody which is famiiar to you and find it on an instrument, memorise where the keys / frets etc are - remember the moment and how it sounded and felt. The melody in question is up to you though- depends what is familiar to you !

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    Try the apps I recommended, they are different in that they don't play the notes out of context. You only have to guess one note at a time relative to the cadence you are played, instead of guessing the interval between two notes. If you don't want to download and install any software use the web application at freeeartrainer.com – Anthony Aug 25 '16 at 22:29
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I also remember having trouble with intervals. And I too used a lot of ear training programs and websites, until I stumbled upon Functional Ear Trainer which teaches a related but slightly different approach to intervals: scale degrees. Basically your aim is to guess the scale degree (tonic, third, etc...) that corresponds to the tone that is played after you've heard a cadence to establish a key. Only one note is played, and you don't need to hear the cadence at every question if the key is still stuck in your head.

I found this approach much less confusing than the out-of-context approach of focusing on only the interval between the current tone and the previous one. I apply this technique when improvising or transcribing melodies, and am very satisfied with the level of accuracy I get out of it. I answer almost 100% correctly in Functional Ear Trainer but still get very bad results in applications that just throw random intervals at you.

Give these two apps a try:

1 - Functional Ear Trainer (desktop and mobile app)

2 - https://freeeartrainer.com (web app)

  • Just wanted to add that EarMaster can be configured to do Functional Ear Training too. Using its "Melodic Dictation" custom activity you can configure it to generate "melodies" with a length of one tone. Playing the key before the question and answering using its "Functional keyboard", will do exactly this. – Hans Nov 5 at 15:08

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