(This is for relative pitch, absolute pitch gods please don't descend from heaven)

I've been learning to recognize intervals for the past year or so, and I have to say I'm very good at it. (Mostly by using the technique of associating the interval with a song).

If I hear an interval I know which one it is about 98% of the time, it doesn't matter if it's ascending, descending or harmonic.

However, trying to pick melodies apart to know what intervals are within it, or even less, what intervals are within a chord, are still very hard tasks.

From your experience, what exercise would you say is a good next step after learning intervals? You can say Identifying chords, chord changes and melodies are my goals.

Also, I don't think it should matter, but I'm a Piano player if you need to know.


4 Answers 4


(This could be closed as opinion-based, but I also think there's only one answer...)

Learn scale-degree functions. Each scale degree has its own particular function, and therefore its own particular sound; the tonic scale degree (scale-degree 1) has a particular sound to it, and the leading tone (scale-degree 7) has a completely different sound. The best way to learn what these functions are is to sing melodies and scales (both major and minor) on scale degrees.

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," for instance, would be sung:

1 1 5 5 6 6 5 4 4 3 3 2 2 1

The fact is that a perfect fifth from the tonic to the dominant scale degrees sounds very different from the perfect fifth between scale-degrees 3 and 7. As you've learned, being able to recognize intervals acontextually doesn't necessarily mean you can recognize intervals in a musical context. Just don't worry about recognizing intervals; instead, learn to recognize (and reproduce by singing) scale degrees.

The more you sing melodies, you'll start to recognize where to play every scale degree, which will then allow you to sing and dictate melodies with far greater success.

This scale-degree awareness will then help you identify chords, not only because you'll be able to more quickly recognize the outer voices and the inner voices that fill out the harmony, but because it's a very similar process: chords have a specific function (and sound), just like scale degrees. You'll learn, for instance, that half-diminished seventh chords have a particular function and sound that distinguishes it from other seventh chords.

  • What you say makes complete sense, my teachers have tried to get me to be able to tell what degree a note is in a scale but I've never been able to. What you propose seems like the perfect logical next step. Any particular exercises you suggest? I found this one: tonesavvy.com/music-practice-exercise/220/…
    – Nelo
    Apr 6, 2018 at 3:58
  • Practice your scales until your ears can't forget.
    – Tama
    Apr 6, 2018 at 6:45
  • practice your scales by the numbers. Singing or saying while playing the scale degrees of a scale. Then change keys and use the numbers for the next scale. Figure out what scale degrees are the notes to a song you know and sing or say and play the numbers to it. Apr 6, 2018 at 7:17
  • 1
    Agree with all the good points here, the only thing I might add that is enormously helpful ear-wise is transcribing. Apr 7, 2018 at 3:36
  • 1
    Learning the scale degrees is exactly what I would recommend next as well. There are sight-singing exercise books out there that you could get which would have tunes unfamiliar to you. There is debate over moveable vs. fixed Do, but in your situation I would think using the moveable Do system would be quite sufficient. Vocal warm-ups of sorts may help, too, like singing the solfegge in alternate thirds. Do-mi-re-fa-mi-sol-fa-la-sol-ti-la-do-ti-re-do, for example. You can expand this by other intervals as well. Basically, you want to get to know your scales upside down and backwards.
    – Heather S.
    Apr 7, 2018 at 13:01

Continuing from Richard's great answer. I expect you've learnt to recognise intervals using the old trick of the first two notes of certain songs. It's a tried and to a degree tested way to do it. The problem is that often, the first two notes of a tune are not related to the tonic, or key. Simple sample - first two notes of Star Spangled Banner. Minor third (inverted). Very little to do with reference to the key, unless you bear in mind that in a major triad, there's a m3 between notes 3 and 5.

But if each interval is directly related to the tonic - which is pretty well how most songs are pitched, it makes a lot more sense. Try first two notes of Greensleeves instead. Maybe this is why you find it difficult within a scale (your comment). That apart, knowing diatonic intervals, relating to the tonic, will help your piano playing better.

So, next step - re-think a little using intervals relating to tonic more than those relating to the last note played/heard. Stick to diatonics initially, then work on accidentals.


Joining the chat a bit late, in order to improve at recognizing the tonal function of each note, there is a type of ear training called "functional ear training".

It consists of:

  1. A cadence being played in order to give your ear a hint of the tonality.

  2. A note is played and you must identify such note by its function inside the tonality (previously hinted by the cadence resolving to I).

  3. Once you have given your answer, the note of interest must be played and so each note until the closest root. For example: If the note you identified was the 4th degree of the major scale, then 3rd, 2nd down to 1st must be played melodically. This last thing will help you internalizing the tonal function of each note you recognize.

This can be done with a partner or an app. Look for "functional ear training apps" and you might find something for whichever platform you might have.

ONCE you've mastered recognizing chromatic notes in major and minor context, you'll be able to recognize two notes and then three and so on.


At least if you're taking Royal Conservatory of Music exams, identifying chords by ear must be your next step. Otherwise, you'll flunk part of those music exams.

My piano teachers had me practice identifying chords by ear by playing sample chords that they named by chord type (major, minor, diminished, and augmented are all in the syllabus), then playing more chords and making me identify their types. I learned to identify them by sound and gut feel instead of identifying their individual notes.

  • I can identify minor and mayor chords at this point, I'm not good with diminished and Augmented yet. I tried that exercise for a few weeks. I think augmented and diminished chords are hard to me because I haven't learned many songs with them.
    – Nelo
    Dec 28, 2020 at 2:06

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