I would love to know all my intervals by ear but where ever I search for help it says to learn interval songs e.g. Jaws theme for minor 2nd. I find this to be pretty ineffective honestly. I don't hear those songs when I am transcribing or improvising. So I would love some advice on how you guys learned to recognize intervals. I have done the whole thing where I sit at the piano and sing the same interval descending and ascending for an hour but that hasn't helped much either. Thanks for any advice in advance.
Recognizing intervals is purely a matter of memory recollection. Hence, the most important aspect of interval training is the amount of time you spend practicing, not the particular technique you use to practice.
Reference songs (like Jaws) are useful because they anchor the interval to an existing memory. It's like taking a shortcut--you don't have to form a new memory of every single interval and can instead rely on existing memories that are already strong. However, it's okay to eschew this approach, because memories are pretty easy to form. Learning intervals without a reference song can work perfectly fine.
Regardless of where the memory comes from, your ability to recollect is strengthened with practice. Every time you retrieve the information from long-term memory (e.g., the information of what a minor second sounds like), you strengthen the memory and make its recollection quicker in the future.
Practicing intervals in the context of scales is very useful, as Heather S. describes. This is a particularly useful way to learn intervals when your goal is to transcribe, because it cultivates the ability to hear a pitch and immediately recognize its scale step. While extremely useful, it can be a crutch to only recognize intervals in the context of a given scale. Solos will often involve things like modulation, "playing outside" of the scale, non-diatonic chord progressions, etc. These are cases where it can be very helpful to simply recognize the interval.
So interval training is practiced most effectively when the student simply follows the usual best practices, like:
- diversify your practice
- spread out your practice
- practice applying what you've learned
For the first item, you can practice both broken intervals (ascending and descending) and simultaneous intervals (chords). You can start the intervals on many different notes instead of always starting on the same note. Avoid playing every interval within just a single scale. You can play the intervals in different octaves and on different instruments. Instead of practicing just a major 3rd, you can also practice identifying a major 10th, a major 17th, etc. Randomize your practice so that the order the intervals appear in is always different. (An app or set of recordings with many different intervals could be useful.) For the second item, practice a little bit (e.g., 10 minutes) every single day for half a year, and by the end, you'll be an interval master. For the third item, transcribing is an excellent way to apply what you've learned. If you want to stretch yourself, find solos where the chord progression intentionally plays outside of the scale/chord progression.
Learning and singing major and minor scales and the relationships between the pitches of the scale is the best way to really learn intervals, in my opinion. Learn your solfege syllables. When sight-singing as Lawrence suggests, it is extremely helpful to know which role each note in the scale each note has.
My personal favorite exercise:
- Get a standard deck of playing cards.
A. Red = Up
B. Black = Down
C. Number = # of semitones
- Pick a starting pitch
- Flip over a card and sing the corresponding interval up or down according to the color
- Continue your way through the deck, checking periodically if you're on the correct pitch.
- Start with just aces (half steps), then add twos (whole steps), then threes (minor thirds), etc.
- As you introduce new intervals, you'll quickly get out of your singing range, so you'll also have to learn to make octave adjustments on the fly.
- At the beginning, check every note, then every other note, then every third, or check every interval that tends to give you trouble.
- When checking your pitch, it's helpful sometimes to check the exact pitch and other times to check relative to your starting pitch.
- Try naming the notes either as an alternative or in addition to singing the pitches.
- Instead of naming exact pitches, use solfege (do, re, mi, ...). Remember that your starting pitch need not be 'do', and choosing different starting syllables may help develop your contextual sense of pitch. This requires a chromatic solfege system.
I think most of us have dabbled in the method of using songs to hear intervals. My first intervals were STAR WARS for a fifth or, the starting note of BLUE MOON.
Frankly, I'm not a fan of gimmicks. I suggest you go to your local church and steal a hymnbook (God will forgive you), okay, ask to borrow or have one, then AWAY FROM THE PIANO, take one or five hymns a day and sight sing the Soprano, then the Alto, Tenor and Bass lines. It may be hard at first but it gets easier.
Then, AWAY FROM THE PIANO, sit down with staff paper and try to write out at least the melody. Hymns are great because they are easy, repetitious and short.
Knowing the numbers 1 through 8 in every key is mandatory. If you don't know, start off with all the hymns in the key of C, then F, then . . . Soon, you will hear music on TV or the radio and just know what the pitches are without thought. This is the secret to improvisation and "playing by ear." Far superior to the "hunt and peck method."
Without touching a piano, can you figure out these two ditties? The starting pitch or key is irrelevant: 87654321 56 67 78 3212333 222 355 3212333322321
This, BTW, is the secret to sight transposing: Reading numbers instead of letters. Letter readers are at a huge disadvantage because letters are absolute. Numbers unlock the universe of music.