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.

  • 1
    How do you know that it hasn't helped? (As for advice, I would suggest an ear training app) Jun 10, 2018 at 23:29
  • I always liked remembering songs to remember intervals. This probably works by appealing to our emotions, the song has meaning to us. You shouldn't being hearing Jaws when you're soloing, but the point is to get better at hearing intervals on their own. Ear Master Pro is a good software for ear training. Band in a Box has an ear training video game.
    – user50691
    Jun 13, 2018 at 19:57
  • The problem with trying to use a familiar tune to identify an interval is that the tune uses the interval between fixed scale degrees, e.g. between 1 and 4. But if you're then trying to identify a perfect fourth that's actually between 2 and 5 it's harder. Best sing scales, but not just up-and-down, but crabwise and other permutations too. Feb 15, 2021 at 12:53
  • @BrianTHOMAS - Honestly, I thought that some interval songs using the tonic first (e.g. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" for perfect 5th), some other interval songs using the tonic last (e.g. "O Christmas Tree" for perfect 4th), and some rarer interval songs not using the tonic at all (e.g. "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" for major 6th) would wipe out any association of interval songs with fixed scale degrees.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 15, 2021 at 14:51
  • OK, take the opening four note horn motif in John Williams "Jurassic Park". This has a rising perfect fourth to the tonic, followed by a descending major third. The context makes even these familiar intervals sound exotic. And trying to match those sounds against familiar tunes is really hard. Feb 15, 2021 at 15:16

5 Answers 5


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:

  1. diversify your practice
  2. spread out your practice
  3. 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.

  • 1
    Nice simple straightforward answer. It's important to know intervals from root note to whatever, but also intervals between notes to be sung/played. Tonic sol-fa works best with moveable do. I'm working with French musos at the moment, and their fixed do really messes me about - while they are excellent - in any key!
    – Tim
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:13
  • Thanks, @Tim. I do not really understand the usefulness of fixed do myself.
    – Heather S.
    Jun 11, 2018 at 19:20
  • Yep. Singing, even (or perhaps especially) for instrumentalists, is key to getting those intervals in the head. Jun 12, 2018 at 16:20

My personal favorite exercise:

  1. Get a standard deck of playing cards.
  2. Rules
    A. Red = Up
    B. Black = Down
    C. Number = # of semitones
  3. Pick a starting pitch
  4. Flip over a card and sing the corresponding interval up or down according to the color
  5. 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.
  • Wow. I'm not always one for intervallic singing, but this is brilliant. And it's not an exercise limited to singing; it could be used to practice (non-sung) post-tonal interval distances, too.
    – Richard
    Feb 15, 2021 at 0:55
  • @Richard In fact, Post-tonal singing is where I first learned it. But I use it routinely for ear-training in general. Glad you share my enthusiasm. It’s good stuff.
    – Aaron
    Feb 15, 2021 at 0:58
  • This is brilliant. Is this your original idea? I've not come across this before. Feb 15, 2021 at 12:49
  • @BrianTHOMAS I wish I could take credit, but no. It came from a choir director as training for singing post-tonal music.
    – Aaron
    Feb 15, 2021 at 13:29

Practice sight-singing from notation. Real music, not just interval exercises.


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.

  • 1
    Just using numbers is only half the job when sight-singing. I sometimes ask students to recognise well-known tunes, which I play with all the notes in the right order, but change the timing. Rarely get correct answers! Your first one's got me. there's also the problem of notes with accidentals, as in non diatonics.
    – Tim
    Jun 11, 2018 at 15:09
  • Do you have any specific hymn books to recommend ? Jun 15, 2018 at 0:54
  • Any Protestant hymnbook should work. Obviously songbooks won't serve your purpose. You may also go to websites such as Hymnary and peruse thousands of hymns online: hymnary.org/hymnal/CYBER Jun 16, 2018 at 10:54

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