How To Learn Intervals By Ear

dual-head-mounted-listening-device
This device totally won’t help you learn intervals by ear.

Ear training is, of course, an important part of learning any instrument.  But without guidance it can be tough to know where to start.  That’s where me and my college degree come in.  Lucky you!

We’re going to concentrate on learning how to hear different intervals today.  If you need a refresher on how intervals work and how they lay out on your guitar fretboard, check out this article.  When I was first learning music I never could understand why intervals where important.  Turns out, they are.  Who knew?

What you’ll finally discover (because I’m about to tell you) is that the music is in the relationships between the notes, not the notes themselves.  One note means nothing.  Two notes starts to make music and lead your ear in a particular direction.  Without getting to far into this, I use intervals for reading, figuring stuff out by ear, writing my own music, navigating the guitar fretboard and more.

One of the best ways I learned how to hear intervals by ear is to match them to songs you know.  Now, everyone’s musical experience is a little bit different, but I’ll try to use song examples that most people should know.  If you don’t know the song, everything is easy to find on the internet these days.  Dig it up and give it a listen.  I’ll try and drop a youtube link by each one too.

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As you’re learning these intervals, try singing them as well.  I know, I know… “OMG!  I can’t sing!”  Doesn’t matter.  Just try and hit the notes.  Physically singing them will give you a more visceral connection to what they sound like.  You don’t have to be Christina Aguilera.  Back in college they used to make us sight-sing intervals… at 7am… in the snow… uphill… both ways.

So let’s dig in.  I’ll list the song and the interval.  The interval will be the first two notes of the song.

Minor 2nd – The theme from “Jaws” or Fur Elise by Beethoven

Major 2ndMary Had A Little Lamb or Yesterday by the Beatles

Minor 3rdHey Jude by the Beatles or Frosty the Snowman or Iron Man by Black Sabbath. (Bet you never thought you’d see those 3 songs mentioned in the same breath.)

Major 3rdKum Ba Ya or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony opening theme

Perfect 4thBridal Chorus by Richard Wagner from “Lohengrin” – The one that goes “dum dum da dum” aka “Here Comes The Bride”

TritoneMaria from “West Side Story” (on Ma-ri-a in the chorus), the theme from the Simpsons, or Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath. (Once again, a heck of a playlist.)

Perfect 5thTwinkle Twinkle Little Star or the theme from Star Wars.

Minor 6thThe Entertainer by Scott Joplin.  Actually the 3rd and 4th notes of the main theme after the pickups on this one.

Major 6thJingle Bells – On “dash-ing through the snow”

Minor 7th – Theme from Star Trek original series

Major 7thTake On Me by A-Ha (chorus).  (Who’d have thought THAT would be a reference for anything… ever…)

OctaveSomewhere Over the Rainbow or the opening guitar lick from Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns n’ Roses.

It’s not difficult to learn intervals by ear with a little bit of singing, a little bit of listening, and a little bit of practice.

Got a Pinterest board where you collect guitar learning stuff?  Here’s a cheat sheet to keep handy.

Learn intervals using these songs.
There are lots of other tricks for how to practice guitar without a guitar here.

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