Intervals are a great way to develop your core sense of relative pitch, and guitarists find it particularly useful to learn interval recognition for the sake of improvising. If you’re a lead guitar player and want to break free of the scale patterns and fretboard-based approach to soloing, practice interval ear training on your guitar!

The main lessons of interval ear training all apply whether your main instrument is guitar or not. So learn about the three different approaches to interval recognition, and use interval exercise MP3s to tune your ear in. But there are also some guitar-specific strategies that can help you learn intervals faster.

Get to know guitar interval shapes

Each interval has several fretboard shapes: the positions of your two fingers on the strings that create that interval. The best starting point is to know the intervals which separate each open string:

  • Low E → A: Perfect Fourth
  • A → D: Perfect Fourth
  • D → G: Perfect Fourth
  • G → B: Major Third
  • B → High E: Perfect Fourth

Note that everything’s consistent except that G/B string pair. That means that your interval shapes will all need slight adjustment for that string pair. Bassists are lucky – they avoid this complication by skipping those top two strings!

Start by learning that each fret represents a minor second. For example, the end of a major scale fretboard pattern moves up just one fret, and that’s a minor second (a.k.a. semitone, half-step) interval.

Then learn that two frets represents a major second (a.k.a. tone, whole step).

From there it starts to get more interesting. To create intervals of a third, the main shape to learn is “one string up, one fret down” – but as you saw above, for the G and B strings you’ll want the same fret position on both strings, as those strings are naturally a major third apart.

As we’ve already noted, perfect fourths generally appear when you jump up a string. Moving up a string and up a fret will find your perfect fifth.

This approach to ear training for guitar is particularly effective if you’re a visual learner, giving you a mental image to associate with each interval’s sound.

Explore the scale shapes you already know

Explore the fretboard in this way and familiarise yourself with the shapes and sounds of each interval. Analyse the guitar scale patterns you already know and dissect them into their component intervals.

When you solo, think not just about where you are in the scale pattern, but what intervals you’re using to move between notes. You’ll start to instinctively want to use intervals which bring you outside the scale. Don’t be afraid to explore these! Make note of any scale modifications you find in this way which create sounds you like.

Use guitar-specific interval MP3s

We have a free downloadable ear training pack here at which you can use to learn the basic intervals with the sounds of an acoustic guitar. The tracks also allow you to take a guitar intervals test and check if you can recognise them by ear.

Another great options is to record your own practice tracks as part of doing the interval exercises described above. This way you can tailor your practice to exactly the intervals you want to learn, using the instrument sound you’re most familiar with: your own!

Listen out for intervals when you transcribe guitar

If you’re trying to transcribe a guitar solo, don’t just guess the notes at random and hope to find the right ones by trial and error. Listen for the pitch gaps between the notes and connect it with your interval ear training to much more quickly find the right notes to play.


Similar questions answered on this page:

  • What are the shapes of intervals on guitar?
  • How can I learn guitar intervals?
  • What interval is between each string of the guitar?