If you’ve mastered the ascending and descending forms of an interval but are having difficulty with the harmonic version (both notes at once) there are a number of things you can try:

1. Sing it back

Singing is probably the most powerful way to improve your harmonic hearing. Whether or not you’re a star singer, you should try singing out the notes of an interval after you hear it – this really helps your brain internalise the sound.

Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Play the harmonic interval (with your instrument, recording, or app!)
  2. Listen closely and try to ‘pick apart’ the sound into its two notes
  3. Sing back the two notes, one after the other

The reason this is so powerful is that it truly tests whether your ear is hearing both notes, or just their blend.

It’s a bit like how you can’t be sure you understand something until you try explaining it out loud to someone else! You may think you’re hearing two notes – but unless you can sing one and then the other, you may be fooling yourself…!

Practice singing back the two notes of harmonic intervals and you’ll find yourself improving rapidly.

If you’re training with the RelativePitch app, go to the app settings and increase the Training Mode ‘Time before announcing’. Then you can sing back each interval after it’s played.

You can also turn on ‘Repeats’ and the “Play melodic first” option, and increase the “delay before repeat”. This way, you’ll hear the harmonic interval, have a chance to sing its notes, and then hear the melodic version so you can check what you sang!

2. Approach the harmonic case gradually

Use melodic (i.e. ascending and descending) intervals but have the time between notes be very short.

  • If you’re using an instrument like a piano, simply play one note slightly before the other.
  • With our RelativePitch app you can set the time between notes in the app settings menu.

This way the notes are separated enough to distinguish the two cases, but you mostly hear the two notes together, so your ear can tune into the harmonic effect.

3. Listen in detail

Give yourself a chance to hear the rich sound of the harmonic interval. Use longer notes so you have time to listen closely. Also, wearing high quality headphones can help you hear more detail of the notes being played, and this can help you internalise the harmonic sound.

4. Try different instruments

The harmonic case may be easier for your ear to identify with some instruments than with others.

With RelativePitch, you can select various instruments – or even mix instruments, which is a particularly useful way to tune your ear for the harmonic case. The difference in timbres helps your ear to hear both notes, while the overall sound is the harmonic blend.

Similar questions answered on this page:

  • How to hear intervals when the notes are played simultaneously?
  • How can I practice intervals with both notes at once?