Well… How long is a piece of string?
The general question is impossible to answer! You must make it more specific.
If your goal is total mastery of all intervals in every musical situation, the answer is probably measured in years. However, if your goal is to recognise a number of intervals reliably enough to help you in your musical life, the answer is measured in weeks.
Depending on your starting point with interval ear training, you will be able to start applying your new interval recognition skills after just a week or two of practice. However, as you see the benefits of interval ear training, you will want to continue – not declare yourself finished with it!
To get an overview of the process of learning intervals, read our article “How To Learn Intervals” or try one of our apps or ear training exercises. Then think carefully about what you want to achieve with interval recognition.
What’s the point of learning intervals?
What is the purpose of learning intervals for you?
- Is it to pass a test?
- Is it to be able to transcribe (write down) music you hear?
- Is it to help you improvise better solos on your instrument?
- Is it to help you with sight-singing music or singing better in a choir or a cappella group?
Once you understand clearly the purpose of interval recognition in your musical life, you can start to set some more meaningful goals.
Your Interval Ear Training Goal
For example, if your goal is to use intervals in sight-singing, you will find that learning just a handful (seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths) covers a large majority of the cases you’ll encounter.
If your goal is to use intervals to transcribe music, you will find that since melodies mostly move step-wise with small leaps, focusing on seconds and thirds will go a long way.
If your goal is to pass a test… well then you should already know what is required!
In all these cases you can determine which types of interval matter, and what kinds of musical situation you will need to recognise them in. Then you can plan your training accordingly, setting “big picture” goals and intermediate targets, and finding the tools and resources which will help you with daily practice.
How Long It Takes To Learn Intervals
Most students who train with a structured lesson plan such as that in our RelativePitch app (or our ear training exercises) should find they can develop reliable interval recognition skills with approximately 2 or 3 types of interval per week.
- If you are an absolute beginner, your first week might be spent just on major and minor seconds (tone and semitone), learning to hear them ascending, descending and harmonically.
- A few weeks later you might be solid on seconds, thirds and fourths, but still have difficulty distinguishing perfect fourth from perfect fifth.
- After a few months practising interval recognition every day most ear training students should be quite capable with all the intervals in the octave.
Then there is an additional challenge, of recognising these intervals in the context of real music – less important for e.g. sight-singing, but very important for e.g. transcription.
Whatever your reason for learning intervals, it is essential that you decide clearly why you want to learn them and how they will help you in music. Then you can start to estimate how long it should take and plan your training in a useful way.
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