I remember the exact moment in my teaching career when I realized that I was old.

This is some feat considering that I am in my very first year of teaching at the age of 24!Ashley Evelyn Mazur

I was handing out potential pieces for my 6th Grade chorus to learn for their spring “pop” concert, and I had chosen the piece “Go The Distance” from the Disney favorite Hercules.

A student asked the fateful question: “Why do we only perform old music?”

I protested vehemently that this was not “old music”! I flipped to the front cover and proclaimed that it was from 1997. I did some quick mental math (okay, not so quick… As you know, musicians mainly count to four!) and realized that Hercules was released 16 years ago – several years before my 6th graders were even a gleam in their mama’s eye!

I frequently find that my cultural references fall flat when using them in vocal and choral demonstrations. Thus, the Julia Child impression (which I had thought so nicely encapsulated the open tone I aim for) has had to be replaced by encouraging my students to “sing like a British owl”. I’m not sure why it works, but for young singers, it is much less of a reach than referencing a television cook who was off the air even before I was born.

The fact is that this generation is living in an entirely new culture, and in order to keep up with this changing culture, we must meet the students where they are and learn their ways.

Pop Culture References

There are few examples of stale cultural references as prevalent and far-reaching as the old chestnuts we voice teachers use to teach intervals.

Naturally some melodies are timeless enough that they will likely work forever (“Here Comes The Bride”, for instance) but some are so dated that they are not only irrelevant to this generation, but even to the two or three generations before the current one!

So while “Love Story” is one of the most famous examples for that dastardly Minor 6th interval, you would be hard pressed to find a student today who has heard this song, much less one who can hum it!

I asked three students today about “Love Story” and they all referenced the Taylor Swift song…

As it turns out, we need some new references to give our students – and maybe for ourselves too!

Here’s a suggested list of some new, modern interval reference songs you can use to learn intervals:


Minor 3rd

Ascending, Descending:

Brahms’ Lullaby
“Lullaby and good night


Katniss and Rue’s whistle signal in “The Hunger Games”
First two notes of four note pattern
(G – Bb – A – D)

Descending, Ascending:

“Poker Face” – Lady Gaga
“Can’t read my, can’t read my poker face”

Ascending, Descending:

“Firework” – Katy Perry
Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?”

Major 3rd


“Some Nights” – fun
“Some nights I stay up” (also in the “Whoa – oh”)


“Today Was A Fairytale” – Taylor Swift
Today was a fairy tale”

Perfect 4th


“Rolling in the Deep” – Adele
“I could have had it all


Bridal March
Here comes the bride”


Amazing Grace
Amazing grace”



The Simpson’s Theme
The Simpsons”


“Cool” – Gwen Stefani
It’s hard to remember how…”

Ascending, Descending:

“Purple Haze” – Jimi Hendrix
Opening guitar riff

Ascending, Descending:

“YYZ” – Rush
Opening guitar riff

Perfect 5th


Star Wars Theme
Opening melody, first two notes


“Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga
“Ra ra ro ma ma”

Minor 6th


“Johanna” – from Sweeney Todd
I feel you Johanna”


“We Are Young” by fun
“So lets set the world on fire


“Yeah” – Usher
In repetitive synthesizer tune, it is the second wide interval. It goes perfect 5th, then minor 6th.

Major 6th


“Call Me Maybe” – Carly Rae Jepsen
“Hey I just met you and this is crazy”


“Man in the Mirror” – Michael Jackson
I’m starting with the man in the mirror”

Minor 7th


This may seem like a cop out, but your students may simply have to learn “Somewhere” from Westside Story…! It is the most modern prominent example of the minor 7th that I have been able to find in my travels.

There’s a place for us”


“Away in a Manger”
The little lord Jesus asleep on the hay”

Major 7th


“Don’t Know Why” – Norah Jones
I waited ’till I saw the sun”


“Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.”



Party Rock Anthem – LMFAO
“Party rock is in the house tonight”

Of course this list is by no means complete, but hopefully a few of these will come in handy for you – or inspire you to start collecting your own set of reference songs! Learn more tips and techniques for learning intervals in the Ultimate Guide to Interval Ear Training, or explore interval training modules at Musical U.

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