Interval recognition is a powerful musical skill but it can be challenging to learn, especially at the beginning.
Here are our three top tips for learning intervals:
1. Start small!
Don’t try to learn all the types of interval at once. It’s far better to focus on a small set (e.g. just major and minor thirds, or perfect fourths and perfect fifths) and get solid on those before trying more.
You’ll find a range of other tips in these two articles:
The tips about singing and about using reference songs to help you get started are particularly worth considering.
2. Make the intervals meaningful
If you think of intervals as abstract arbitrary “things” it can be very difficult to get to grips with them.
You can use reference songs or your instrument to help attach meaning when you’re starting to get to know the intervals.
For example, some students learn to recognise major and minor thirds by thinking of them as the beginning of an arpeggio – having played countless arpeggios on their instrument, this is a sound their ears already know, so it’s just a matter of attaching the labels “major third” and “minor third” to the corresponding arpeggio sounds.
It’s the same idea with using reference songs: Try to find sounds your brain already recognises and then figure out which intervals they are.
3. Take your time, don’t rush ahead
First try learning just the ascending forms of a few intervals. Don’t make things more complicated than this until you can distinguish them reliably.
Then you can introduce the descending forms and harmonic forms.
And then gradually introduce other intervals.
You shouldn’t expect to be able to reliably recognise intervals in real music right away. Focus on practising with clear examples in isolation.
You might find our interval exercises useful for this.
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