Train Your Ears – Identifying Intervals (Part II)

In the first part of this post I discussed the intervals from unison to the perfect 5th, and references to identify them with. Check it out if you haven’t already! Let’s take a look at the next set of intervals.

Don’t forget, all of my MIDI piano examples start on a C. The song examples I give may not necessary be starting on a C, so don’t let that throw you off. Hopefully this will help you learn to identify them no matter what the starting notes are. It’s the space between the notes that you care about, not the notes themselves!

Minor 6th

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Together:

The minor 6th, to me, is a sort of dreamy sounding interval. Perhaps this is because one of the ways I like to remember it is through “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. You can hear it in the lyrics:

wiz1

Check it out:

(Audio taken from this video)

Keep this song in mind, as it’s going to show up two more times in this post!

Major 6th

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Together:

There are two references that I like to use for the major 6th. The NBC chimes are a perfect example:

(Audio taken from this video)

You can also listen to the line before the minor 6th in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.

wiz2

Listen here:

(Audio taken from this video)

Minor 7th

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For the minor 7th we can once again refer to the West Side Story musical. This time from the song “Somewhere”.

You can hear the minor 7th in the beginning of the line:

somewhere

Listen here:

(audio taken from this video)

Major 7th

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The major 7th is one of my favorite intervals. It almost has an inherently jazzy sound to me, mostly due to the fact that jazz chords and melodies utilize the interval quite a bit. It’s also similar to the tritone in that it’s ALMOST a perfect interval (it’s ALMOST an octave, as the tritone is ALMOST a perfect 5th), so it has that off sound but in a soothing sort of way. Take Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why” for example. You can hear the major 7th in the first two words:

dontknow

Listen here:

Craving a more 80’s synthpop/rock example? Try “Take On Me” by A-Ha.

takeon

Check it:

Octave

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Finally we come to the final interval I’m covering for this mini-series, the octave. This one represents 12 semitones and is the 8th note in a standard scale (thus the prefix, “oct”). Scientifically, an interval of an octave is what you get when you double the frequency of a note. For example, the A note above middle C has a frequency of 440 Hz. The next A note (or the A one octave higher) has a frequency of 880 Hz. The A after that is 1760 Hz, and so on.

Let’s once again refer to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, which begins with the iconic:

wiz3

Listen here:

Now to make my fellow guitarists happy, a little Hendrix. The intro to “Purple Haze” has Jimi repeating two notes an octave apart. This example is special, though, because if you listen closely you can hear that the bass is playing a tritone instead of an octave underneath the guitar. Two intervals for one.

Listen up:

That’s right, Jimi Hendrix and Judy Garland in the same section.

So there you have it. A few examples for each interval from unison to octave. Again, I only covered the intervals going in the upward direction, so I may make a post for intervals going down later (let me know what you think). Obviously there are plenty more examples for each interval, but I did my best to stick with classic examples that more people are probably aware of.

fantastic link that you should check out for interval ear training (and ear training in general) is www.musictheory.net. Specifically the interval ear trainer. By fiddling with the options you can set which intervals you want to practice, whether they are ascending or descending, and more. Test yourself and try to improve. If you get a score you’re proud of, brag about it in the comments.

Do you have your own examples for each interval? How do you like to memorize them? Let me know!

Next post in the series: Identifying Scales

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Train Your Ears – Identifying Intervals (Part I)

For those of you that don’t know, an interval is simply the distance between two pitches. Here is a list of intervals along with the number of semitones (or half steps) they represent. I also give examples of which notes are separated by that interval (second note is always higher than the first note).

Unison = 0 semitones (Same note played twice)

Minor 2nd = 1 semitone (examples:  C to Db, B to C, G# to A)

Major 2nd = 2 semitones (examples:  C to D, A to B, F# to G#)

Minor 3rd = 3 semitones (examples:  C to Eb, G to Bb, F to Ab)

Major 3rd = 4 semitones (examples:  C to E, Db to F, A to C#)

Perfect 4th = 5 semitones (examples:  C to F, A to D, Bb to Eb)

Tritone = 6 semitones (examples:  C to F#, G to C#, E to A#)

Perfect 5th = 7 semitones (examples:  C to G, Eb to Bb, D to A)

Minor 6th = 8 semitones (examples:  C to Ab, B to G, E to C)

Major 6th = 9 semitones (examples:  C to A, F to D, Ab to F)

Minor 7th = 10 semitones (examples:  C to Bb, D to C, A to G)

Major 7th = 11 semitones (examples:  C to B, G to F#, B to C#)

Octave = 12 semitones (Same two notes played one octave apart)

You could continue on to even larger intervals (9ths, 11ths, 12ths, etc…) but for the purposes of this post, we’ll stick with the intervals contained in one octave. The diagram below may help you visualize these distances.

semitones

(NOTE:  If you’re unsure of what those notes in parenthesis are doing there, refer to my post on basic scale theory.)

The space between each of those lines is a semitone. From B to C you have one semitone or a minor 2nd, from D to A you have seven semitones or a perfect 5th, and so on. 

Of course, using this diagram is cumbersome and not very practical while actually playing or singing music. What you’ll want to do is memorize as many of these intervals as you can (the perfect 4ths and 5ths are a good place to start, as they are linked to the circle of 4ths/5ths, and are very useful in general). Find the intervals on your instrument, find them in written music, make flash cards, or use any other method you want.

“But this post is about ear training, not staring at diagrams and flash cards!”

Right, while the theory is important, don’t get too caught up in it. Balance the theoretical studying with some actual ear training. Let’s go through each interval in detail and actually listen to them. I’ll give you some pointers on how to recognize them by ear, including references to some popular songs. Let us begin.

Disclaimer:  I will be focusing only on tips for identifying intervals in the upward direction in this post. Depending on the response I recieve, I may make a post where I discuss intervals going downward as well. So if you think this post is swell, let me know! If not, let me know how I could make it better. Also, the MIDI piano examples all begin with the note C. The audio examples I give may not begin on the same note, so don’t let that throw you off. Remember it’s the space between the notes you care about, not the notes themselves.

Unison

Things couldn’t start off any simpler. If the distance between two pitches is described as unison, they are the exact same note. It’s as easy as that.

Minor 2nd

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The minor 2nd is the smallest interval between two different pitches that exists in a scale (well, at least in the 12-tone equal temperment scale we commonly use today). This is the interval between every single note in the chromatic scale. Familiarize yourself with that scale and you’ll be able to identify this interval by ear fairly easily (just be careful not to mistaken it for the major 2nd).

For a classic reference, just listen to the tense theme from Jaws.

(audio taken from this video)

Major 2nd

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Perhaps a little easier to identify, the major 2nd represents the whole step. A good song to think of is the lullaby, “Frère Jacques (Are You Sleeping?)”. The interval between the first two notes (as well as between the 2nd and 3rd notes) is a major 2nd.

First part of “Frère Jacques” melody:

Minor 3rd

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I personally recognize this interval by hearing the minor triad in my head. It’s the distance between the root note and the lowered 3rd. Here is a clip of a C minor triad, first arpeggiated then played all together.

Minor 3rd triad:

Remember, a minor triad is made up of a root note (in the above example it’s C), a lowered 3rd (in the above example it’s Eb), and a 5th (in the above example it’s G). The interval between the root note and the lowered 3rd is, not surprisingly, a minor 3rd.

Also, how about a little “Smoke on the Water” for my guitar playing readers? Listen between the first two notes of the riff.

Major 3rd

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The major 3rd can be described as more “uplifting” than the minor 3rd. You could think of the major triad in your head to help identify this interval, but another way is to think of “When the Saints Go Marching In”.

You can hear the major 3rd in the first sentence of the lyrics:

whenthesaints

Listen to Louis sing it here:  

(audio taken from this video)

Perfect 4th

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I can’t hear the perfect 4th without thinking of “Here Comes the Bride”:

The interval between the first two notes is a perfect 4th.

Tritone

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Does this interval sound particularly menacing to you? You aren’t alone. According to The New Oxford Companion to Music by Dennis Arnold, the tritone adopted the nickname, “Diabolus in musica” (the Devil in music) in the Medieval era due to its dissonance (lack of harmony). While other intervals sound dissonant as well, this one is often considered the most awkward to sing.

However it has become an increasingly popular interval to experiment with over the years. One of the most notable songs to feature the tritone is Leonard Bernstein’s “Maria” from West Side Story.

You can hear the tritone between the first two syllables of “Maria”.

Maria

Listen here:  

(audio taken from this video)

Perfect 5th

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The perfect 5th is a very strong, confident sounding interval. So incredibly powerful that it has been used in such works as the Superman theme and, of course, Star Wars.

Listen here:  

(audio taken from this video)

I’ll cover the remaining intervals in Identifying Intervals (Part II)! Feel free to comment!

Train Your Ears – Introduction

1032418_69630195Have you ever wondered what people really mean when they say someone has a “good ear” for music? Is that someone that they’re talking about never you? Do you change keys 14 times while singing Happy Birthday? Well, my friend, I believe this mini-series of mine will be of service to you.

When it comes to listening to, writing, or playing music, your ears are kind of an important factor. Believe it or not, they can be trained to be more helpful (and believe me, a good ear for music is one of the most helpful things you can have as a musician).

“What exactly does a ‘good ear’ for music get me?”

There are several benefits to having a good ear, including the ability to distinguish the distances between two different notes, name chord qualities, and identify scales. If you are a singer, it will also help you sing in key. For example if you know the distance between the note you’re singing and the next note in the melody, you can hit that next note with far better accuracy. If you’re playing guitar, you may be able to tell when it’s out of tune, quickly figure out which strings need tuning and adjust everything on the fly.

Most importantly, in my opinion, are the benefits a good ear has for improvising. Melodies will pop up in your head effortlessly when you hear chords being played, and you’ll really feel like you have control over what you’re playing.

“I think I can do some of those things already. Do I REALLY need to train my ear?”

If you’ve never sat down and specifically trained your hear, but you feel like you already have some of the mentioned skills, that’s great! Some people have naturally good ears for music, but everyone, no matter what level, can benefit from ear training. Trust me, I thought my musical ear was as good as it would ever get until I took a couple of ear training courses in college. I was pleasantly surprised with how much it helped, and I realized that there was a lot more to learn than I thought.

As far as upkeep goes, ear training is something you should absolutely revisit every now and then. In fact part of the reason I’m even writing this is because I haven’t been keeping up myself and I’ve noticed quite a difference.

I’ll link to each post below as they come out, so check back soon!

Part 1:  Identifying intervals (Part I)

Part 2:  Identifying Intervals (Part II)

Part 3:  Identifying scales (Part I)

Part 4:  Identifying scales (Part II)

Part 5:  Identifying scales (Part III)

Part 6:  Identifying basic chords

Part 7:  Listen

Project updates and other general chatter

Hello, readers!

First of all, I’ve notice a very slight, yet steady increase in average daily views over the last few months, which is pretty sweet. Thanks to all of you who check back regularly! I originally started this blog to post updates on my current projects, so let me do some of that right now.

BLOG STUFF:

The next series I plan to post about is on ear training. Topics like learning how to distinguish the different intervals (major 3rd, minor 7th, etc), scales, and chords all by ear. If you’re not familiar with ear training, I strongly suggest looking into it.

BACKING TRACK STUFF:

I’ve been working on a backing track for Tiana McKelvy (http://www.tianamckelvy.com/) which will be finished by the end of this week. It’s sort of a rock/R&B/pop feel, and so far includes acoustic/electric guitar, bass, drums, djembe, egg shakers, tambourine, keyboard, and mandolin (and of course eventually her vocals). I’ve got a few more friends lined up who want tracks made for them, but if you or anyone you know is interested in one, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at dflosounds@gmail.com!

UPCOMING ALBUM STUFF:

Over the last few months I’ve been cooking up some ideas for my new album. I’ve been drawing a tremendous amount of inspiration from New York City since I’ve been living here, and I’m sure a lot of that will show up in the music and lyrics. Once in a while I take my mandolin over to central park and improvise for one or two hours at a time, which has so far led to one mandolin-heavy track. What are the main differences between these new songs and the tracks on my first CD, you ask? Well, more djembe, more guest musicians, a little more focus on musicality, and a wider range of styles/energy level between the tracks. Also, I plan on doing 90% of the recording myself, which will pose quite a big challenge that I’m pretty excited to tackle.

So far I have roughly eight ideas for songs, with three or four in an almost-completed state. It’s chuggin’ along.

Again, thanks for all of your support thus far. I’ll close this update with a bit of self advertising. As always if you like what you read, see, or hear, please consider supporting me by following/liking my various pages!

http://www.facebook.com/danfloriomusic

http://www.twitter.com/danfloriomusic