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.


(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.


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



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



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



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



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:


Listen to Louis sing it here:  

(audio taken from this video)

Perfect 4th



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.




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”.


Listen here:  

(audio taken from this video)

Perfect 5th



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.


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.


I’ve been working on a backing track for Tiana McKelvy ( 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!


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!

Playing the Fingerboard – The Monster Scale

Hopefully, the last few posts have taught you about modes and helped you understand how to see the different modes in actual guitar scales. Now it’s time to bring everything together.

All I ask of you in this post is to memorize three scale patterns. These three patterns will then connect to each other like a jigsaw puzzle in order to form the monster scale (as I like to call it). Guess what, if you’ve read the first two posts, you already know one of the three!

Yes, the first pattern to memorize is this Ionian pattern.


The second is a phrygian pattern. Remember, the phrygian mode takes the same form as a minor scale with a lowered 2nd.


Before you learn the third pattern, focus on those two. When you feel comfortable playing them both, it’s time to combine them. Phrygian is the mode you get by starting a major scale from its 3rd scale degree. Therefore, if you start the above phrygian pattern on the 3rd note of the above ionian pattern, you get this:


Do you see where I’m getting at here yet? By memorizing certain mode patterns you can piece them together like a puzzle.

Disclaimer: Please don’t get confused by the frets with two dots in them. No, the fret is not divided into micro-notes. I only included both dots to show that those notes are shared between the two patterns.

If you want to play in the key of G, all you have to do is position the first note of the ionian pattern on a G on the low E string. Once you do that, all of those above notes are fair game because they’re all in the key of G! Practice this combination of patterns as much as your brain can handle. Try playing up the ionian section of the pattern, but after you hit the last note play down the phrygian pattern. Come up with your own exercises, there are too many to count.

Yes you guessed it, once you have that under your belt it’s time to add another mode pattern. Now, you could start the next mode pattern from the note furthest to the right on the low E string, which corresponds to the 5th note of the major scale (which would be the mixolydian pattern). However, for visualization purposes I personally recommend skipping that one and adding the aeolian pattern. Don’t worry, the mixolydian scale will still be in there, but the aeolian pattern provides a more distinct way to divide this huge scale up in your head (you’ll see what I mean). Aeolian is also known as “natural minor”, and should be familiar to those of you who have practiced your minor scales. Since we’re connecting our notes on the low E string, we want an aeolian pattern that starts on the low E string. Here you go:


Start this pattern to the right of the 5th note on the low E string of the previous pattern. This is what it looks like:


Oh man, we’re getting serious here. So many frets! Every one of those colorful dots can be played in any one key.

“It’s like a whole new world!”

You didn’t think it ended there, did you? We now reach the best part of this whole mess of information. You know what’s cool about the musical scale? It’s cyclical! Once you get to the 8th note of the major scale, you begin playing that exact same scale in the next octave. Notice how on the low E string we have already covered eight notes. Do you know what this means?!?!? You can start this humongous pattern all over again:


Ladies and gentlemen, this is the beauty of the monster scale pattern. That black line on the bottom shows one place where the pattern repeats.

Hint hint:  Do you see how many frets that black line spans? The notes on the guitar repeat every 12 frets. That’s why the 12th fret is almost always marked with a special inlay. This means that if you know where all the playable notes in a key are up to the 12th fret, you know where those notes are across the ENTIRE fingerboard!

If this huge bunch of notes is intimidating to you, just break it down into the different mode patterns. Remember, this isn’t a scale pattern that you have to memorize and play from left to right, bottom to top. The idea is to get away from the mentality that you have to play a confined scale pattern that spans 4 frets while you’re improvising. Think of it as all of the “playable” frets on the fingerboard lighting up for one specific key. You are free to play any of those notes!

Remember, this pattern can be started from anywhere on the fretboard. Whatever note you begin that ionian pattern on represents the major key in which you are playing in. If you want all of these notes to correspond with G major, place the first ionian note on a G! Remember, guitarists read these scale diagrams from left to right, bottom to top. When I say the “first” note in a pattern, I’m talking about the bottom-most, left-most note of that pattern.

Whew. I did my best to explain that as clearly as possible, but if you’re confused about anything please let me know. I’m happy to answer any questions or respond to any issues you may have. I suspect I’ll work a little more on this topic in the future.

Until then, let your fingers run free.

Playing the Fingerboard – Modes on the Guitar

Now that you know about what modes are (and totally didn’t skip through that entire post), it’s time to apply that knowledge to the guitar itself. Keep in mind, the goal of this post is to get you to begin thinking in terms of modes on the guitar. Don’t get too caught up in the theory behind it, as the post following this will bring everything together.

The beauty (or curse) of stringed instruments is that there are multiple ways to play any given scale. This is a very important concept to understand if you want to play across the whole fingerboard. Certain scales span across more frets than others, and all scales have their place. Either way, let’s take a look at one of the most common major scale patterns. Again, let’s assume the key of C.

C major

Diagram of a common major scale pattern on the guitar.

The letter names for C major are included for demonstration purposes, but this shape can be played anywhere on the neck to play in any key.

For those of you that are confused at what you’re looking at, this is a scale diagram meant for the guitar. Imagine that the grid is your fretboard, where the horizontal lines are strings and the vertical lines are the frets. The bottom horizontal line is the low E string, then the A string, D, G, B, and finally the top line represents the high E string. The C’s are highlighted in red because they represent the root note of the scale.

As I mentioned before, if you know how to play this basic major scale, you can play ANY of those modes I mentioned in the last post. It all depends on what your starting note is.

For you visual people, I’ll highlight all the D’s in the pattern instead of the C’s. Remember, the highlighted circles are your root notes.

D Dorian

Diagram of a C major scale on the guitar with D’s as root notes.

By playing this scale with the D’s as your root notes, you’re playing the D dorian mode.  I could go on to highlight the E’s, F’s, G’s, A’s, and B’s, in order to show you the other modes, but I think you get the point. Here, let me drill it into your head even more, this time using pretty colors:

If you start the pattern from the first scale degree (in this case, ), it’s C Ionian.

If you start the pattern from the 2nd scale degree (in this case, D ), it’s D Dorian.

If you start the pattern from the 3rd scale degree (in this case, E ), it’s E Phrygian.

If you start the pattern from the 4th scale degree (in this case, F ), it’s F Lydian.

If you start the pattern from the 5th scale degree (in this case, G ), it’s G Mixolydian.

If you start the pattern from the 6th scale degree (in this case, A ), it’s A Aeolian.

If you start the pattern from the 7th scale degree (in this case, B ), it’s B Locrian.

Got it?

Uh, alright…but I’m still playing over a span of 4 frets. Eddie Van Halen uses more than 4 frets. How can I be Eddie Van Halen with 4 frets?

Baby steps. I know all I’ve done so far is make your pleasant little major scale more complicated, but don’t worry, you’ll thank yourself for understanding this concept later. If you want to cover more frets in one scale, you’ll have to play more notes on each string. Let me introduce you to another major pattern that I personally use the most. Are you ready to stretch your fingers a little?

My personal favorite major scale pattern. Remember, by starting on the red notes, you're playing in the Ionian mode.

My personal favorite major scale pattern.

Side note:  Whenever I learn or show someone a new scale or scale pattern, I always imagine the music from Ocarina of Time after you learn a new song on the Ocarina.


You’ve learned Dan’s Favorite Major Scale Pattern!

Sorry if you don’t get that reference. ANYWAY, the idea of this pattern is to play three notes on each string, which successfully covers a whopping six frets when played over two octaves. Again, each red circle represents the root of the scale. If you’re playing a C major scale, each red circle is a C. If you’re playing an F major scale, each red circle is an F.  It all depends where you are on the fretboard. Again, all of that mode stuff applies to this pattern as well. If you start it on a D, it’s D dorian, blah blah blah.

Okay, that pattern covers more frets, but it’s annoying to play and sounds exactly the same as the first pattern!

Well, the purpose of this pattern isn’t just to be annoying and look more impressive to play. Think of this scale as the foundation, the starting point, or home base when playing across the whole fingerboard. I’ll explain in the next post, but for now I strongly encourage you to practice this scale. Here is my suggestion for which fingers to use where.

Major form with numbers

Major scale pattern with numbers to indicate which fingers to use. 1 = index finger, 2 = middle finger, 3 = ring finger, 4 = pinky.

If you aren’t used to playing scales like this, you will most likely have trouble with those first 6 notes on the bottom, where you have to stretch apart you index and middle fingers. Just keep at it and it will feel natural in time. Check the next post where I explain why this is my favorite major scale pattern, and how you can piece it together with the patterns of other modes to cover the entire fretboard!