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



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:


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



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”.


Listen here:

(Audio taken from this video)

Minor 7th



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:


Listen here:

(audio taken from this video)

Major 7th



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:


Listen here:

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


Check it:




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:


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 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


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!