September 4th, 2011

A Simple Way To Hear Difficult Intervals: The 2-step method

By Forrest

Two Step Method

Hearing larger intervals is difficult for most people. After a couple weeks of practicing your intervals, half-steps, whole steps, major and minor thirds, perfect fourths, perfect fifths, and major sixths fall into place, but the remaining few linger on, causing us trouble for eternity.

There’s no reason why we can’t isolate these more difficult intervals and learn to hear them just as easily as we hear a whole-step, we just need to utilize the intervals that we already know well as the foundation to learn these less familiar sounds.

Using the intervals you know to hear more difficult ones: the 2-step method

So you can hear the intervals of a perfect fifth and a half step just fine, but tritones (diminished 5ths, or augmented 4ths) give you trouble. No worries. By using what we’ll call the 2-step method, you’ll quickly grasp tritones.

The idea behind the 2-step method is to hear an interval that is close to the interval you want to hear, and then move via half-step (or whole step in some cases) to the target interval. For instance, if you want to hear a tritone and you can hear/sing perfect fifths and half-steps no problem, then first you sing a perfect fifth, and then sing a half-step below.

The full process would be to sing a note. Now sing a note a perfect fifth above. Now sing a half-step below. Now sing the root again. It looks like this:


We’re calling it the 2-step method because in two steps, you arrive at the target interval. After you practice in the manner just prescribed, you’ll work on just hearing and not singing the second step of the exercise. Sing the first note, hear but don’t sing a perfect fifth above, then hear and sing a half-step below that note. Looks like this:


Once you practice this method for a while, you’ll start to hear just the difficult interval and will no longer have to use the 2-step method.

The difficult intervals

They are: tritone, minor 6th, minor 7th, major 7th. There’s only four! Eight, when you think of practicing them both ascending and descending, but seriously, much less difficult than you thought, right?

By isolating these four intervals in both directions using the 2-step method, you’ll become much more solid with all your intervals.

How to hear each of these interval using the 2-step method

Take each of the intervals through the cycle of singing each note, followed by not singing the “helper” note as illustrated before. For each interval you have options, for example with a tritone, you could sing a perfect 5th and a half-step down, or you could sing a perfect 4th and a half-step up. Feel free to try all the options at your disposal and go with the one that’s more comfortable for you.

Tritone ascending

The tritone occurs between G and C#:


You could just as easily hear a perfect 4th and move up a half-step instead:

Tritone Up

Tritone descending

The tritone occurs between C and F#:

Tritone Down

…or try singing a perfect fourth and then a half step below that:

Tritone Down2

Minor 6th ascending

The minor 6th occurs between G and Eb:

MInor 6th up

…and then try a fifth, followed by a half-step up:

Minor 6th up2

Minor 6th descending

The minor 6th occurs between G and B:

MInor 6th Down

Minor 7th ascending

The minor 7th occurs between G and F:

Minor 7th

…or if it’s easier, try an octave up, to whole-step down:

Minor 7th up2

Minor 7th descending

The minor 7th occurs between G and F:

Minor 7th Down

Major 7th ascending

The major 7th occurs between G and F#:

Major 7th up

Major 7th descending

The major 7th occurs between G and Ab:

Major 7th down

Working on difficult intervals

Hearing and singing any interval should be just as easy as a whole-step, but it takes time and practice to get to this point. Use the 2-step method to close the gap on the more difficult intervals and they will get much easier.

Start by picking one of the four intervals–tritone, minor 6th, minor 7th, major 7th–and master it via the technique described. You don’t need to be strict with it either.

Maybe you go through one of the written exercises and come back down to the root, but then jump back up and down between the target note and the tonic a few times, or perhaps you use different combinations of intervals then notated. Explore and create exercises that work for you to get these sounds operating in your subconscious.

Remember, there’s only four intervals that are hanging you out to dry and by working through them using the 2-step method you’ll have them down in no time.

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