Being able to quickly hear, sing, and accurately identify intervals is essential to developing your improvisational ear. In this article, we’ve put together a plan for you to master your intervals in 28 days…
For beginners, this will give you a much needed foundation. And for more advanced players, it will give you a chance to brush up on your intervals and fill in any gaps that might be there. The goal is to be so familiar with these sounds, that it requires very little effort to process them. You can never know this stuff too well!
Getting acquainted with the intervals
One of the best ways to get familiar with all of the intervals is to find a tune you already know that makes use of each one. There are 12 intervals total and you’ll need to practice them both ascending and descending, making for 24 total. You can find your own tunes that make use of each interval in both directions if you like, or you can download this handy little interval chart for free from Jamey Aebersold.
He lists a variety of standards where the first two notes of the melody are the denoted interval. And for your convenience, here are some clips for all 12 intervals in both directions. In general, the denoted interval is the first two notes of the melody and the clip, but occasionally it will occur after a short intro. I tried to select clips that play the interval loud and clear, so you shouldn’t have to work to find any of them. (You can skip over the clips for now and revisit them once you read the 28 day plan below)
Minor Second Ascending
Gene Ammons on I remember You, Miles on Bye Bye Blackbird, & Sinatra on Nice Work If You Can Get It
Minor Second Descending
Miles plays Stella By Starlight, Sinatra sings The Lady Is a Tramp, and especially for Patrick Bateman we have Whitney Houston singing Joy to the World (sorry I just couldn’t help myself)
Major Second Ascending
I’m assuming you know Happy Birthday. And this clip is Benny Goodman on Body And Soul
Major Second Descending
Miles on Freddie Freeloader
Minor Third Ascending
Parker on Confirmation
Minor Third Descending
Sinatra sings What Is This Thing Called Love? And another you already know is Frosty The Snowman
Major Third Ascending
Louis on Oh When the Saints, Dizzy & Bird on I Can’t Get Started
Major Third Descending
Miles on I Summertime, Trane on Bessie’s Blues, & Trane on Giant Steps
Perfect Fourth Ascending
Here Comes The Bride, Desmond & Mulligan on All The Things You Are
Perfect Fourth Descending
Parker on I Yardbird Suite
Augmented Fourth (or Diminished Fifth) Ascending
The Simpsons Theme Song
Augmented Fourth (or Diminished Fifth) Descending
Sonny Rollins playing Blue Seven
Perfect Fifth Ascending
Milt Jackson on Bags Groove
Perfect Fifth Descending
Scott Hamilton on Have You Met Miss Jones?, Getz on Seven Steps To Heaven
Augmented Fifth (or Diminished Sixth) Ascending
Paul Desmond playing Morning of the Carnival (From Black Orpheus)
Augmented Fifth (or Diminished Sixth) Descending
Benny Goodman on Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone
Major Sixth Ascending
Tony Bennett and Bill Evans play Days of Wine And Roses, Joe Henderson on Take The A Train
Major Sixth Descending
Johnny Mathis sings You’re A Weaver of Dreams
Minor Seventh Ascending
Reri Grist sings Somewhere (from West Side Story)
Minor Seventh Descending
Herbie plays Watermelon Man. Not the best example of a minor seventh, but you can hear it in the first big descending leap of the melody.
Major Seventh Ascending
Lee Morgan on Ceora
Major Seventh Descending
Keely Smith sings I love You
Keith Jarrett playing Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Sarah Vaughn sings Willow Weep For Me
Interval Ear Training Exercise
Points to remember:
- Make sure you hear the interval in your head before AND while you sing it. Sometimes, I’ll hear it in my head a few times and then begin to sing the interval softly while I continue to hear the interval in my head as loud as I possibly can. Gradually, I’ll begin to raise the volume of my voice, making sure to keep focus on the sound in my head.
- Sing with accurate pitch
- Stick to the plan
- Play the first note of the interval on the piano (or a chromatic pitch pipe). Stop playing the first note and sing the second note. Check your pitch for accuracy.
- Now, assign the first note you play on the piano to ‘1’ of a major key. Sing ‘1’ while you play that note on the piano. Stop playing the first note and sing the second number corresponding to the note in the given interval, for example for a major second you would sing ‘2’. (Now this doesn’t work for all intervals such as a minor second)
- You can also identify all the occurrences of an interval in a scale and sing those numbers instead. For instance, for ascending minor seconds, you could sing: ‘3 to 4’, or ‘7 to 1’
The goal of this exercise:
- Be able to hear the interval in your head before you sing it.
- Understand where these intervals occur in a major scale (you can move to other scales later).
- Be able to sing the numbers in the scale of each interval, while you continue to hear the intervals in your head.
This plan is structured in such a way that you’ll only spend 15 minutes a day actively working on your intervals. Anyone can find 15 minutes a day and the rewards are huge. The plan utilizes a concept called spaced learning. The idea behind spaced learning is that you want to turn short term memory into long term memory. To do this, spaced learning prescribes three active periods of learning, separated by two 10 minute breaks. During these breaks, it is important NOT to think about what you were working on. Go cook something, do some push ups, go read a book. Anything not to think about what you were working on. Ok, here’s the plan:
- Each day you’ll work on one interval in one direction.
- Get acquainted with the interval of the day from the clips in the first section for a few minutes.
- Then, you’ll use spaced learning while doing the interval ear training exercise describe previously: 5 minutes of interval practice, 10 min. break, 5 min. on, 10 min. break, 5 min. on. Got it? So if the interval of the day is a major second, I’ll watch the clips for a few minutes, then I’ll play a note on the piano, match the pitch and sing ‘1’, stop playing piano, and then hear & sing ‘2’. You could also choose to sing any of the other numbers in the scale which constitute an ascending major second interval. For starters, just pick one and sing it for the full 5 minutes. Then break 10 minutes. Then do the same exercise and interval for 5 minutes. Then break 10 minutes. Then do one final 5 minute exercise session.
- The plan is split up into 4 weeks. On the seventh day of each week, you’ll review the previous 3 intervals in both directions in the same spaced learning manner. Just do the same exercise you’ve been practicing, but alternate between the various intervals.
- Use the following checklist to keep track of your progress.
Well there you have it. Everything you need to master your intervals in 28 days!