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How To Recognize Intervals

In this lesson we are gong to begin learning how to recognize different intervals by ear. An interval is simply the distance between two notes. Learning how to recognize intervals by ear is not only great for your guitar playing but for your overall musicianship as well. We will start off by learning how to recognize the intervals in the major scale. Once we have that down, we will throw in all the remaining intervals up to an octave. It can help to associate specific intervals with songs that you like or a familiar melody. I will give you one little song or tip for each interval that I like to use when thinking about the sound of that specific interval. Finally, we will give you a simple exercise to work on your interval recognition. We will be in the key of C major for this lesson.

Training your ears is kind of like learning another language. Just like you memorize new words, you have to memorize new sounds. Since we are in the key of C major, C will be our root note that we start on for every interval. The C major scale is spelled 1C, 2D, 3E, 4F, 5G, 6A, and 7B. Play a C note on the 3rd fret of the 5th string and then move to a D note on the 5th fret of the 5th string. This is a major 2nd interval. Go back and forth between these two notes. Try to memorize the sound that you get from this interval. It really helps to associate the sound of an interval with something that you already recognize. For a major 2nd interval I like to think of the first two notes of a major scale.

Start on a C note and go through each interval listed below. For example, the next interval of the major scale is a major 3rd. You would play a C and an E. Start with the intervals in a major scale and then move on to the others once you feel comfortable. For the sake of this lesson, I have written the note names for the key of C next to the interval names. I also threw in the associations that I use for each interval, but it is a great idea for you to come up with your own interval associations too.

Major Scale Intervals

C-D Major 2nd – sounds like the first interval of a major scale

C-E Major 3rd – sounds like the first interval of The Simpsons melody

C-F Perfect 4th – sounds like the open bottom two strings on the guitar

C-G Perfect 5th – sounds like first interval of the Star Wars theme

C-A Major 6th – sounds like the theme for TV station NBC

C-B Major 7th – sounds like the last note of a major scale before you get to the octave.

Other Intervals

C-Db Minor 2nd – sounds like the music from the movie Jaws

C-Eb Minor 3rd – sounds like the first two notes of a minor triad

C-F# or Gb Augmented 4th or Diminished 5th – sounds quite dissonant, like some kinds of metal music

C-Ab Minor 6th – sounds like a metal riff from one of my favorite bands

C-Bb Minior 7th – sounds like the theme of the original Star Trek

C-C Octave – sounds like the root note only one octave higher

A simple exercise that you can do is to pick any two random notes on the guitar, play them, and see if you can guess what interval they are. You can also get a friend that plays an instrument to quiz you. Trying to recognize intervals may be a bit difficult at first but using associations for intervals can make memorizing the sounds much easier. If you work at this on a regular basis you will start to hear intervals for what they are without using your associations. Trust me, you will start to recognize intervals everywhere you go.