How to remember music intervals and why

Anyone who wants to sing a song by reading music notes will need to be able to identify the intervals (i.e. distance between notes) and how they should sound. Unless you have perfect, a.k.a. absolute, pitch, you will need to reference the sound of the second note from the first pitch (sound of the first note).

Harmonic intervals are “stacked”

When I was studying music theory at conservatory, I didn’t have the benefit of what’s available nowadays. Youtube had just started in 2005, still hungry for the bandwidth for lengthy or high definition videos we see today. The Internet was not yet the highly trafficked information highway that has exploded into a hitch hiker’s guide to the wide range of discussion forums and the international community actively exchanging ways to learn music better and more quickly via social media. It was all pencil and staff paper.

I encourage my students to tap into the Internet and find resources to help their learning styles. Some may prefer auditory. Others are visual. I wouldn’t be surprised if they find or create a movie that explains the intervals and what they sound like.

Melodic intervals are sequential

From a given pitch, such as the middle C, you can discern what the next note should sound like by gauging how far it is. There are short cuts to recognizing the distance, such as whether both notes are the same kind of note (space or line) and how many steps (spaces or lines) lie between them.

One way to recognize the sound of two notes is by starting with the easiest ones, which are unison and perfect eighth, also known as the octave. Next is Major Second, as in “Do Re Mi” going up or “Three Blind Mice” coming down. The hardest are the Tritone and Minor 7th intervals.

I found four websites most useful to learning music intervals.

music_intervalsI should also mention that you can hear the tritone in Saint Saens’ “Danse Macabre.”

Unfortunately the list of song beginnings is not universally recognized. A better list would be Christmas songs.

And I, of course, prefer a single sheet of paper to carry around. I chose the songs that I thought would be most familiar. Click on the right image for the PDF.

This is the format I wish I had created during my conservatory days. It would have helped me greatly!

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