“I can’t hear the difference between whole-steps, half-steps, major 3rds, etc.
I’ve been practicing with interval-trainer apps but without much success.
Do you have any tips?”
To learn intervals by ear, you have to learn to sing them.
If you can sing an interval – away from your instrument – then you’ve memorized it.
When I say ‘singing’ – humming is fine.
Go to the piano and play a C.
Now try to sing up an interval – let’s say a half-step.
Sing the note, and then test your answer by playing a Db.
Then do it again – sing up a major 3rd from Db.
Sing the note, and then test your answer by playing an F.
Then do it again – sing down a whole-step from F.
Sing the note, and then test your answer by playing an Eb.
And keep doing this for 5-10 minutes.
The ‘Priority Intervals’:
Focus on the 6 ‘Priority Intervals’ that most melodies use:
Half-step, whole-step, minor 3rd, maj 3rd, 4th, 5th
What About Interval Songs?
I’m not a fan of interval songs (using Happy Birthday and other tunes to recall intervals).
They might help you pass a High School ear training exam – if the examiner plays two notes on the piano, in isolation…
But it’s hard to recall these songs when you’re listening to a normal piece of music, with lots of notes and rhythms.
If you use Interval Songs, you’re practicing remembering a nursery rhyme – rather than the interval itself…
And I’d rather you put ALL OF YOUR FOCUS on how the interval sounds instead.
So go through the exercise I mentioned above – take your time with each interval, and do it for 10 minutes a day.
In a week’s time, you’ll be a lot more confident with your intervals.
Modified Technique for Jazz Musicians:
Something my Jazz piano teacher used to have me practice (Terry Seabrook in Brighton) – is to improvise a solo in your right hand, and to sing each note at the same time you play it.
It’s like Rock – Paper – Sissors, but for jazz piano / ear training.
You’ll see how accurate your ear really is, and you’ll ingrain the way it’s supposed to be when you solo – you’re supposed to hear each note BEFORE you play it – and not the other way around.
Want to play songs by ear?
Watch my free 4-part video series and learn how: