The ‘Holy Grail’ Of All Music Exercises:
Accompanying download for this lesson: Interval Trainer MP3 tracks.
As a musician, the one thing you’ll be doing on a daily basis, more than anything else – is measuring intervals.
Intervals are everything in music – as a creative player, you’re measuring out intervals all day long.
What is a chord voicing? It’s a stack of intervals.
What is a scale? It’s a series of intervals.
If you’re only interested in reading music, then that’s one thing. But if you want to understand music theory, compose your own music, play jazz, and become a truly great musician – then mastering intervals is essential – and the sooner you do this, the more it will pay off every time you play.
Why are intervals important?
To become a great musician, you have to be disciplined about intervals. This step cannot be skipped – you have to become ACCURATE – and FAST – at measuring them.
Every chord voicing is a stack of intervals.
Every scale is a series of intervals.
So the faster you can count intervals – the faster your playing will be.
And the faster you can count intervals – the less energy you’ll spend learning new concepts – you’ll ‘get it’ just like that.
How well do you REALLY know your intervals?
When I first meet with a new music student, my first question is always – “how are you with intervals?” (even before saying “how do you do” or anything else – I like to get straight to the point).
Usually the response is “pretty good” – but when I dive deeper, it turns out that most musicians are no where near confident enough, or quick enough, at measuring intervals.
I’ll go through a few quick questions – “what’s a minor 6th above F#?”.
Often they’ll get the right answer, but it takes a few seconds (which is too long).
OR – they’ll say the correct answer, but with a rising tone (as though asking a question) – “D?”
You need to be SO good at this – that you can answer any interval question in less than half a second – and without needing assurance that you have the right answer – you need to KNOW that you have the right answer, just as you KNOW that 2+2=4.
Other times, if we’re at the piano – I’ll watch their playing – and I can see that they’re not measuring the intervals with complete accuracy. They simply count out the numbers from the root – they might play a 7th up from the root – but they won’t be thinking ‘minor 7th’ or ‘major 7th’ – they just count up 7 notes, which isn’t accurate enough. We need to measure everything out to the semitone.
Are intervals holding you back?
If you haven’t yet mastered your interval arithmetic – then intervals are holding you back.
Intervals are like pixels on a computer screen – the more accurately you can measure intervals, the more accurate your picture of music will be:
– If you’re sloppy with your interval measuring, then your picture of music will be blurry. Everything is in a fog – it’s roughly ‘a 7th’, or ‘a 6th’, or ‘a 3rd’ – but you don’t really know if it’s a minor 7th, or a major 6th, or what type of 3rd it is.
– Whereas when you’re disciplined about your interval measuring, and you do it with accuracy, then your picture of music becomes HD (high-definition) – everything you play is a precise set of intervals – the opposite of ‘sloppy’.
‘Interval arithmetic’ exercises
So how do you get good at intervals?
My #1 brain exercise that I recommend for all musicians (including you) – is this:
Away from your instrument, in your mind, do the following:
Assign a starting note (C).
Now set yourself to jump up or down by a random series of interval, and name each note:
(C) – ‘Up a 4th’ = F.
‘Down a 5th’ = Bb.
‘Up a major 6th’ = G.
‘Up a half-step’ = Ab.
‘Down a tritone’ = D.
The beautiful thing about this exercise is that you can practice it away from your instrument – during any downtime:
The ‘Interval Trainer Challenge’
This exercise can be practiced 100% independently, on your own, in your spare time – no fancy tools needed.
However, to get you started / make this into a fun challenge – I’ve recorded 3 mp3 tracks that test you on this exercise.
Each exercise gets more advanced, and to complete each challenge, you have to answer every interval question correctly, within a time limit (i.e. before I give you the answer).
It takes work in the beginning to get good at this, but it will pay off every time you play in future – I promise!
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the next post!
– Julian Bradley