Identifying Music Intervals – Ear Training For Musicians

Identifying Music Intervals – Ear Training For Musicians

In music terminology, an interval is the difference in pitch between two given tones.  Intervals are, in a sense, the “point” of music; some might consider a melody to be a series of notes, but it’s just as accurate to say that a melody is a series of intervals. Without the sonic character and colour that exists within intervals, there wouldn’t be any reason to change notes. In other words, intervals are what make a melody what it is, so it’s hugely important that musicians have a complete understanding of and control over intervals in order to use and reproduce them effectively.

In addition to melodic intervals, intervals between notes played separately, musicians must also be able to recognize harmonic intervals, which exist between notes played simultaneously, as in, for example, chords played on piano, guitar, or horn or string sections. Being able to differentiate between and effectively utilize harmonic intervals is also a must for musicians.

So how do musicians learn to identify intervals? This is one of the skills acquired through ear training, which, although it is a required component of virtually all college and university music programs, can also easily be pursued individually using a number of methods.

Relative pitch, the ability to distinguish easily between different intervals, can be gained by making use of different listening-intensive techniques. These include basic exercises such as listening to and then repeating a given series of notes, which requires the student to grasp and reproduce the intervals.

Solfege-based methods are also frequently employed by instructors to help students develop the ability to identify intervals. These methods can either strip pitches of a tonal context, encouraging students to focus on the quality of the notes themselves, or emphasize the context, preparing students for the variety of musical environments that they’ll encounter.

Once musicians have the ability to grasp intervals in this way, their musical horizons will be broadened immeasurably. Understanding intervals is the key to sight-reading and singing, transcribing music, playing by ear, and in many cases, simply playing well.  Since this skill can only be attained through ear training, it’s understandable why so many educators and professional musicians consider ear training indispensable.

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