A well-trained ear is an important skill for all musicians. I learned this first-hand when I worked as a recording engineer on albums ranging from rock to blues to country to hip-hop. Being able to identify note intervals – also referred to as ‘relative pitch’ – is an asset that’s often overlooked. For example, being able to pinpoint the interval between two notes as a ‘minor 3rd’.
Some of the greatest backing vocal harmony tracks I ever recorded were usually composed on the spot in the studio by the producer or band member. Being able to hear (and sing) an interval is crucial when ‘stacking’ the harmony parts.
I have to admit, it’s been a weak area for me. So, I’ve been improving my relative pitch by practicing with ear training apps on my iPhone and iPad. (One of my favorites is Karajan Pro). Another popular method for developing relative pitch, is to associate popular song melodies with an interval. For example, the theme to “Jaws” is a ‘minor 2nd’ interval.
Today, I found a free online tool that allows you to choose from a list of well-known tunes that begin with the various intervals and build your own ‘examples chart’. They even have links to YouTube examples of these songs in case you don’t recognize the title.
Here’s the chart I built:
Now, I can take this chart and focus on associating the song that I’m familiar with and that specific interval. The outcome – after diligent practice – is to have these intervals so deeply internalized, I won’t have to recall what song the interval is found in.
If you’re a musician and haven’t acquired ‘relative pitch’, you really should give this a go. The reward will be a greater ability to pick out chords, melodies and harmonies. And that’ll make you a more polished musician.
How about you? Do you have any recommendations on improving relative pitch? Do you have some favorite songs to identify intervals? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.