Studying Intervals

Intervals are basic building blocks of music. All musicians should be fluent with them. Many see them as distraction from studying “music” or practicing their instrument. But I encourage you to regard studying intervals as a means to open up your musical mind. You can deepen your love of music by knowing more about the mechanics and having more of an awareness of the details of the music you hear.

My app, Intervallic, is designed to help study and assimilate intervals. And have a bit of fun while doing it! More information is at http://tomgullion.tingjing.com/apps/intervallic.html

It’s available for iOS and Android devices.

Identifying Intervals
Studying Intervals
Combining Intervals
Two-Note Exercises
Three-Note Exercises
One-Note Exercises
Triads
Seventh Chords

Identifying Intervals

Many people start off studying intervals by creating a list of intervals that are present in music they already know. This is a great way to strengthen the connections in your brain between something well-known and something new. Which tends to help you remember it!

There are many examples of intervals occurring as the first two notes (or important notes) of famous songs. You should create your own list of songs that you know well. This approach works best with songs that you know and love.

The Interval recognition entry on Wikipedia is quite excellent and contains a good list of both ascending and descending interval examples.
Interval recognition – Wikipedia

Studying Intervals

First, let’s isolate the intervals and work on them in small groups. This helps to build a solid foundation which we’ll add to in subsequent steps.

Many people make the mistake of starting with ascending intervals and not spending equal time with descending intervals. Please avoid this trap! Start out your study using both ascending and descending intervals.

If you’re using Intervallic, go to the Settings page to configure which intervals to study. Simply adjust the switches to include/exclude intervals in the exercises. For this section, use “Two-Note” mode.

* Step 1: First Intervals
  * Start with Perfect Fifth (P5) and Perfect Octave (P8)
* Step 2: 3rds
  * Configure for minor and major 3rds
* Step 3: 4ths and 5ths
  * Configure for Perfect 4th and Perfect 5th
* Step 4: 6ths
  * Configure for minor and major 6ths
* Step 5: 2nds
  * Configure for minor and major 2nds
* Step 6: 7ths
  * Configure for minor and major 7ths

Combining Intervals

After you’ve built some confidence in hearing the above intervals, it’s time to combine them! It’s helpful to combine intervals based on their relations. There’s a bit of magic in intervals. If you invert a P4, you get a P5. That is, if you take a P4 (e.g., C-F) and transpose one of the notes by an octave (e.g., F-C), you’ll get a P5. Pretty cool. And pretty tricky for our ears sometimes.

Our ears/brains can easily transpose octaves. It’s the “same note,” just an octave away. But that can make things complicated when studying intervals – so I suggest combining intervals in the related pairs.

If you’re using Intervallic, go to the Settings page to configure which intervals to study. Simply adjust the switches to include/exclude intervals in the exercises. For this section, use “Two-Note” mode.

Step 1: 4ths and 5ths
Step 2: 3rds and 6ths
Step 3: 2nds and 7ths

Two-Note Exercises

This is the classic exercise to study intervals. Which makes sense because an interval by definition is the distance between two notes. The exercise is to play two notes and then identify the interval.

As written previously, don’t fall into the trap of focusing on ascending intervals and neglecting descending ones. You should have equal facility with ascending and descending intervals.

There are many ways to work on these exercises: alone at a piano or with your instrument, with a buddy who will play a series of intervals for you to identify or with an app like Intervallic which will never tire of playing intervals for you!

It’s also really helpful to do these exercises silently in your mind, perhaps while walking. The goal is to internalize this information and train yourself so it is effortless to hear the music. So working on intervals in multiple contexts will really help.

Intervallic has a auto-play mode where it will play intervals for you and speak the answers. This is a great way to keep your ears engaged fully. And works really well while walking to class or riding public transportation.

Three-Note Exercises

This exercise simply chains together two intervals. It’s a small step toward hearing intervals in real music. It helps develop your musical memory since you have to hold both intervals in your mind simultaneously. It’s a great skill to have.

One-Note Exercises

This is a great game to play with your friends. One person plays a note and tells you what note it is. Then they play another note and your job is to identify the new note. The way to do that, of course, is to recognize the interval and do the calculation to determine the note name.

For instance, person 1 plays a C4 and tells you they played a C. Then plays an Eb4. Now, you hear the interval as a minor 3rd, do the musical math to determine what note is a minor 3rd above C, and finally answer Eb!

You may want to limit the types of intervals to include in this game when getting started. Slowly adding intervals as you improve.

Intervallic fully supports this exercise type and has a auto-play mode where it will play the notes and speak the answers. This is a great way to keep your ears engaged fully. And works really well while walking to class or riding public transportation.

Triads

Being able to hear/identify triads is also an important skill. Identifying their quality (major, minor, diminished or augmented), root and even their inversion. This can be quite challenging but it’s a really great way to stretch your hearing.

Intervallic has settings to select the qualities and inversions.

Seventh Chords

Being able to hear/identify seventh chords is also an advanced skill. Identifying their quality, root and even their inversion. This can be quite challenging but it’s a really great way to stretch your hearing.

Intervallic has settings to select the qualities and inversions.

I wish you great success in your musical study!. Have fun and please send me a note at tom@tingjing.com if you have questions or comments.

Basic ear training with Scalar

The initial versions of Scalar were clearly designed for advanced students and professionals. With the latest update, we added basic triads. Ok, we probably should have started with these but…well…sometimes you just excited a write the advanced features first. It’s more fun!

Anyway, to work with just triads press on Ear Training or Practice buttons. While there, press the Settings icon in the upper-right corner. Scroll down a bit and select the triads you want and deselect the other chords.

Now your exercises will be using triads. It’s fun to add more advanced chords to the mix later on and incrementally improve your ear training skills.

Have fun!

Scalar Tips and Tricks

There are two options available in Scalar which can make your workouts more fun.

Play Scale configures Scalar to just play the chords and not play the scale “answer” as part of the ear training exercise. This frees you up to just improvise within the scale as you like. I often found myself just blowing over the top of the answer anyway so why not just let people turn it off.

Show Root can add a bit of challenge to ear training. Especially when you set the root movement to random or common note. This setting tells Scalar to not display the root at the beginning of the exercise. You’ll have to use your ears to determine the root and chord.

In newer versions, go to the Settings page (click the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Ear Training view). In previous versions, there are checkboxes at the bottom of the Ear Training view.

Scalar for Android!

I got a lot of requests to bring Scalar (the ear training app for creative musicians) to Android. I am so happy to announce that it is now available on the Google Play store: Scalar for Android.

It is almost at feature parity with the iOS version. Interactive scale syllabus, David Baker’s famous ear training exercises, generated in any key, for any scale/chord. It’s a pretty nice way to have fun working on ear training, I think.

Please check it out and let me know how you like it! I have some nice updates planned and am looking forward to incorporating user feedback along the way. Cross-platform, ear training goodness!

iPad support for Scalar and JazzEars

Sure, you could just installed the iPhone version on your shiny, new iPad…but that’s not as much fun as having full support for iPad. So, with a few tweaks to the custom layout code we use – viola! Scalar and JazzEars are now universal iOS apps.

We also added some usability improvements while we were at it.

Scalar now manages ear training exercise configurations on a separate settings pages. Gone are the cool, but a little awkward, zoomable checkboxes.

JazzEars now provides optional bass notes beneath its existing tonal cluster features. 2- to 4-note clusters are played atop a randomly generated bass note. It’s a small change but it makes this feature so much more fun to use.

Happy Practicing!

Scalar relaunches as an ear training app!

A few years ago I released Scale Syllabus, an app for browsing scales. It was one of the first apps I ever wrote. Pat Harbison, professor at Indiana University and long-time friend, suggested I release an app using David Baker’s famous ear training exercises. Excellent idea! And an excellent reason to bring Scale Syllabus into something more useful.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to the app on the App Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/scale-syllabus/id494295192?mt=8

I reimplemented the app using Swift 3 and AudioKit. This is a really nice and enjoyable language/toolkit to work with. It was great fun to revisit David’s ear training book, write algorithms to generate the exercises and have some fun dynamically generating MIDI sequences.

Here’s a video demo of the app: