Aural Masterclass Part 1 – Intervals

The first in an occasional series of posts to help students prepare for aural tests.

Understanding intervals is an important aspect of playing and studying music, and this is why music exams test candidates on their knowledge of intervals.

An interval is the distance between one note and another, and is always described as a number, depending on how many degrees (‘steps’) of the scale are between the two notes (see my post on Major Scales for more about the degrees of the scale). For example, from C to D is two steps, and this interval is a 2nd. Each interval sounds and looks different, and with practice, you will be able to spot them more easily when you hear them or see them written in the score. We always read up from the bottom or ‘root’ note: in the scale of C major, the root note is C.

A good way to help remember intervals and recognise them more easily is to associate each one with a song or piece of music:

Major 2nd – Frere Jacques, Happy Birthday

Major 3rd – When the Saints Go Marching In, Kumbaya

Perfect 4th – Away in a Manger, Here Comes The Bride

Perfect 5th – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Star Wars theme

Major 6th – My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, My Way

Major 7th – Take On Me by A-Ha (a Norwegian band from the 1980s with terrible haircuts!)

Octave – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

What do intervals sound like when sounded together as a chord? When I do aural practice with my students, I ask them to try and describe the sound of the interval they are hearing: here are some of our most popular descriptions:

Minor 2nd – painful, pinched

Major 2nd – pinched, tense, crunchy (dissonant)

Minor 3rd – sad

Major 3rd – warm

Perfect 4th – sad, bare

Perfect 5th – open, “hunting horn”

Perfect 6th – warm

Major 7th – crunchy, tense

Listen to intervals

Create your own intervals example chart

Music Intervals – app for iPhone/iPod/iPad

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