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Tips

Developing a sense of pitch (Ear Training)

When I was learning how to improvise I realised I needed to develop my ear so I could easily hear chord changes and melody intervals.

I bought tapes and CDs on ear training and spend hours at the piano keyboard trying to teach myself to recognise and sing intervals. I then discovered a very simple and easy way to remember and hear intervals. I already knew lots of songs and tunes so I used these to learn different intervals by using the first two notes of songs in which they occurred.

For example the first interval change in the song “Happy birthday” is a major second. Sing it to yourself now. As soon as you start to sing the word birthday that note is a major second above the first two.

So all you need to do is find a song that you know for each interval. Get to know them well and sing them. Singing is very important for developing your ear. If you can sing an interval you’ll be able to hear one. I’ve learned that students who have a good sense of pitch can learn tunes easily. Those that haven’t usually find learning tunes difficult.

Here is my basic list to get started. Then you will need to go and find your own tunes and maybe learn some new ones for the less common intervals.

  • Minor 2nd Bye-Bye Blackbird
  • Major 2nd Happy Birthday
  • Minor 3rd Work Song
  • Major 3rd Oh When the Saints
  • Perfect 4th Auld Lang Syne
  • Flat 5th Maria
  • Perfect 5th The Last Post
  • Flat 6th Mana de Carnival
  • Major 6th My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean
  • Flat 7th Somewhere [ West side story ]
  • Major 7th Ceora
  • Octave Somewhere Over the Rainbow


These are ascending intervals and you will need a similar list for descending intervals. I hope you enjoy searching for your favourites.

A very comprehensive list can be found in the Jamie Eabersold free handbookavailable on his web site: http://aebersold.com

There are also plenty of ear training websites and free software to download to test your knowledge using your computer. Just type in “Ear training” into a search engine.

Have fun.