How to Listen for Intervals, part 2


After getting some feedback on last week’s blog about intervals, I apparently left some Florida-sized sink holes in my explanation. Let’s take another run at this. Ready?

Whenever you hear two tones with different pitches, the distance between them in terms of high and low is referred to as the interval. The distances can be small or large, and the tones can be played one at a time or together.

We name these intervals by comparing them to major scale relationships as if the lower tone were the 1st of the scale. We have five different types of intervals: perfect, major, minor, augmented and diminished. And we use the eight tones from the major scale, which we’ll simply number 1 through 8. We’ll go into the naming rules another time. For today, just take it face value, the interval name is what it is because it is.

Intervals Within An Octave

So here is the entire set of interval names we’ll use, going as far as an octave (8 white keys, counting the one you start on). No, you don’t have to memorize these. Well, not yet, anyway!  I’m really just trying to illustrate that each possible distance away from 1 has an interval name, and a few of them have two names.

1 to b2 (flat 2) = minor 2nd = a single half step

1 to 2 = major 2nd = a whole step
1 to b3 = minor 3rd = a step and a half
1 to 3 = major 3rd = two whole steps
1 to 4 = perfect 4th = two and a half steps
1 to #4 = augmented 4th = three whole steps*
1 to b5 = diminished 5th = three whole steps*
1 to 5 = perfect 5th = three and a half steps
1 to #5 = augmented 5th = four whole steps**
1 to b6 = minor 6th = four whole steps**
1 to 6 = major 6th = four and a half steps***
1 to bb7 = diminished 7th = five whole steps***
1 to b7 = minor 7th = five whole steps
1 to 7 = major 7th = five and a half steps
1 to 8 = perfect 8th, perfect octave = six whole steps

*, **, *** indicate two names for the same distance. One is used pretty much as often as the other.

Listen to the audio example. I’ll give the numbers and the interval name with each one.


To jump in with both feet and try to memorize these interval names is hard enough, let alone try to memorize how they sound! It takes time, and I think you’ll find that a bite by bite approach works the best.

The First Three Intervals, Plus Two

Last time, I mentioned three intervals: a minor 3rd, a perfect 5th, and a perfect octave. As you listen to the audio, I’ll say the interval name and play it, then I’ll play the melody that I took it from, then I’ll say and play it one more time.

A minor 3rd, which sounds like the beginning of Brahms’ Lullaby,

a perfect 5th, which sounds like the beginning of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,

and a perfect octave. which sounds like the first two notes of Over The Rainbow


Just to keep it interesting, let’s add two more today:
a major 2nd, which sounds like the first two tones of the scale, Do Re (pronounced “doe” “ray”)

and a major 6th, which sounds like the first two tones of My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean


Okay, you’re ready! Here is

Ear Training Quiz #2!


Take your time, listen closely, feel free to hit the rewind button and try it over and over. Stick with it, you’ll get it, it’s a skill that you can learn! I’ll post the answers on my Thursday Casetunes blog. If you’d like to go back and try the first Intervals Quiz (the Audio Exercise) from last week, click here.

Are these intervals starting to make sense to you? Can you hear some differences between them, and maybe lock right onto one or two intervals that you always get right?

Let me know how you’re doing with these! Please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2013 Steve Case