How to Identify Music Intervals On Piano
If you were to randomly mash your fingers on ten piano keys,
there are some musicians who would listen and say, “Do you want me to tell you which notes you’re playing from
the top down or the bottom up?”
Musicians with perfect-pitch have been impressing crowds with their ability to distinguish notes and intervals
when it is seemingly impossible to do so.
Others can listen to a song jingle on a commercial, and then an hour later go into the next room and play the
same tune on the piano without missing a note.
How do they do that?
The answer is simpler than you may think. While there are a variety of skills needed to achieve mastery of these
feats, the place to begin is by training your
ear to accurately identify music intervals on piano.
Intervals are simply the distances between any two notes and are always described as going from the lower note
to the higher note. The lower note actually counts as one, so if you were to play C and G, then you would have an
interval of five, calling it a fifth.
What’s important to know about intervals is that the distances between notes are called “steps,” and the more
steps between notes, the more distance between them. A “half step” is the small distance between notes – any two
notes that are immediately next to each other on the piano are a half step apart, like E and F or C and C#. The
other kind of step is called a “whole step” which, of course, is comprised of two half steps. So D and E, or G and
A, are both one whole step apart from one another.
It is important to learn how to
identify notes on piano by ear because then when you see or hear any musical phrase, you can
simply remember the intervals that comprise the phrase rather than the notes themselves.
Imagine hearing a song and remembering that you heard a fourth followed by a fifth followed by a second. Being
armed with this information, in addition to remembering the tune, will enormously help to reconstruct the melody
When defining intervals, they are normally defined according to a major or minor scale. So when playing C and E,
this would be considered a major third interval. If playing C and Eb, this would be considered a minor third
interval. To identify all of the intervals in an octave, try playing C and then D and call it a second, then play C
and then E and call it a third, and so on up the octave.
Training your ear is as important as training your eyes and fingers, and this can be accomplished more easily
than you think. The first step that many students perform is to identify a song they know that begins with each of
the major intervals.
For example, “Happy Birthday” begins with a second, and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” begins with a sixth. If
you know a song for each major interval, then you can simply hum the first two notes of that song to yourself and
see if it matches the interval that you’re hearing.
You can also make a recording for yourself that randomly plays each of the intervals, and you can challenge
yourself to accurately identify what each interval you hear is. Learning how to identify intervals on piano is an
acquired, not a naturally inherited talent. Soon you’ll be impressing crowds with your talented ear as well!