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How to develop Relative Pitch

how to develop relative pitch

Whether you write songs or not, having a good relative pitch can be really useful for a musician. In this article, I will show you the technique I developed that helped me learn to recognize ANY chord inversion in 1 second. Using this method, it took me only 30 days to learn all this, working on it only 15 minutes a day. I truly believe that literally, anyone can learn this. If you can recognize songs from the radio, you can learn this.

What is relative pitch?

Relative pitch is the ability to recognize or recreate a certain pitch by using a reference note. This shouldn’t be confused with perfect pitch. Perfect pitch (or absolute pitch) is when you hear a note and you know exactly what note it is. With relative pitch, you don’t know exactly what sound you hear, but you can recognize the relative distance of the notes. The thing is, you cannot develop a perfect pitch if you are older than 2 years old, but literally, anyone can develop a relative pitch.

It’s easier than you think

Recognizing any interval or chord is actually much easier than most people think. If you can recognize a song on the radio, if you can differentiate two songs, then you can recognize a chord or an interval too. It’s really the same thing! So if it’s the same thing, then how come you can recognize songs, but not intervals? It’s because you have already learned those songs by listening to them many times, but you haven’t learned the chords and intervals yet. Once you learn them with my method, you will realize that it’s the same.

Start with the theory

First of all, you need to know the names of the intervals, chords, and scales. If you don’t know music theory yet, you can find millions of websites and Youtube videos where they explain these things for free. When you learn these things, you should play them on the piano AND sing the notes at the same time. This is how you start to get familiar with their sound. When you play a chord or an interval, you should play the notes separately and together too. You should be able to recognize them in both ways. It’s easier to recognize them separately, but you can learn to recognize them played together, it just takes a little bit more practice and time.

Songs

Now, I said that you know songs, but you don’t know intervals or chords yet. But it’s actually not true. Because all songs, all melodies start with an interval or even a chord. And you already know these melodies. So you just need to connect the interval names with these melodies. This is actually a very common method for learning how to recognize intervals or even chords. It’s kind of a connection between recognizing songs and recognizing intervals. Here are some songs that you probably already know to sing. These songs all start with one of the intervals.

Stevie Wonder – Isn’t She Lovely – Minor 2nd

Happy Birthday to You – Major 2nd

Michael Jackson – Bad – Minor 3rd

The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love – Major 3rd

Amazing Grace – Perfect 4th

The Simpsons – Tritone

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – Perfect 5th

Love Story theme – Minor 6th

Michael Jackson – Man In The Mirror (chorus) – Major 6th

ABBA – The Winner Takes It All – Minor 7th

A-Ha – Take On Me – Major 7th

Somewhere over the Rainbow – Octave

The method

Now you have the basics, but in order to reach master level in recognizing intervals, scales, and chords, you need to practice these. 20 years ago, I developed a system for myself to recognize any chords or chord inversions. With this method, after 30 days, I could recognize seventh chord inversions (which is the hardest) in 1 second. So here it is.

First, you need to start small. This means that you need to start differentiating not more than two intervals. Ideally, you should start with “close relatives” like minor 2nd and major 2nd. If you can’t make a difference (by listening) between the two because they are two similar, then try to make a difference between minor 2nd and minor 3rd.

The point is, you should start with not more than 2 intervals first. If you can recognize those two intervals 100% of the time, you can add ONE more interval, so you will need to recognize three intervals this time. But the question is, how do you actually practice this? You can’t play the intervals because if you play them, you already know what they are. And you need to recognize them by ear.

When I was practicing this 20 years ago, I used an MP3 player (lol), and recorded each interval separately. Then the MP3 player played the intervals randomly for me. After listening, I made a guess, and then look at the player to see the actual interval.

Later on, I have discovered an app that can do this. This app is still available today, and it’s called EarMaster. You can use the coupon code “bettersongs” to get a 15% discount on the page!

So here is what you need to do. You need to program the app in a way so it will play only TWO intervals first. If you program minor 2nd and major 2nd, the app will play those two intervals randomly, and you need to guess which one is played.

When you try to recognize them, you should sing the songs above with the notes you hear. Can you sing the Happy Birthday song with it? Then it’s a Major 2nd. But after some practice, you won’t need these songs because you will learn how the intervals sound. The same way you learn a song.

So after some practice, you will be able to recognize both of them very fast. That’s when you add the third interval, for example, the minor 3rd. Again, you need to practice with those three for a while and you should be able to recognize all three of them before you add another interval to the mix. Of course, you need to do the same with the chords and scales too in order to learn them. This method is simple but extremely powerful.

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About the Author

Producer, songwriter of the band Barrio Latino Hungría. Author of the Songwriting Essentials.