Skip to main content

Home Alt Forums Music Theory Question on learning Intervals

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
  • Author
  • #36227

      Hi Johnny, do you have any short cut methods for remembering intervals.

      The 3rd 5th & 7th intervals are easy to recall, by learning arpeggios.

      the 1st & 2nd intervals are fairly obvious.

      The 4th & 6th intervals aren’t as easy to recall.


        Remembering the basics is a good one so, always know the 1, 4, and 5 of every key because that’s the 12 bar progression.
        Once you know that you’ll always know the 4th and 5th. Every musician should know that from the top of their heads without even thinking twice.
        The 6th can also be easy because once you know all your 5ths it’s simply up another tone.
        the 6th also plays a major role in guitar rock and roll riffing…think Chuck Berry strumming a bar chord and pushing the 6th with the pinky on the 2nd and 4th beats. Like in Johnny B Good as just one of many examples. So I do that sometimes on the sax while doing background accompanying with a band…ta,ta,ta,ta,ta,ta,ta
        so in the key of C the above example is played G,G,A,G,G,G,A etc That’s an effective accompanying riff using the 5th and 6th

        Another good one for the 4th just learn the first 4 notes of the “Here Comes The Bride” melody in every key!

        Andrew Gibson

          I think the key is to learn the theory, certainly, but then know it. Just like learning a foreign language, when you think in that language rather than translating from your own language before you speak….

          Take the 2nd interval, in D that’s, D E, simple enough. Chances are we don’t even think about it, but do we have the same mindset for, Bb, which is Bb C. Do we just play the interval or do we consciously have to remember it?

          I read somewhere that you need to remember the difference in pitch? between the two notes rather the actual notes, or something like that…!

          William Cingolani

            What helps me remember the
            1, 4, 5 is from playing the 1,4,5 in all keys on the guitar for so many years. I never was good on the guitar but I did learn the 1, 4, 5. I remember playing simple 12 bar blues like “Don’t be cruel” before I knew it was a 12 bar blues.


              Thanks Johnny – my question was in the context of playing along to a 12 bar blues in G major, improvising solely in the major scales only, using identical step combinations for each chord root note.

              So for the G,C & D chords, as an example i could be playing using a 1233 step combination

              I was trying to see if there was a short cut method of remembering what the Iv’th intervals in G, C & D.
              I’m working in the 12 bar blues in G major for the next 8 weeks, i’ve been doing it now for 2 weeks,
              and i’ve noticed just by repeatedly playing in this scale for several weeks with various intervals or steps, i can reel
              off the the intervals or steps in G major without having to think what they are.

              So my teacher stands there, puts on the backing track, and sometimes says play the 5th, now the 2nd etc, rather than
              saying play D now the A etc.. or instead of starting on the root note, start on the 3rd interval etc..

              I only need the short cuts when i’m not familiar with a scale, so the I, IV V rock n roll is useful for getting the 4th down
              without thinking about it. it’s no different to sight reading, the more you practice the less you think what note am i playing
              on the sheet.

              Also doing similar things in the Basic Blues in G major so for 1233 steps



                he asks you to play the degree of the scale rather than the name of the note because that’s the best way to learn it.
                at this point you’re not looking at the big picture because your exercises have you working in G. so you’re thinking gabb etc
                but rather start thinking that as 1233 because later when you graduate to another key you’ll already know the riffs from the G scale
                and transposing them as 123 instead of gab makes this possible and much easier.
                so now you’re working in F so you already know that 123 will be fga. this can be a great mental exercise to do even away from your instrument…
                pick a note and think what the 123 is in it’s major key. then 1235 etc but do this in all keys but start with the easier and most used keys with on or 2 flats or sharps before you worry about the harder ones.

                Pro’s will always talk numbers rather than note names because if the singer or producer in a recording session decides to change key
                the note names way goes out the window, but by talking degrees or numbers it exactly the same

                Michael Bishop

                  Hi Sxpoet,
                  What Johnny is saying above is so, so important! In working with guys on the Blues Society here locally, everyone communicates with each other exactly like he is saying above. when I was working on committing these intervals to my memory with my scales, here’s what I did that really helped me out. I don’t really have a name for this technique, so let’s call this technique “Grouping the chords/intervals into Families” Here’s how it works(take this one step at a time)
                  Let’s take the key of G like your teacher says. First, let’s take the one chord–You know the one chord in G is G-B-D-F#, right? Play only that one chord, don’t even think about any other interval at this point, think ONLY the one chord to start off with. Now play it from the lowest range of your Sax to the highest range you can play. Work on it from top-to-bottom. After you feel comfortable with that, take that same 1 interval and ‘invert’ the order of the chord in this first interval of the key of G that you’re working on, meaning you can start on different degrees within that 1 chord itself. Start from B and play B, D, F#, and G. Play it from the lowest range of your Sax to as high as you care to go. Invert the 1 chord again, starting from D and play D, F#, G, B. Start from F# and play F#, G, B, and D. Remember while doing this that were still working on the first interval of G…don’t even think about any other interval at this point. You’re working on this first interval only. After you feel comfortable with playing this first interval/chords of this first interval, then take the chords of the first degree in G that you’re working on and play UP the chords WITHOUT coming down and invert the order of the chord again. In other words, start from as low as you can on the Sax and work UPWARDS on your Sax: G-B-D,F#/ B-D-F#-G/ D-F#,G,B/ F#,G,B,D Notice how we invert the order of the chord while working on this. Next do the same thing but start as high as you can and work DOWN without coming up (were still in the first degree of the scale in the key of G that you’re working on) Take it one step further and get creative and play this 1st degree of the scale with some swing/bebop/rhythm in your mind, makes it much more interesting and fun v.s. playing up-and-down in a robotic manner.
                  The point being is to play the first degree & its chord in G that your teacher has you working on in every which way you can think of to the point that you know this 1 degree of the scale/the chord of this 1st degree like the back of your hand. When you can play the first degree of G Major with your eyes closed, then the next thing is to take the 2ND DEGREE of G Major that you’re working on, which would be A and practice ONLY this 2nd degree like I described above. Don’t even think about any other degree of the scale except for this 2nd degree. After you know it like the back of your hand, then work 3RD degree of G Major (which is B), the 4th degree (which is C) and so on.
                  After you have worked on all the degrees in G and you know the chords for each of those degrees and can play them instinctively, then start playing some interesting mental games with yourself and ‘test’ yourself. For starters, let’s take a standard Blues progression of 1-4-5 in G Major. This is where you dig into what you’ve been working on…remember how Johnny was talking about this system that musicians use to communicate with each other? Start on the 1 and work it from top-to-bottom. Then do the same thing with the 4, the 5 and back to 1. Take other popular chord progressions music like 1-4-5-4/ 1-2-4-5/ 1-6-2-5/ 2,5,1……the list goes on and on. We’re not thinking about the notes of the scale itself, we’re thinking about the degree of the scale. If we have learned our scales inside-and-out, we shouldn’t have to even think about them. All’s we do is think about which degree of that scale and just play it. Take any degree of G that you can think of and just play it. Which is the first degree that comes into your mind? What ever degree comes into your mind, just play it. At this point, you should be able to pull out any degree of the scale, at will, without even blinking about it. You can take the same approach to your minor scales, diminished scales, bebop Scales, Blues Scales, dominant chords, modes of the scales, the list goes on and on. If you want to jump into the world of Improvising, this is where it all starts and like Johnny is saying above it’s about thinking in terms of the degrees/intervals of a scale v.s. thinking about the notes itself.


                    Thanks Johnny,
                    For the last 2 weeks working on the blues in G major, what my teacher has had me doing, is practing with the 1st degree for each bar. Then moving up to practing with the 1st two degrees for each bar, then the 1st three degrees for each bar, all the way up to using all the degrees in the scales. Which is the easiest way to remember each degree without having to think about. So After 2 weeks, i can play any degree without thinking about it. He uses the word steps which is just another way of saying degrees.

                    I can by his method, once you can recall and play any degree at random, playing chords etc is a piece of cake.

                    What i was doing was asking to see if there were any other short cuts like the learning the 1 4 5 in rock and roll you mentioned, but at the end of the day what he is doing is the correct way to master degrees without having to think about them – ie practice the 12 bar chords and master a new degree once i’ve mastered the previous ones.

                    The other factor in playing these simple to start exercises, is to get the feel for the chords coming up in different bars, is not just rely on the knowledge of what bar chord is coming up, but to also recognise the name and what each one sounds like.


                      i’ve got it worked out now,
                      basicaly when i’m playing along to a 12 bar blues in G major, which uses the I,IV,V chords belonging to G major which is G,C,D. If i’m just playing the major scales to the backing track, then i need to learn 7 degrees for each of G,C,D major scales to jam along to the different bar chords – if i’m going to play say the same 1,4,3,2 pattern in each different bar chord.

                      However, when i’m playing the basic blues along to the same 12 bar blues backing track in G major – where i’m restricted to playing the 6 notes G Bb C C# D F, i now need to learn the 6 degrees starting on G and the 6 degrees starting on C, and the 6 degrees starting on D , so for playing a 1 4 3 2 pattern in each of the 3 different bar chords, i would play
                      G,C#,C,Bb or C,F,D,C# or D,Bb,G,F

                      I can see now why my teacher has given a minimum of 10 weeks to learn all these degrees by heart,
                      its something thats easier to recall by practicing it on the sax over and over, learning a new degree every few days or weeks.
                      Theres no way you could do all that in a couple of days and be able to resl it off (in may situation)

                      Thanks for your help Johnny,
                      its helped to reinforce grasping
                      the bigger picture of what my teacher is doing. I’ve got to a bit careful, as he does teach Jazz as well as the blues, classicsl & rocknroll styles and the jazz improvisation looks horrendous

                    Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
                    • You must be logged in to reply to this topic.