Monthly Archives: April 2014

Nothing more than intervals

I am learning music theory, nearly half a century after learning to play music. Currently, I am learning to hear melodic intervals. Hit a key on a piano, and then another key. The distance between those keys is the interval.

Music theorists are expected to recognize twelve intervals, everything from a Minor Second–think The Jaws Theme–to an octave–the same note, one octave higher or lower. (Technically, there are thirteen intervals, but Unison is simply the same note repeated.)

The typical way to learn intervals is to associate each interval with a piece of music. There are websites with suggested song lists, here, for example.

It is novel to group songs by something other than genre, instruments, vocal range, etc. Who knew that Greensleeves, Smoke on the Water, and O Canada shared the same interval between the first two notes of each song?

Ideally, I should have twenty-four melodies in my mental catalog: Twelve for the upward intervals, and twelve for the downward intervals. (Unison is the same note twice. If I get stuck, the first two, no, three notes of the First Movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.)

Picking melodies has been harder than I expected. Easy: Amazing Grace, Upward Perfect Fourth. I know the tune well, it is the first two notes of the song, and helpfully, the second note is long, imitating the way that intervals are played. Compare that with another popular melody for the Upward Perfect Fourth, Here Comes The Bride. Bride starts with a long note, Here…., and then three short notes in succession, comes the bride. Instead of the la, laaaaa that I want, it has laaa, la-la-la.

Other easy interval melody choices: Star Wars Theme, Upward Perfect Fifth, Over the Rainbow, Upward Octave.

Some intervals are much tougher. Fewer songs start with some intervals. The Upward Tritone choices are scarce–Maria, The Simpsons Theme. Fewer choices exist for downward intervals–songs go up at the start more than they go down.

Lastly, there are songs I desperately do not want in my head. The best example I have for a Descending Perfect Fifth is Feelings. It is a cuckoo, an earworm, the ex-friend I never want to think about again.

I can’t escape it, now. I’ve tried The Flintstones Theme, Duke Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing, but in the back of my mind, it is still out there, the song I know I am pushing away.

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