Understanding Intervals On The Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Theory  /  UPDATED Jan 16, 2023

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The longer I study, teach, and play the piano, the more I realize just how important intervals are. If you want to sight read quickly, create mood with your improvisations and compositions, and play anything you hear by ear, you need to begin to understand intervals.

I see intervals in two different ways. The first is by how they sound and make us feel because each interval has a unique sound. The easiest way to explain this is to connect certain intervals to the beginnings of popular songs. A perfect 4th brings to mind the song “Here Comes the Bride”, a perfect 5th “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, and so on. This can be a very helpful way to begin memorizing the sounds of different intervals. To take this deeper, you want to begin to connect feelings or imagery to how each interval sounds. What do you think of when you hear a minor 3rd or how do you feel when you hear a major 6th? You won’t develop this overnight, but the sooner you begin to think of intervals this way, the sooner you will master them! The sharper your ear becomes, the easier it will be to hear a melody and simply play it.

The second way to think about intervals is spatially. This is key to sight reading quickly. You want to internalize and connect how intervals appear on the staff to how they are played on the piano. When you look at piece of sheet music and can identify immediately the space between two notes (the interval), you can play so much faster than if you are reading each individual note.

In this video I will be showing you how different intervals sound as well and appear on the staff. We will begin with the more common intervals and work our way up to some more complex sounds and concepts.

What is your favorite interval?

Happy practicing!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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