Whether music students find it easy or difficult to name intervals by ear, I’m sure every teacher would welcome an easy, effective and fun strategy for teaching and reviewing intervals!
I developed this ‘Interval Dash’ strategy over a long period of time. I was looking for a way to incorporate several interval-naming strategies:
- interval names, so students can identify them by name
- the tunes that help
- a visual representation of the intervals by size (distance between pitches),
- colour representation of the intervals by quality (minor/major choices, as well as perfect/augmented/diminished)
I wanted a flexible strategy that would allow me to begin with only a few intervals and then add more.
Intervals by colour
I started with a craft my students could make themselves with coloured construction paper. We made it a little at a time as we learned the intervals. Even though handmade cards don’t look as sophisticated as ones we teachers can produce and print, I feel there is educational value in the students taking an active part in making their own.
To me minor intervals have a tragic quality to them, a kind of emotive sadness, and major intervals a bright, optimistic quality. Not every teacher agrees with associating intervals with emotions, but I feel this connection and my students have had success learning intervals this way. For this reason, I feel it is effective to match the intervals to colours. If you disagree, you’re free to skip this part. That’s the lovely thing about being independent teachers! We all have autonomy over how we teach.
I allowed my students some choice over the colours they chose for their interval cues, but suggested:
- YELLOW for perfect intervals ~ P1 (we labelled it PU), P4, P5 and P8. Yellow is a primary colour, which I feel aptly represents the purity and boldness of perfect intervals.
- MELLOW for minor intervals ~ m2, m3, m6. Light blue or purple seem to visualize the feeling of these intervals.
- ROSY/PEACHY for Major intervals ~ M2, M3, M6. Orange or pink seem to capture the cheerful quality of major intervals.
- DEEP BLUE for the minor 7th ~ m7. This is a very bluesy interval, and it needs a strong differentiation from the Major 7th.
- BRIGHT RED for the Major 7th ~ M7. This is a very steep, assertive sound. I feel it needs an aggressive colour to help tell it apart from the m7.
- Notice that the m7 and M7 are similar colours to the rest of the minor and Major intervals, but ramped up a bit in hue.
- GREEN for the Tritone ~ A4/d5. Green is a composite colour. This interval stands out and has an unstable quality that needs to look different from the others.
After a while it started looking like a small hop scotch. Keep reading to learn how to turn this mini version into a life-sized hop scotch! It’s a FREE printable!
Intervals by spatial association
The cues are placed on the floor in a very specific pattern. The student sits at the base, near the Perfect Unison, and the rest of the intervals are arranged in ascending order. This visualizes the span between the two pitches that form each interval. A 3rd is a smaller interval than a 6th, and in this design, the 3rd is spatially closer to the student, signifying the smaller interval. This is very suggestive of how the intervals behave in notation, but allows the student to build a spatial-aural association without notation.
Similarly, the minor and major intervals are situated side-by-side, the minor to the left and the Major to the right. This is because minor intervals are smaller, Major bigger. If you start on C and play up a minor second, then start on C again and play up a Major second, the minor doesn’t go as far right on the keyboard, and the Major goes further right. That’s why we place the Major interval to the right.
Not shown is the Tritone (A4, d5), which will be discussed later.
How do you introduce intervals? With the pacing of your method book? Do you follow the guidelines of a conservatory program that requires students to name only a few at a time? No problem! This teaching aid is flexible and can work with any system or any order of introducing intervals!
Simply only use the cue cards your student needs, and then add on as they learn more. As your student grows, they’ll accumulate cues.
This was the approach I took with my students. I’d guide them to make their own coloured cue cards with large print for the interval names and small print for the matching song titles. Each time we learned new intervals, we’d simply add on and make new cards.
For each new interval, start with the sound and singing the song. For a long, long time keep interval identification in the realm of ear work and these cue cards only. After some experience you’ll be able to add the elements of identification on the keyboard and in notation, as well.
To increase the chances of success, keep the choices to only a few — perhaps starting with only two and expanding from there one or two more at a time, always adding new ones over a period of time (weeks, months or years), keeping the ones already known. You’ll know that your students are ready for new intervals when they have gained confidence with the ones they’re already naming.
At one point my students had learned all Perfect intervals, plus the 2nds, 3rds and 6ths.
Then we added the Major and minor 7ths.
When the Tritone is added, one way to visualize its pitch position between the Perfect Fourth and Fifth is to simply set it to the side and somewhat between. Kids LOVE the Tritone!
How we actually play
With the hand-sized interval cue cards, here’s usually how we set it up:
- Each student builds their card “tower” from the smallest interval up.
- Each student sits at the base of their own tower, in front of the smallest interval, so it makes sense visually.
- On the cards are several bits of information: In large print, the abbreviated interval name (e.g. P5), in small print the full name (Perfect Fifth) and the tune that helps the child (Star Wars).
- The teacher plays an interval on the piano from the choices, usually a melodic interval (one note after the other), and in the beginning, always up (ascending).
- Students dash to clap their hand down on the card they feel names the interval.
- After all students have picked a card, the teacher confirms who got it, and goes through a quick review of the song to reinforce it to anyone who didn’t get it that time.
- In time, after students are more reliable naming up (ascending) intervals, add down (descending) intervals into the mix.
- To add a random, chaotic element when all intervals are known, I stand with my back to the piano and play two keys I can’t see, and the students make their guesses. Kids LOVE keeping it playful.
- When the game ends, students stack their interval cue cards starting always with the P1, smallest to biggest. Even this step is designed to reinforce their understanding of intervals by size. We store them with paperclips.
- The printable comes with more ideas!
How we made it life-size
Because it started looking like a mini hop scotch, I decided to kick it up a notch and make it life-size. This was after we had already been using the hand-sized cue cards for about a year-and-a-half.
Now students could use their whole bodies to jump to the interval names they heard.
Because my students have been exploring intervals for so long (by sound and also on the keyboard, something not discussed in this post), I was able to let them run the game all on their own. They took turns playing intervals on the piano and guessing by ear.
The original handmade cues had the tunes written on the front. This was helpful because the students were just learning their intervals.
Now that we’ve progressed and they are better at identifying their intervals by ear, I’ve designed the larger format to have only the interval names and abbreviations on the front (moving song cues to the back), both for ascending and descending intervals.
Get your life-size Interval Dash FREE!
There are two ways you can get the Interval Dash Hop Scotch!
- On my Printables page, get the download for only $8.99 (less for US, UK and EU teachers)
- FREE! Blog Email followers can get it free!*
Here are the features you’ll love:
- Printable on 8 1/2 x 11 paper.
- The PDF is printable in black and white, and won’t break the bank to print. Colour paper is cheaper than colour printing.
- Designed with a playful ‘hop scotch’ aesthetic with chalk borders and font.
- On the reverse side of each square, print ready-made quick reference ascending and descending cue tunes.
- Each back page also comes with a blank staff where you can add your own tunes in case you prefer different ones.
- Song titles and cue tunes are on the back only, for an added challenge.
- Save time! While you could make this yourself, it is faster and easier to get it for FREE in your inbox!
Have you seen Leapin’ Lemurs? Here’s a fun way to teach and review intervals by leapin’ on the piano keys! Get these sweet, professionally-designed lemurs for FREE, just by following my blog!
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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤
Video of the Week
Blue Train (Late Elementary, Level 2), twelve bar blues with swing and blues scale! From the print and eBook The Color Collection, Early to Late Intermediate Piano Solos. Or, check out the Blue Train eSheet!