If you’ve ever struggled to find the right note at the beginning of a song, after a key change, or large leap in pitch, then you know that “raw” abilities don’t always take you to the finish line.
The good news is that some straight-forward training can help singers hit the notes they want – when they want. It’s called interval training: the recognition and practice of shifting between two notes. Some singers shy away from this training: “Can’t I simply rely on instinct and imagination to find my notes?”
The answer, of course, is yes. All people have what many musicians call an “inner ear.” We’re not talking about a biological inner ear; rather, it’s the the ability to imagine a sound.
Most experienced singers have a great inner ear, and many new singers are naturally blessed with one too. Interval training refines your inner ear to the point where you can recognize and name the sounds you hear. Developing this skill can even lead you to find almost any note precisely…and in public!
Why Do Interval Practice?
Music Teacher and Voice Specialist Kathy Alexander says that interval singing benefits singers in three ways:
- Music notation is made easier. Singers in choirs and ensembles will recognise this benefit immediately. There are many singers who have developed a rich singing life without reading music. Yet, the ability to read music adds another tool to the singer’s toolbox.
- Accuracy and confidence is improved. Large distances between two notes can sometimes present a challenge to singers. Isolating the intervals involved and working on them develops the “inner ear,” leading to more fluency in practice and performance.
- Starting notes are found. When performing, singers will often be listening to musical cues from their accompanist, band or orchestra. Often, these cues are not the starting note themselves. Knowing intervals means that singers find their note from any reference notes.
Kathy explains intervals in this excerpt from her course at Singdaptive.com
Every Singer Can Be an Interval Master
One of Kathy’s main messages is that all singers can learn intervals and reap their benefits. In fact, through this training, singers can grasp their music more deeply.
See beyond what is on the surface to the inner reality of music.Kathy Alexander
It’s a bit like the character of Neo in the Matrix who decides to take the red pill and, as a result, sees a deeper level of reality. The singer who takes the challenge of interval training becomes more aware of their music and its inner connections. They will be able to move more adeptly through their musical challenges.
You can see more about Kathy’s interval training courses here.
An Industry Pro Recommends Interval Training
We asked another Singdaptive instructor, Jaime Babbitt, to share on the value of interval training. Jaime has worked as a voice and performance coach for Disney productions – and has had an illustrious career as a session singer. Here are her thoughts on the value of intervals from an industry perspective:
Let me start by saying I truly believe in the power of interval training. It has helped (dare I say) millions of vocalists, both classical and contemporary, hone their skills and improve in leaps and bounds. In addition, I can honestly say that for me, it changed the course of my professional life as a session singer; without strengthening my relationship to musical intervals, I never would have thrived within that advertising agency/record company ‘time is money’ environment.
Become a Wonderful Sight Reader
Yes, friends, while not everyone in pop music is notating charts for their pop or alt-rock hits, you can heave a big sigh of relief if they do…and you sight read the heck out of anything they throw at you. For all you a cappella singers: there are lotsa charts; for you jazz singers, same same; and you choral singers, that’s all there is! And if you want to be a session singer and play with the big boys and girls, learn your intervals, learn solfege and be all that you can be. Yes, I know that was the slogan for a ‘Join the Army’ commercial in the US back in the day. I don’t care. It’s a good slogan.
Create Harmony Parts Like a Champ
Harmony parts can be as easy as pie or as hard as…stale pie. In country music, you don’t have a lot of choices. You find the 3rd and 5th above, and Bob’s your uncle. I’ve watched background singers in Nashville figure out parts in their heads and nail them in one take. And double that in one take. And sure, some of them went to the finest music schools in the land (Berklee, Belmont University, Indiana University, University of North Texas)…but some of them didn’t. They sang with their families on the weekends in family bands that toured locally; they sang in churches from when they were little bitty humans, hearing songs, notes and relationships between notes over and over and over again. In other words, they did interval training without even knowing they were doing it, and it paid off!
Figure Your Stuff Out Without an Instrument
Imagine the freedom you’ll have being able to figure out your lead and/or harmony part(s) all by yourself. Imagine being able to rehearse by yourself and not have to worry about other peoples’ schedules. Imagine, if you will, knowing all the note relationships so well that you can hear the intervals inside your head and pass them along to other singers on the project. They’re going to think you’re the coolest thing since sliced avocados (since no one eats gluten anymore, y’know…), invite you to all their parties where you’ll meet the love of your life, get engaged, get married, have kids, buy a house with a huge music room where you’ll be able to rehearse by yourself and not have to blah blah blah…
Are There any Cons to Interval Training?
I’m looking hard to find some cons to interval training, and I must admit I’m hard-pressed to come up with any.
However, one that stands out to me is this: Sometimes too much training can make for some stiffness, especially if you’re trying to get better at riffing in the R&B, jazz or alt-rock and pop or punk styles. While pitch accuracy is always important, fluidity and vibe matters in these musical worlds. A lot.
In these worlds, the emphasis is on an inspirational performance, not a mechanical one, both live and in studio. While interval training offers the precision many singers yearn for, it could also detract from the spontaneity of the moment, especially during a live show. I’m not saying it always will, just that the risk could be higher. So, if you’re studying and you feel like it’s cramping your style, ease up on the interval training. You can always come back to it. Also, for some styles of music, like certain types of punk or death metal, knowing your intervals might not be first on your musical to-do list. (*To all you punk/death metal singers: I’m not judging at all; I’m just observing. Your mojo matters most. Side note: any lack of concern in the area of interval training has no bearing on another fact: you need to take care of your voices, too. Ask Melissa Cross, who conceived of “The Zen of Screaming”; go look her up!)
But still, I’m a fan of learning stuff, so I say: master those intervals. Hey, I once had an English professor tell me this regarding writing, but it makes total sense for music, too: Learn all the rules, and then break them as you see fit. Take Picasso, for example; he learned about and painted in lots of other styles before he landed on his unique, art-world-altering way of expressing himself.
So, all the best with your interval training…and may the fourth be with you.
Ahem. See what I did there?
Kathy Alexander is VP of Curriculum for Singdaptive. She was a staff writer for 6 years at VoiceCouncil Magazine and works for the University of Victoria as a practicum supervisor. Kathy is also a singer, vocal coach and choir director. See more about Kathy here.
Jaime Babbitt toured with Leon Russell and Sam Moore, sang jingles for Coke, Pillsbury, Chevy, etc., BGVs with George Strait, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Courtney Love and more, and coached voice/performance for Disney. See more about Jaime here.
Singdaptive is the new way to learn singing and reach your singing goals. You’ll receive personal one-on-one coaching through video exchanges with a lead instructor who is supported by a multidisciplinary instructor team. You will do this at your own time and pace. Because we have a diverse team, you can work on any singing-related goals from technique, to performance, recording, vocal health, vocal effects, promotion and more…