Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to think and talk about music like a pro? To be able to name intervals or scale degrees and be able to sing them, hear them in your head?
This skill, also known as relative pitch, is really not that hard to develop. It just takes some time and effort.
What if you had a way to learn relative pitch that was a game, like solving a crossword puzzle or sudoku puzzles? Something fun that gave you a vacation from news and the general media madness swirling around you and in your own head?
I believe that one of the reasons why sudoku puzzles are so popular is the simple fact that we can only hold one thought at a time consciously. If you are working out a puzzle you are not using your mind to worry or obsess, you are living in a different world for a while.
Today I would like to offer you a couple of ways to do interval training for music as a game. A very low tech game. Something you can do to get away from your apps and screens and just enjoy some quality analog time with a pencil and a piece of sheet music paper at most. No Batteries! You can even do a version of this game in your head with no tools other than your imagination and optional vocal chords.
The game is “Sing the Numbers”. Instead of ABC or Do Re Mi, its 1, 2, 3… . Start with the major scale and sing 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,1, etc… This is your home base. If you can sing an octave with numbers (or hear them in your head) you can find the rest of the chromatic pitches as needed by singing a note next to the one you are looking for and then dropping or rising a half pitch.
You may need to do this with a piano, guitar, or a chromatic tuner that tells you what note you are singing until you get enough chops to fly solo.
You can then write out a song or riff as a series of numbers. It magically transforms a familiar tune into something new and interesting.
When I first started doing this, i had problems with jumping octaves. It can be tricky to keep track of the numbers when you go up or down an octave.
I ended up using sheet music in a new way. You use the middle three lines to write numbers in for the main octave. When you go up an octave, go up one line for your new base line. With a five line staff, you could represent as many as seven octaves, and still have the numbers touching one of the lines on the staff.
In the illustration I give you 5 examples of how to use sheet music paper for scale degree puzzles.
This shows you three full octaves of a major scale. You could play these notes on any standard 10 hole diatonic harmonica by starting on blow 1 and working your way up to the top note in hole 10 blow.
“Happy Birthday” – When you write this song out in scale degrees it makes sense in a new way. I have been confused by this simple tune in the past because it doesn’t start on the 1, it starts on the 5, and resolves to the one only at the end, and in a higher octave than the one you started with.
It’s fine if you are just singing the song, but here is what happened to me: I got elected to play guitar and I hummed a starting note and then used that starting note as the root of the first chord, and then instantly crashed and burned.
I’ve also played “Happy Birthday” on the harmonica and did not crash and burn instantly, but later on when my “first note is the root” met reality in the second part of the song and I ended up in the weeds while everyone else finished the song… After sounding like a dumb-ass several times at birthday parties I finally sat down and figured out what the hell was going on with this tune.
“Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high… there’s a land that I heard of, once in a lullaby…
The Blues Scale. Now you are getting into notes in-between the notes of the major scale.
“You say that it’s over, baby” – The first line of the song that starts off Janis Joplin’s last album, “pearl” – the name of the song is “Move Over”. It is easy to find on Youtube if you want to listen to the source…
I recorded some more thoughts on this process here:
and if you want to print out a sheet of blank sheet music, you can find a pdf to print here:
When you play an instrument that comes in all twelve keys, relative pitch is an awesome super power to have. Go for it!
Hey if you want, leave me a comment below, better yet, put up a scale degree musical puzzle and see who guesses the riff or tune first…
Here is a riff to decode to start playing “Name it and Claim it”:
1 b3 4
1 b3 b5 4
1 b3 4
The first person to name this tune in the comments gets a $10 gift certificate from yours truly, good for anything in the store at hotrodharmonicas.com