Ear Training for Metalheads

Using heavy metal songs to remember intervals

Want to improve your musical ear? Well, there are a lot of resources about that. I'd say that it's the most important skill to have for a guitar player. Here's a little ear training crash course, stage 1, from scratch: If you listen to two notes played one after the other, we are talking about interval ear training (melody) If you listen to two notes played at the same time, we are talking about harmonic ear training (harmony chords) The difference of pitch between two notes it's called "interval". In the Western Music we use 12 interval in one octave. They correspond to each fret of the guitar fretboard along one string. So, if we start from the root note C, we have the notes C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F# G, G#, A, A#, B, 12 semitones in total, one octave.

12 kinds of musical intervals

Now the ear training part: you should memorize in your brain how one specific interval sounds, so you can play music in your mind without any instrument in hands. But first let's give a name to these intervals:

  • notes C - C : 0 semitones, unison
  • notes C - C#: 1 semitone, minor second
  • notes C - D: 2 semitone, major second
  • notes C - D#: 3 semitone, minor third
  • notes C - E: 4 semitone, major third
  • notes C - F: 5 semitone, perfect fourth
  • notes C - F#: 6 semitone, diminished fifth (aka devil's interval)
  • notes C - G: 7 semitone, perfect fifth
  • notes C - G#: 8 semitone, minor sixth
  • notes C - A: 9 semitone, major sixth
  • notes C - A#: 10 semitone, minor seventh
  • notes C - B: 11 semitone, major seventh
  • notes C - C: 12 semitone, perfect octave

One song to rule them all

To give a sound to each interval name there is the following common trick: associate a fragment of a song you know to each interval kind. For example, the two beginning notes of Star Wars theme are a perfect fifth, Aida it's a perfect fourh, and so on...

Then, if you memorize the geometry of these intervals on the guitar fretboard, and you are able to hear in your mind the sound of an interval, you can literally play your guitar and hear its sound without have it in your hands. Very useful when you are on a plane. But it's even more useful during improvisation.. you can get the right note because you know what is the sound of a given fret, before you play it. This requires a lot of practice, but eventually you'll become a great guitar player and a great music improviser.

For example, the first two notes of the intro of "The number of the Beast" of Iron Maiden create a major third. The same logic for "Tormentor" of Slayer, that has a perfect fifth at the start.

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Heavy Metal Ear Training

But why I put "Heavy Metal" in the title post? Because now I'm going to list a set of heavy metal songs associated with the various musical interval kinds. As you can imagine there are a lot of heavy metal songs with the devil's interval, the diminished fifth, but you have to memorize all the kinds of interval, if you want to become a better guitar player!!

Practice, practice, practice, even when you're on-the-go

If you want to train your ear by guessing intervals name, here you can find some ear training mp3 to download. You can put them on your mp3 player and try to recognize the kind of intervals that are played (a voice will tell you the right interval after you a little pause, so you can verify if you've guessed right).

You may also find useful and hopefully fun this interactive ear training game. You can test your ability to recognize musical intervals on the guitar fretboard

And you? Wants to suggest some great heavy metal riffs associated to interval kinds? Drop a comment below!

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