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.
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!!
Too easy. Every good metal rhythm contains two or more same notes in a row
The main riff of "Symphony of Destruction" - Megadeth, or "Sad But True" - Metallica
The first two notes of "Breaking the Law" - Judas Priest , or "Child in Time" of Deep Purple , or "Snowblind" - Black Sabbath
The immortal song that every guitar player should know: "Smoke on the Water" - Deep Purple , first two notes. Or "Cowboys from Hell" - Pantera , or "Jump in the Fire", Metallica
"The Number of The Beast" - Iron Maiden , "Holy Smoke", Iron Maiden
The intro of "Fear of The Dark" - Iron Maiden (I like a lot Steve Harris, did you notice that? :-) it's a descending perfect fifth and then an ascending perfect fourth.
Wow! Here's the HEAVY METAL interval. There are really a lot of songs with this kind of interval, if you talk of heavy metal. To name a few, "Black Sabbath" - Black Sabbath , "Chaos AD", Sepultura .. not enough? Pick a songs of Slayer, it should contains a diminished fifth somewhere...
"Solitude" - Candlemass, the riff with distorted guitar , "Mother Russia" - Iron Maiden (the second, polka-style riff)
First two notes of "Children of The Grave" - Black Sabbath , if you consider as bottom note the bass line and high note the guitar (otherwise technically would be a major third, the inversion of a minor sixth, as the first note of guitar starts from one octave up)
Well, it's not heavy metal but it's worth: "What's the new Mary Jane" - Beatles , very first two notes. Or if you prefer, the first notes of the soundtrack of "Bad Santa" movie, that actually are taken from Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2.
I did not find any heavy metal song with a recognizable minor seventh. You can use as reference the Star Trek Theme. Or the chorus of "Lady Jane" - Rollings Stones ; it's a descending interval, you get a minor seventh in the point in which Mick Jagger sings (This)(Play) is run my love...."
mmm not heavy metal, but very famous: "Take On Me", A-Ha . Or the interval between the bottom and the highest notes of the guitar arpeggio in the intro of "Ave Maria" - In Extremo
A good octave example it's "The Immigrant Song" - Led Zeppelin .
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