Lesson 26: Relative Pitch

This is a very effective relative pitch ear-training exercise that I came up with several years ago and have been doing fairly regularly with fantastic results. The idea is simple and can work in a variety of ways.   First download the free “10 second piano samples” folder and unzip the mp3s contained within (I used 7-zip to compress the folder).  Add the mp3s to a play-list in your media player (winamp, windows media player, Itunes, VLC player etc.).  Play the play-list and put it on shuffle and repeat. What you’ll hear is a random piano note played every 10 seconds covering 3 octaves of the piano. What I do is to first sing the new note, than analyze the interval using a  song that I already know and lastly play the note on my instrument.  You’ll have to learn to remove any double or triple octaves between the intervals but I find this to be the easiest part.  Relative pitch, once developed and refined, will allow you to do this with consistent accuracy.  If you already have well developed relative pitch this will help refine it and if you add 1 or 2 more random notes using multiple media players you’ll begin to be challenged.  Another variation is have the random notes sound over a  Drone .  I find this to be much easier since you have a constant low note to compare the random pitches to as well as the intervals between the sounding piano samples.   Lastly, try opening the same play-list in two or more media players at the same time (with or without the drone), this is where it starts to get really challenging. You have, say, 2 or more random notes sounding within 10 seconds creating chords and strange harmonic motion that tricks your ears. It becomes really intense trying to accurately analyze and play the notes by ear and you’ll stumble across some interesting harmonies as well.  This is not only a great ear-training exercise it will put you in a very relaxed and focused state of mind and help you listen well on the bandstand.


Here are two mp3s of the Notes randomized – you can play along with these by using a drone at the same time or without a drone:


10 Second Piano Samples  (put these mp3s in shuffle mode in your media player)


Here’s a link to the Drones and Pedals lesson if you want to add a drone while working with the random intervals:

drones (put on one drone using another media player to use as your root or pedal point)


Here’s  a link to a list of songs or melodies that will help you correctly identify different intervals:

melodic intervals


Easy steps for developing relative pitch using the 10 second piano samples:

1.) Play the piano samples in your media player on repeat and shuffle.

2.) Listen to the notes and sing along in what ever octave is comfortable for your voice

3.)  Try to label the intervals as they sound i.e. C to G = a perfect 5th.

4.) Try to play the notes on your instrument as they sound using this process (relative pitch: comparing the new note to the old note and determining the interval relation).

5.) Add a drone to the process for variation.

6.) Add 1 or more media players playing the same play-list to create 2 or more random notes sounding at the same time.

You’ll be able to work on this until you’re old and grey.  It’s both challenging and rewarding and will help break habits of playing memorized patterns instead of using your ears.