4 Ways To Develop Relative Pitch

by Rodrigo Sanchez, Jun 4, 2021 . 3 min read

4 Ways To Develop Relative Pitch

The 4 ways to develop relative pitch are quite easy to apply. Like most things music related, all it takes is practice and dedication.

These tips will help you develop a strong relative ear that will make a huge difference in your playing. You will be able to understand songs better, feel more “inside the music”, and your understanding of harmony and melody will be better. Simply said, a good relative ear will make you a better musician. So make sure your instrument is in tune and let’s go. Here are 4 ways to develop relative pitch.

Practice intervals

Intervals are the distance there is between two notes and the building blocks of melodies. For instance, between C and D there is an interval of a major second. Learn all of the intervals and a reference song that starts with them. For instance, the classic “Amazing Grace” starts with a perfect fourth interval. That means that the distance between the very first note and the second note of that melody is a perfect fourth apart. Take time to learn all intervals and practice them all over the fretboard. 

Learn to recognize chord qualities

Can you tell the difference between a major and minor chord? How about a dominant seventh and major. This is not hard to do and will yield great benefits. Take your guitar and play an A major chord. Really listen to its sound, then try playing an A minor chord. What do you hear? Does one feel sadder or more melancholic than the other? Does one spark joy? Answer these questions for yourself, as the abstract feel of each chord type is very subjective. Just play different qualities of chords and listen carefully to what they sound like. Do this daily and soon you will be able to tell the difference between chord qualities. 

Start thinking about and recognizing chord progressions

There are certain chord progressions that are used endlessly in popular music. Learning to recognize these four or five highly used progressions will help you understand music better. First, you won’t have to think of chords only as completely separate units. Second, you will be able to hear and discern what is being played much faster. Third, you will learn songs, parts and even chord solos at a faster rate. For instance, the I V vi IV progression has been used in countless hits over the years.  

Test it all with a friend

You can practice all of the above by yourself to help you develop a good relative ear. Once you do that, the best way and most fun way to test it is to use the help of a friend. Obviously, it would be better if this friend is also a musician. Ask them to play intervals on the guitar or piano, and you have to recognize them. Do the same for chord qualities and chord progressions. This will make both of you develop a keen relative pitch.

These 4 ways to develop relative pitch will make a big difference in your musicianship. Understanding what you are playing or what is being played is one of the strongest assets musicians can have. Take the time to deliberately practice these exercises consistently and you will feel the change. Ear training is often neglected by many musicians, as it is not as sexy as playing a fast guitar solo or a killer distorted line. However, being able to tell what you’re listening to in music is one of the traits that separates the greats from the averages. So let’s sharpen those listening skills! 

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