In last column, I showed you a way to hone your pitch and interval recognition skills by singing in harmony with every note you play on the guitar. To review quickly, we began with a simple A minor pentatonic scale as our area of focus. As each note in the scale was played, we were to sing in harmony a fifth above that pitch: For example, when playing an A note on the sixth string at the fifth fret, we were to simultaneously sing the E note above it (corresponding to the E at the seventh fret on the fifth string); while playing a C note, fifth string, third fret, we were to sing the G note above it (corresponding to the G on the fourth string at the fifth fret).
As you recall, we then applied this concept to chromatic melodies with no particular harmonic base. In other words, I encouraged you to play random pitches on the guitar while consistently singing fifths above these pitches. This exercise is far more challenging than the first one and, accordingly, is that much more beneficial, if you’re up to doing it.
Now let’s expand this exercise to the interval of major thirds. A major third is the note two whole steps above another note, which we’ll call the primary tone—i.e., if the primary tone is G, the major third of G is B, two whole steps higher; if the primary tone is Bb, the major third is D, two whole steps higher.
FIGURE 1a depicts a G minor pentatonic scale (G Bb C D F), while FIGURE 1b illustrates this same scale harmonized in major thirds. First, play the basic scale up and down a bunch of times, while singing in unison with each pitch you play. Then play the harmonized pairs of notes shown in FIGURE 1b while simultaneously singing the thirds above. Next, play only the single-note scale as shown in FIGURE 1a while singing the major third above each note. If you’re unsure of the notes you’re supposed to sing, refer to FIGURE 1b.
Once you feel you’re able to do this, proceed to FIGURES 1c and 1d. Remember, play only the lower note of each major third interval while singing the higher note (shown in parentheses). Start slowly and be sure to sing each harmonized pitch as purely and accurately as possible. Pick up the tempo as you become more comfortable, and then try branching off into your own permutations. I tell ya, you’ll amaze your friends!
Let’s now apply this study to the interval of a fourth. A fourth is the note located two and a half steps above the primary tone—i.e., if the primary tone is G, the fourth is C, two and a half steps higher; if the primary tone is Bb, the fourth is Eb, two and a half steps higher.
FIGURE 2a illustrates the G minor pentatonic scale harmonized in fourths. As you did in the previous examples, first play the harmonized pairs of notes while simultaneously singing the higher note of each pair (the fourth). Next, play only the lower note, which is the single-note scale shown in FIGURE 1a, while singing the fourth above each note as you play it.
You’ll probably find singing the fourth above each note more challenging than singing the fifth or major third, so it may take more practice and patience to get a firm grip on it. Once you get the hang of this, try playing and singing the harmonized melodies depicted in FIGURES 2b and 2c. Again, be sure to sing each harmonized pitch as purely and accurately as possible, and increase the tempo a little each time you practice the exercises.
As you get your ear chops together, don’t be afraid to venture off into unknown territory. Try expanding this concept to the interval of a minor third (one and a half steps above the primary tone) or a tritone (three whole steps above the primary tone), or even a minor ninth (six and one half steps — or an octave plus a half step – above the primary tone). But don’t bite off more than you can chew; anyone trying this for the first time may find it difficult just getting from one note to another while singing intervals of thirds or fourths above. If so, work with two notes only, and then expand to three notes. Who knows — you might even come up with something cool that you end up using in a hit song!
Now close this magazine and start playing and singing everything you play. You can even close your eyes and look to the ceiling. Try bouncing between intervals. Also, try to make odd sounds with your voice or words and attempt to get the guitar to mimic these sounds. And if you do write a hit song, I get half the publishing. Well…maybe not.