Monthly Archives: October 2013


By Mait Jüriado


If you are freaking out about having to learn your pitch interval, then fear not, it is definitely not magic. For years I used to think people either had perfect pitch or they didn’t and I mostly didn’t. Wrong!

Pitch Intervals were part of the Aural Test in my grade 4 sax exam and I totally freaked out when I heard I had to know them, until a friend uttered the word ‘mnemonics‘ in my ear. I managed to learn them all in a week and get a perfect score on my Aural test. So no excuses.
What’s a Pitch Interval?
A pitch interval is the difference in frequency between two notes. This can be measured in semitones (half steps) but in music speak it goes like this -

  • Unison = Same Pitch
  • Minor 2nd = Difference of one semitone
  • Major 2nd = two semitones
  • Minor 3rd = 3 semitones
  • Major 3rd = 4 semitones
  • Perfect 4th = 5 semitones
  • Tritone (augmented 4th) = 6 semitones
  • Perfect 5th = 7 semitones

and so on. There are 12 different intervals in an octave and depending on the grade, you may need to know them all.


What’s a Mnemonic?
By definition mnemonic is a technique used to remember stuff. There are many different types mnemonics to remember all sorts of stuff.You may for example use a phrase like ‘Richard of York Gave Battle In Vane’ to remember the colours of the rainbow. For remembering Pitch Intervals what you need is part of a memorable song, or rather 10 songs if you need to learn a full octave. Assuming you can tell when two notes are an octave apart.

If we take the Minor 2nd, there are two notes which are one semitone apart like C and C#. If you were to play these over and over, I’d guarantee you’d start to hear the theme tune to Jaws. If you do then you have your first mnemonic to remember the Minor 2nd. And there you have it.

Now you just need to find a tune ‘WHICH YOU CAN REMEMBER’ to represent every interval in the octave. I can;t stress how important it is to make these your own. Some like Jaws and Star Wars for the perfect fifth are easy, but others like the tritone are harder to find tunes for. I’d suggest you write down several songs for each interval and workout which one jumps out at you when you hear the two notes.


My mnemonics for pitch intervals

  • Jaws – Minor 2nd
  • Happy Birthday – Major 2nd
  • Brahms Lullaby – Minor 3rd
  • While Shepherd – Major 3rd
  • Wedding march – Perfect 4th
  • Purple Haze or The Simpsons – Tritone
  • Star wars – perfect 5th
  • Chopin Valse op 64 no 2 – Minor 6th (like I said some were tricker than others)
  • My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean – Major 6th
  • Star trek original – Minor 7th
  • Take on Me (A-Ha) – Major 7th (craping that barrel)
  • Octave – Somewhere over the Rainbow


MP3 playlist
Once you have a selection, then I’d recommend making a playlist on your preferred digital music player, iPhone or in my case Spotify


Then stick it on shuffle and try to guess the interval for each tune. I found having a few crappy tunes you don’t like is not such a bad thing and may even speed up the process as your brain works overtime so you can skip it to the next song. A good idea to have your list written down so you can quickly check if you are right. This is a great little exercise to do while cooking and you don’t get many of those when learning the saxophone.


Ear Trainer App (Pitch Interval test)
Once you feel you know the songs and can tell the interval, then it’s time to move to the next level. Unless you have someone who can test you, the get your hand the Ear Trainer for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. It will create a little quiz for you, where it plays a middle C and another note. You then have to play the two notes on a little piano keyboard. The move on to the next two and so on.

If you can guess..I mean identify the intervals in your song list and get the questions right on the Ear Trainer most of the time, then success is guaranteed.

If all this is still way too confusing, then watch this guy on You Tube, he’s very funny and you’ll feel a lot better about taking his on.

Good luck!



Saxophone exams -
The Wolf Law Library


A lot has happened since my last post almost 9 months ago. Unfortunately maintaining this blog had to take a backseat. The good news is I haven’t stopped playing, and the really great news is I’ve chalked up my grade 4 jazz saxophone exam from Trinity College. You may think jazz exam is a bit of an oxymoron but I figured this was the only way I was going to learn all the things I’d normally avoid – scales, theory, site reading and stress.

I’d been playing saxophone for a year when I took my exam in June, but my teacher convinced me that grade 3 or 4 would be within my reach. So with 3 moths to go, I opted for grade 4. Unlike nearly all other types of exams, doing the previous grades are not a prerequisite for music exams. And I’m not getting any younger.

In this post I wanted to cover some of the considerations when doing a saxophone exam in the UK. Depending on my stamina I may split this out into several posts.

Which exam board?

In the UK there are three options

* Trinity Guildhall (Grade 1-8 Jazz exams)

* The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music ABRSM (Grade 1-5 Jazz exams)

* London College of Music (Grade 1-8 and diplomas)

I opted for Trinity because I’d done some exams before as a teenager and thought it sounded more official. Well if you are going to do exams… There were of course other more practical plus points

* Option to do scales study where you learn three pieces of music instead of remembering the dozen or more scales. Result! Well I’ve just not been playing long enough to remember all that.

* Option to chose/avoid music theory – wish I’d done this instead of sight reading

* Option to avoid sight-reading. Wish I had

Choosing the pieces?
Unfortunately, unlike ABRSM, Trinity does’t provide all the pieces you need in one book. You have to choose 3 pieces from about 50 spread across a couple of dozen books. As most of the pieces are designed to test rather than entertain, you are not going to be able to listen to them on Youtube or Spottily before buying them and buying them all is not viable.

For my 3 pieces I went for

In A Sentimental Mood
One of the few classics I recognised in the syllabus. Turned out to be a bit of a mistake playing this first and possibly choosing it in the first place. With the exam day performance anxiety, the breadth control needed for this was beyond me.


Skidaddle by James Rae
This being a jazz exam, one piece has to be improvised, and this was a good choose. I hand’t learnt to improvise in the time I’d been playing, so this certainly forced the pace and on the day really saved my neck


Exercise 14 from 24 Melodic Studies for Saxophone

A random lucky dip I ended up with by going cheap on Amazon. This was one of the better ones out of a bunch of books I’d bought cheap from the list

You can see the latest Trinity woodwind and jazz syllabus here []


Scales and arpeggios or Exercises
Ok, so I set out hoping the exam would force me to learn my scales and arpeggios but seeing the words ‘…or Exercises’ on that syllabus was enough to cause an acute dose of selective amnesia. Personally I wish I’d had the time to learn the scales and Arpeggios. I really don’t think the Exercises are a good test but it did the trick

Supporting Test
For this section I chose Aural and Site Reading over Improvisation and Musical Knowledge. The Aural was a great choice and a good skill to have as a saxophone player. The site reading was a poor choice and a critical skill to have for a Jazz Musician. While I understand there are techniques for improving your site reading, this is not something you can cram. My standard after one year of playing was just not good enough.

Exam Day and Result!!
One thing I’d underestimated was the huge level of anxiety leading up to and during the exam. So if you want to do well, I’d recommend doing a few of the earlier grades to just get into the habit of playing under exam conditions. This also means having a few more months and years playing under your belt.

But I knew I was taking a gamble and while I had secretly hoped for a better grade, I got a comfortable pass, which was more than I deserved.

I am definitely glad I did this exam but be warned, it will take a lot of patience, especially from your neighbours who’ll have to listen to the same short repertoire day in day out.