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Learn to Hear Musical Intervals in Seasonal Songs: Hanukkah

Updated on June 6, 2016

One huge element in being able to sight-sing or to mentally read music is the ability to know and to hear the intervals with the mind's ear.

A music interval is the tonal distance between two tones or pitches. Musicians use names to describe these distances, using a number and a descriptive word. The number measures the steps between tones, counting both the first and last tone. (For example, from C to F is a fourth: C D E F - four tones, counting both the C and the F.) The description may be major (M), minor (m), perfect (P), augmented or diminished.

Certain intervals are fairly easy to hear and recognize. Most people, including non-musicians, can hear the interval of an octave. An ascending fourth (moving from the lower to the higher tone) is also fairly easy to recognize. It's the sound of the first two notes in "Here Comes the Bride" and the second and third notes in "Day Is Done" (Taps).

Menorah on the Shelf


A Method for Learning

How did I know that these two songs are examples of ascending fourths? Well, I knew it because someone somewhere noticed the fact and pointed it out to someone else, and then that knowledge was passed along to many other people, and I heard it too.

One very good way to learn to hear intervals with the mind is to associate specific intervals with music you already know. Songs for special occasions may be particularly helpful, because they are often associated with happy feelings, and also because they may have greater longevity than the most popular song of the moment.

When someone who is knowledgeable hears a certain interval and tells you "This is a minor third," then when you hear that sound again you will know that you are hearing a minor third. If you need to sing a minor third, you can pull the sound from your storehouse of knowledge. Sometimes you may need to sing a bit of the original song where you first learned to recognize the interval, in order to reassure yourself that you are, in fact, singing a minor third. (Occasionally, when I hear an interval that I think may be a perfect fourth, I will need to check myself or confirm my suspicion by singing or humming the first sounds from "Here Comes the Bride.")

Enjoy Music with Them While They Are Young

It's helpful to learn the sound of the interval ascending (or rising) as well as descending, since the same two tones may give slightly different impressions when moving in the two different directions. It's also usually most helpful to learn an interval as the first two notes of the song,  but that is not always possible. The second best option is to hear and learn the interval in a very noticeable spot in the music - a place that is easy to remember and recall.

So, here is a list of places where you can find some important intervals in songs of Hanukkah. Not all intervals are represented at this time, but as others are discovered, this list will be expanded. [Note that there is more than one version of some of these songs. The version of Ner Rishon referenced here can be heard at Some other versions have vastly different intervals than those listed below.]

The words or syllables shown in brackets are present to provide some context for the specific tones that make up the indicated interval.

Hanukkah Music for Your Listening Enjoyment

Intervals in Some Songs of Hanukkah, including "Candlelight"

descending m2
Y'shu [-a] 
Maoz Tzur 
ascending M2
[up in the air] some-times
descending M2
 [Y’] shu-a
Maoz Tzur
0:05 (stylized, hard to hear)
ascending m3
we put
Ner Rishon 
ascending m3
[some-] times say-[in']
descending m3
lai--- (gliding)
Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah!
0:03.5 - 0:04
descending M3
Lai, lai
Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah!
ascending P4
[Chanukah,] Oh, Cha[-nukah]
Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah!
0:08, also 0:12
ascending P4
Blessings on the Menorah
ascending P4
[ma-]oz Tzur
Maoz Tzur
0:01.5 - 0:02
ascending P4
Tzur Y'
Maoz Tzur
descending P4
ma-oz [1st repetition]
Maoz Tzur
ascending P5
ti Le
Maoz Tzur
ascending P5
And while [we’re ....]
Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah!
descending P5
[And] while we’re
Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah!
ascending M6
ner rishon [1st repetition]
Ner Rishon
descending M6
[in the] air some-[times]
ascending m7
Blessings on the Menorah
0:41.5 - 0:42.5
Words in parentheses and/or brackets are for providing context only.

One More Resource - You've Got to See This One; It's Fabulous!

Oh, Chanukah, Oh, Chanukah (Tzlil V'Zemer Boys Choir)

Maoz Tzur, sung a cappella

Blessings on the Menorah


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