Aural Comprehension Guide
David Loberg Code Western Michigan University
The end-product of dictation is a visual representation of a sound or collection
of sounds. The purpose of this visual representation is to communicate what
the sound(s) are to someone who has not heard it. There are several stages
within this process, each of which is an important musical skill and each
of which can be the source of difficulties:
Diagnosing Dictation Problems
1. HEARING. A musical excerpt is not heard correctly. It is rare for a student
at the college level to possess a hearing disability (i.e. a physical or
neurological problem) of which they were not previously aware, but occasionally
2. REMEMBERING. A musical excerpt is heard, but it is not remembered correctly.
One way to assess memory problems is to sing back (without syllables) or
play back (on your primary instrument) the excerpt by ear. If you are unable
to replicate the excerpt in this manner, it is unlikely that you will be
able to remember it silently. To improve your memory, you should practice
playing by ear.
3. UNDERSTANDING. A musical excerpt is remembered correctly, but is not
conceptually understood. In other words, you have an accurate tape recording
in your head, but you can't figure out where the downbeats occur, or which
note is the tonic, or whether some leap is a M6 or m7. Take a melody you
already know by heart (e.g., Happy Birthday) and sing it back with solfege
syllables and/or with rhythmic syllables. A lack of understanding can also
occur if you are deficient in some aspect of music theory. For example,
if you don't know what a triad is, you can't identify and label one aurally.
Your theoretical knowledge can even help you overcome minor memory problems.
If you know there are only 4 beats per measure you should change any measure
which has more or less beats. If you think you hear an augmented interval
but you know that tonal melodies avoid these, you can 'edit' the
remembered version to omit the augmented interval. Often, the theoretically
correct version is the right one. In class, if you know that Unit II contains
no leaps greater than a third, than be sure not to have any in your dictation.
4. NOTATING. A musical excerpt is remembered and understood, but the person
does not know the proper symbols with which to notate it. There are wonderful
musicians have never learned how to read or write music, and thus can't
notate a melody. In your case, it would only be isolated items for which
you did not know the proper notation. For example, knowing a rhythm is triplets,
but not knowing whether it should be notated with 8ths or 16ths.
David Loberg Code, School of Music, Western Michigan University,
Kalamazoo, MI, 49008. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Revised: 28.Feb.99 (c) 1999