Aural Comprehension Guide

David Loberg Code          Western Michigan University

Melodic Dictation

In melodic dictation exercises you will initially be given the tonic, the key, the meter, the tempo, and the first pitch. (Gradually these luxuries will be phased out) When taking dictation:
1. Write in bar lines in advance, leaving plenty of room. Think about
what kind of material you expect to hear.
2. Establish the tempo mentally in advance and think the
meter throughout. To keep your place, either conduct or mouth the
beats silently with your lips. Never tap your foot.
3. Listen to the exercise. Try to remember it. Try to perform it in your head. That way you can play it back as many times as you want.
4. Work at the tempo of the exercise; that is don't get stuck on one measure while the rest of the passage goes by. It is much better to fill in many measures incompletely then to get only the first one perfect.
5. Listen for patterns: scale-wise movement, arpeggios, sequences, etc. Jot these down in short-hand or some kind of graphic notation. You can go back later and re-copy it in standard notation.
6. Whenever possible, check your notation against reference points (downbeats, tonics, dominants, repeated notes). Don't make each event depend on the preceding one only.
7. think. Think. THINK! Use common sense. Use what you learned in theory class to make educated decisions. Use any information you know in advance about what kind of material you expect.
8. Work AWAY from the keyboard. Use the piano ONLY if you are practicing by yourself and believe your work is correct.

Whatever technique you use for dication, you must practice it over and over outside of class to build up your speed and accuracy. Be creative and experiment with different techniques for taking dictation. Everybody's mind works a different way. The 'tricks' that work for some will not work for others. Try forming a mental image of a piano, or your own instrument, playing while you are listening to the dictation; or try visualizing the notes on the staff before you start to write them down. Try 'playing along' silently as if you were playing your own instrument (or voice). Literally move your fingers, or whatever, as if you had an instrument (i.e. an 'air-guitar', or 'air-trumpet', etc.). Use a paper piano keyboard to `play' on.


David Loberg Code, School of Music, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI, 49008. E-mail: 
Revised: 28.Feb.99       (c) 1999