Aural Skills Guide
David Loberg Code Western Michigan University
What is the purpose of aural skills? Why is it something that you
have to take? The activities performed in aural skills class are not intended
to be an end in themselves, but a means of developing crucial musicianship
- TO UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU HEAR: This is the primary goal of music theory
(including aural skills). As performers and teachers this is necessary for
making music with others in ensembles, evaluating (and correcting) your
own or other's performances, comparing different musical interpretations,
as well as enjoying a more complete listening experience. One activity practiced
in aural skills related to these skills is dictation. The end-product of a
dictation is a visual representation of the music: you write down what you
hear. While this is a useful musical skill by itself, it is important to
remember that this is not the sole purpose of dictation. Dictation is used
to develop your ability to comprehend music aurally, and to evaluate your
level of comprehension. You learn to hear more and hear better by writing
it down. It is also a means of communicating to someone (an instructor,
a study partner, or even yourself with an answer sheet) what your understanding
of the music is, so that you can receive feedback for improving.
- TO HEAR WHAT YOU SEE: The ability to see a piece of music on the written
page, and perform it in your mind. You must hear the music in an 'inner'
ear which is as loud and as real to you as if you were actually hearing
someone play it. One of the means by which we develop this skill is through
sight-reading. Sight-reading on your primary instrument is an important
performance skill as well as an ear training skill. The more you do it,
the better you will get. In aural skills, you will also develop your sight-reading
ability through singing and clapping. The goal of singing in aural skills
is not to have a beautiful voice (although there is nothing wrong with having
one), but an accurate voice. There are several benefits to using singing.
First, it is a means of performance that is self-contained within your body.
No other equipment is needed. Also, the very act of singing something out
loud helps reinforce your inner performance by making it something concrete
and physical. Eventually, you will be able to sing 'silently', going through
all of the motions of singing except actually making your vocal chords vibrate.
That is, you can actually feel the different pitches in your throat, without
making them sound out loud. This is one type of inner performance. Another
purpose for singing in aural skills is that it provides a kind of window into
what you are thinking. No one else can hear inside of your head. It is imperfect,
but the only way in which someone (an instructor, a study partner, or even
yourself using a recording) can evaluate whether you can hear what
you see is for you to perform it out loud. It is the only way that someone
else can identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you improve.
- TO RECONCILE SIGHT AND SOUND: You must develop the ability to detect
and correct discrepancies between the written music and music you hear.
Sometimes it is the sound which must be reconciled with the written music.
For example, when you are teaching, or directing an ensemble, you must be
able to identify when wrong notes occur and what was wrong in order for
the performer(s) to fix it. Sometimes it is the written notation which must
be reconciled with the sound, for example, when you are transcribing a solo
from a recording, or checking a part for errors. Both of these involve comparing
the audible performance with your inner performance of the score--thus you
must also be able to hear what you see.
- TO PLAY WHAT YOU WANT: When performing music, you must be able
to execute accurately what is in your head. Part of this depends upon your
technical proficiency on your instrument (or voice). Part of this depends
upon your internal sense of pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and so forth. You may
see a minor 6th in the music and try to play a minor 6th, but be unsuccessful
because you lack the ability to tune the interval accurately. You may know
intellectually what a quintuplet it, but be unable to play one. Your sense
of time may not be suffiently developed to be able to start and maintain
a particular tempo without the use of a metronome or conductor. The goal
of each exercise that you study in aural comp is not to replicate that one
particular melody (or rhythm), but rather to learn skills and strategies
that are applicable to all music that you encounter.
Western Michigan University -
College of Fine Arts - School of Music
David Loberg Code, School of Music, Western Michigan University,
Kalamazoo, MI, 49008. E-mail: code(at)wmich.edu
Revised: 28.Feb.2011 (c) 2011