How to Practice Melodic Dictation

quillI am frequently asked by students how to build skills in melodic dictation, and while there is no “magic answer” (I think many of them want to have an instant solution that requires no time-commitment), I think skills can be built using a dedicated program of four approaches:

  1. PRACTICE! Melodies in sight-singing books make good examples, and students can team up with friends, taking turns playing the melodies on piano and taking the notes down on the page. We use audio in class from a variety of styles, and it would be hard for students to locate recorded examples from literature (like I do). Any music is good for this, though,  and students can get in the habit of visualizing music they hear, imagining how it looks on the staff; even taking dictation of small gestures of just a few notes can be beneficial if it is done enough times.
  2. SING! Solfège builds many of the same skills as dictation, especially fluency with scale-degree pitch height. Students should use the examples from sight-singing books because they are graded according to difficulty level and specific challenges. Students may also like to use song books or choral music, even orchestral or chamber music parts, which would probably be more entertaining… but not tailored to the level of the student.
  3. IMPROVISE! Vocalization using solfège can also be great for building dictation skills for many of the same reasons melody-singing does. Improvisation is especially wonderful because it is self-guided work, is creative, and can be done anywhere for any period of time. Students can also combine improvisation with notation by imagining the music on a staff as it is made up, strategically choosing challenges (like using arpeggiations of I, IV and V7 in various positions, different meters, use of syncopations, etc.)
  4. COMPOSE! Students can create dictation examples in the style of those used in class, writing them down either with the help of an instrument or at a desk with no instrument as a reference. By forming a study group in which each composes a few four-bar or eight-bar examples, students can build a resource-bank for sharing in practice sessions.

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