If ear training textbooks with CDs and various online musical trainers fairly represent standard practice, “traditional” melodic dictation is typically a four-bar exercise in which a starting pitch is given, a count-off is sounded, and a series of notes that resemble a melody is played on piano. I have some problems with this…
- If there is no accompaniment, students miss out on a valuable asset for orienting metrically and tonality. How many melodic dictations have I seen that get “off” by a beat or are consistently a step (or two, or three) too high after a leap is missed?
- The best students are bored silly waiting for the rest of the class to finish.
- The most challenged students struggle with the first notes and never get to the end; they are discouraged seeing the top students wait and are likely hampered by the pressure of holding up the class.
- Dictation takes a long time and leaves little opportunity for giving/getting feedback. Even when I walk around looking over students’ shoulders, it’s hard to guide students without revealing details to others nearby.
- Little mistakes (a skipped beat, a missed leap, a chromatic step written as a diatonic step) can cause big trouble and a lot of wasted time.
- Dictation doesn’t build some basic skills (most important among them, I think, being how to orient tonally without being given a tonic or starting pitch).
My favorite type of dictation activity turns many of these problems on their head. I call these elegant little exercises melodic orientations, and they look like this: