Category Archives: Pedagogy

Melodic Orientation vs. Dictation

Melodic Dictation

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…

  1. 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?
  2. The best students are bored silly waiting for the rest of the class to finish.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).

Melodic Dictation Orientation

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:

Notate the first eight tones of this melody, adding all necessary information for notation. The key signature has four sharps.staves

Continue reading Melodic Orientation vs. Dictation

Syllabus boilerplate: Guidelines for email correspondence

mailNote: since I began including this in syllabi (and pointing it out at the beginning of each semester), emails from students have become… slightly… better. The good ones remember this when emailing me. The others can be ignored and referred back to the syllabus. Any other good solutions out there for elevating the tone of student/teacher e-correspondence?

Continue reading Syllabus boilerplate: Guidelines for email correspondence

Theory Class Rocks!

Who doesn’t love the same music you do? Your students, probably.

None of your students cares what this man sang forty years ago.
None of your students cares what this man sang forty years ago.

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room: popular music brought into the classroom by a professor will never be a student favorite. If a timely hit is brought to class to illustrate a point, it will soon enough be out of date. A classroom of students represents a spectrum of tastes, so while you are reaching the Zeppelin fans of the class, you are making the Beyonc√© fans roll their eyes.

I think, though, that students appreciate learning from a variety of sources (rock and pop among them) since this illustrates an important concept:

Music theory embraces universal principles, not just irrelevant techniques of long-dead, elite composers.

Continue reading Theory Class Rocks!