I am becoming increasingly aware of the need to work on Melodic & Rhythmic Dictation skills. Over the course of the year I desperately try to get students working on this skill and it would seem that practice does make perfect.
Fundamentally students need to get their internal tuning sorted and train their ears. I make sure that all my rehearsals also gear towards this – particularly in choir where I get them singing intervals and in orchestra where I always point out intervals.
So here are some thoughts on melodic dictation and some ways I have helped students improve their skills.
- Start every lesson with singing. Get students thinking about the first five notes of a Major/Minor Scale. Singing them will get them into their internal instrument and really help them. I often just play the first five notes and then hold up fingers corresponding to the scale. This is something I also do in choir rehearsals.
- Get them using online resources on the following websites:
These websites are great for all sorts of things, especially if you need to provide cover work or extension work. They can access them at home and there are loads of aural training exercises on there.
- Get hold of the new A-Level Listening book as that has some great resources in it that you could use at all levels. I am sure the future GCSE books will also include this.
- Make sure that you have lots of examples for them to do and give them 3 or 4 at a time. I find that just doing one melodic dictation exercise isn’t enough. After a couple they start to get into it and then they improve and leave the lesson feeling positive.
- Teach them to break things down into rhythm first and then assign pitches. It is always tricky trying to do both at once.
- Make sure that you teach them to look out for any chromatic notes, and also to look at the key signature carefully so that they include the sharpened seventh if it is a minor melody.
- Make sure that they can recognise intervals. There are some handy ways of doing this by learning these famous examples:
Major 2nd – Happy Birthday (which also should have an octave in the middle!)
Minor 2nd – Jaws
Major 3rd – Kumbaya My Lord
Minor 3rd – The whistle melody in Hunger Games
Perfect 4th – Amazing Grace or Here Comes The Bride
Perfect 5th – Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Major 6th – My Bonny Lies over the ocean
Minor 7th – Somewhere from West Side Story
Major 7th – Take On Me – 80s classic
Octave – Somewhere Over the Rainbow
- If students really want to do well then I always get them to join the choir – even if it is just for a term. Sometimes students who just play percussion or drums and rarely engage with melodies or notation really benefit from doing a bit of singing.
- Use ABRSM aural tests as another tool or source of resources. Get instrumental teachers to include some aural skills in lessons for a few weeks.
- Practice Practice Practice. I can’t stress this enough. I have created some resources that you can download:
So there we are, just a few thoughts on this.