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GhostofVermeer

Melodic Dictation

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I'm in AP Theory now and I'm becoming very worried about my skill (or lack thereof) in melodic dictation. I'm really terrible at it, plain and simple. I'm great with intervals and can write them instantly, but I just can't seem to memorize the melodic dictation melodies. I get a couple measures and then the rest just becomes a blur to me. I thought that maybe part of my problem was that I'm not good at sight reading on my instrument either.

Does anyone have any good tips for melodic dictation? I don't want to fail the AP in May :o

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Hey, Ghost! I might be able to help.

Most melodic dictation in AP Theory revolves around scale degrees. So, a way to take melodic dictation is to think in numbers 1-8 as a framework. Melodic dictation ranges in degree of difficulty. It sounds like you have to write out the complete melody from hearing it instead of simply "filling in the blanks" of a pre-existing melody as you listen. I prefer both approaches in terms of practice and testing, personally.

As far as some other techniques for this, I'd recommend on your first listen that you try to short-hand the whole line in terms of pitch and rhythm. You might have success with numbers/letters above the staff with pencil and generic rhythmic notation below the staff (no noteheads, just beams and stems, slashes for rests, etc.). Come up with your own symbols for this that make the most sense to you.

You should generally get at least two opportunities to hear the melody. Get as much as you can down on the first hearing, then fill in any gaps on your second. After you've heard all the examples you've been given, go with what you have and properly notate it out. This means grouping your rhythms by the beat, properly filling in your noteheads, drawing out the stems and beams as straight as possible, and generally making sure your notation is clear and accurate. In other words, don't focus on the notation aspect until you've actually -listened- to the example as many times as allowed. When you have your shorthand down, then go back through it and notate it out.

You can also try dots and beams in the staff instead of numbers above it, showing long and short notes while similarly indicating/approximating rhythm below the staff. Generally, though, you need a fast method for identifying what you hear as though you're writing as you're hearing. That's the challenge of the exercise, as it tests your ability to both accurately -hear- and -internalize- the melody in your short-term memory. Since that might be less developed for you (either your notation speed or your aural memory), a short-hand system is quite possibly your best approach.

The shorthand method should help you if your issue is notation speed. If the problem is aural memory, a good way to prepare is to sing scales to yourself internally or very quietly as a hum or something. Sing each note of the scale, starting on the lowest pitch of the scale and oscillating between it and each subsequent scale degree (i.e. C, D, C, E, C, F... and so on). Definitely get your perfect fourths and fifths down so you know the difference. A perfect fourth sounds like, "Here comes the bride..." while a perfect fifth sounds like, "Twinkle twinkle little star..." and so forth.

I've got more ideas that might help you, but that should be enough to get you started.

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Hey, Ghost! I might be able to help.

Most melodic dictation in AP Theory revolves around scale degrees. So, a way to take melodic dictation is to think in numbers 1-8 as a framework. Melodic dictation ranges in degree of difficulty. It sounds like you have to write out the complete melody from hearing it instead of simply "filling in the blanks" of a pre-existing melody as you listen. I prefer both approaches in terms of practice and testing, personally.

As far as some other techniques for this, I'd recommend on your first listen that you try to short-hand the whole line in terms of pitch and rhythm. You might have success with numbers/letters above the staff with pencil and generic rhythmic notation below the staff (no noteheads, just beams and stems, slashes for rests, etc.). Come up with your own symbols for this that make the most sense to you.

You should generally get at least two opportunities to hear the melody. Get as much as you can down on the first hearing, then fill in any gaps on your second. After you've heard all the examples you've been given, go with what you have and properly notate it out. This means grouping your rhythms by the beat, properly filling in your noteheads, drawing out the stems and beams as straight as possible, and generally making sure your notation is clear and accurate. In other words, don't focus on the notation aspect until you've actually -listened- to the example as many times as allowed. When you have your shorthand down, then go back through it and notate it out.

You can also try dots and beams in the staff instead of numbers above it, showing long and short notes while similarly indicating/approximating rhythm below the staff. Generally, though, you need a fast method for identifying what you hear as though you're writing as you're hearing. That's the challenge of the exercise, as it tests your ability to both accurately -hear- and -internalize- the melody in your short-term memory. Since that might be less developed for you (either your notation speed or your aural memory), a short-hand system is quite possibly your best approach.

The shorthand method should help you if your issue is notation speed. If the problem is aural memory, a good way to prepare is to sing scales to yourself internally or very quietly as a hum or something. Sing each note of the scale, starting on the lowest pitch of the scale and oscillating between it and each subsequent scale degree (i.e. C, D, C, E, C, F... and so on). Definitely get your perfect fourths and fifths down so you know the difference. A perfect fourth sounds like, "Here comes the bride..." while a perfect fifth sounds like, "Twinkle twinkle little star..." and so forth.

I've got more ideas that might help you, but that should be enough to get you started.

Thanks Antiatonality! That's very helpful!

I think it's more my aural memory that's the problem. I have all my intervals down pat, I'm great with them when they are isolated, I know them instantly. The problem is that when they're played in a piece I seem to mix them up. I confuse P5s with M6s, P4s with M3s, etc. I'm not totally sure why. I don't know if there is anyway to do melodic dictation based on this, but I'm actually pretty good at harmonic dictation. I can almost instantly tell what the chord progression is. Is there away to think about melodic dictation harmonically? That seems to be more how I work.

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Thanks Antiatonality! That's very helpful!

I think it's more my aural memory that's the problem. I have all my intervals down pat, I'm great with them when they are isolated, I know them instantly. The problem is that when they're played in a piece I seem to mix them up. I confuse P5s with M6s, P4s with M3s, etc. I'm not totally sure why. I don't know if there is anyway to do melodic dictation based on this, but I'm actually pretty good at harmonic dictation. I can almost instantly tell what the chord progression is. Is there away to think about melodic dictation harmonically? That seems to be more how I work.

Sure there is, and if that's the way you think you can pick it up, then fantastic. Work on your arpeggios. I learned "fixed-'do'" solfeggio, so each syllable I sang pertained to a specific note. Now, this isn't absolutely necessary for taking dictation, but it's certainly helpful. Learn how arpeggios in a given key sound from one scale degree to the next. For example, the first scale degree arpeggio will be a major triad in a major key. The second and third scale degrees will be minor. The fourth and fifth will be major, the sixth minor, and the seventh diminished. So, that will probably help you some.

Also, if you grasp the harmonic progression you hear when you take dictation (which actually gives me quite a bit more hope for you, btw), note that when you're listening underneath your dictation and just draw a horizontal line (if you have time) for how long the harmony lasts before changing to something else. If you miss some of the notes, the progression itself could go a long way toward informing you. Just be careful that you don't get the progression wrong, because that can screw everything up. If it's simple enough and you're sure the progression is accurate, then work with it.

Also be sure you're considering non-chord tones like passing tones, upper and lower neighbors, appagiaturas, escape tones, and leading tones. I never encountered suspensions in my dictation tests, but if you know they'll be on the test, be sure you practice by listening for how 9-8 (2-1), 6-5, and 4-3 suspensions sound. A 9-8 can also be a 7-6 if the chord is in first inversion, so don't let that throw you off either... those can sometimes be mixed up with 6-5 suspensions because of the Perfect Interval relationship between the 5th degree of a chord and the root, at least aurally.

The biggest issue you might run into is taking dictation when there is no harmony. So, I would have to recommend that you work more on your scales to improve your linear recognition. But I definitely recommend making the most out of your strengths, so if your dictation includes harmonic progressions, you'll probably have an advantage already. My best advice is to go with your gut and keep it simple. Too often, we think that what we hear is more complex than it actually is... so keep that in mind.

K.I.S.S. it... Keep It Simple, Stupid :)

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