Students who choose to take graded examinations or who decide to go to college for music study will most likely be required to write out melodic dictations. In a melodic dictation a student listens to a melody multiple times and writes out the notes and rhythms that they hear. Students write their final copy on staff paper, filling in the time signature, key signature, bar lines, etc. While this task may seem very challenging at first as the notes rush along, there are ways to train and become more adept at melodic dictations.
- Always keep tonic in mind.
The tonic note will be given before the melody begins. Students must imprint this note in their mind as it is the most important “anchor note.” Another important note is the fifth scale note above tonic.
- Learn Sol-fah
Sol-fah is a hug aid for melodic dictations because sol-fah is consistent throughout any key (when using a moveable do). Students will be thinking of sol-fah rather than thinking of individual letter names. Sight-singing in sol-fah helps imprint the sol-fah intervals into a student’s mind.
- Listen for the intervals.
Another aid in addition to sol-fah is teaching students tunes which use specific intervals. For example, an ascending major 6th uses the notes from the beginning of the song “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean.”
- Write a rough draft
Students should use spare staff paper to write a draft of the dictation rather than doing everything on the same page. The markings on the draft should be minimalistic with light pencil marks which can easily be erased.
- Understand harmony
I recently spoke with a guitar player who found the harmonic progression of a song useful in helping him decipher the melody in a dictation. This may be helpful for some students but they must ensure that they are also listening for the individual melodic notes and not simply doing guess work.
- Find the rhythm
Students should realize that rhythm is not the first thing to look for in a melodic dictation. The most important part of the dictation is the melody. Pencil in the melody first and add in the rhythm during spare moments. One trick for focusing on notes while figuring out the rhythm is to place notes that have a longer duration farther apart on the draft and to place notes that sound shorter close together. This will be a reminder of the general duration of the notes and will make filling in the specific durations easier for students.
- Never stop moving.
Melodic dictations end very quickly and time is of the essence. If, for example, a student cannot remember the first half of the melody, he or she should fill in notes from the last bar. If none of the notes come to mind at a certain point, he or she should work on the rhythm. Students should never stop thinking and moving their pencil. Keep as focused as possible while working diligently.
Here are some free resources from the internet:
http://pitchimprover.com/–In this exercise a piano is shown with lit up keys. Decipher the melody that is played (only the lit up keys will be options) and click on the correct piano keys.
https://www.teoria.com/exercises/ne.php–The “note dictation” section of this website allows practice of note recognition.
http://trainer.thetamusic.com/en/content/melodic-dictation–This website offers melodic dictation games.
http://horninsights.com/telling-intervals-with-tunes/–For a list of intervals with related tunes, visit this webpage.