Melodic Dictation Practice Guide



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Melodic Dictation

Melodic Dictation either to paper or directly to your instrument is a good way to practice ear training. The trick is doing the melodic dictation in the right way so that your ear training melodic dictation skills grow as you practice more.

Melodic Dictation Note to Note Approach

Arguably the most common way students do melodic dictation is to hear a single note, find it on their instrument, play the next note again find it on their instrument. If you use this approach your melodic dictation skills will never improve. What is a better is first understand that you need to hear how each note is functioning in a key center and second you need to start simple like the exercises found in my Melodic Dictation courses that start you with two notes and then build from there. Of course if you still are struggling with “One Note” ear training you certainly will not be able to start melodic dictation until that improves. If you are unfamiliar with the “One Note” ear training first read the article about How to Practice Ear Training.¬† You can find links to many articles about different aspects of ear training here.

Melodic Dictation Where to Start?

So let’s assume you are doing pretty good with the “One Note” ear training maybe getting around 50% correct answers. Then I would suggest two things. Work on one of my melodic dictation courses but also start transcribing simple melodies and solos.

What Should I Transcribe?

I often recommend “modal” songs like “Impressions” or even songs that are all in one key like “Bye Bye Blackbird” as good songs to transcribe. Even transcribing just the melodies to songs is a good idea. As I’m sure you know, musicians often “interpret” a melody, so in transcribing those melodies you gain many insights into the elements of style. I also recommend transcribing solos by musicians who tend to play fairly few notes and not too fast. Some examples of that would be Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Jim Hall, and Lester Young. If you have problems where you are losing the key center try playing a MetroDrone in the background as you transcribe to keep your ear in the key center.

Melodic Dictation and Memory

Since melodic dictation requires you to remember the sound you just heard. I recommend you read my article on this website about short and long term memory. I also commonly recommend my course “Ear Training for Children and Others Young at Heart.” This course has you sing the simple song “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” You will find as you work through the various exercises that you will be able to hear that song in your head and also know which notes are being played simultaneously. Check it out it works great and it’s fun too!

Melodic Dictation and the Printed Page.

Since melodic dictation often requires you to write down what you hear on a music staff we need a little discussion of what that entails. Mainly understanding the pitch locations on the music staff and understanding how rhythm is written out on a staff. If you are weak in these areas then you need to fill this gap with some music theory work and simple rhythm work. For this I would recommend: Music Theory Workbook for All Instruments or for Guitar and Rhythm Primer. These two courses will not only teach you the basics but they will give you exercises to do to engrain the information which is crucial if you want the melodic dictation process to flow naturally.

Hearing Melodic Lines on a Music Staff

Obviously if you can hear the notes on the staff in your head you will do melodic dictation much faster. For students that desire this skill or are singing in a choir where they need to sight sing music I recommend the “Fanatic’s Guide to Ear Training and Sight Reading” This book is one of the cornerstone books for developing an ability to hear what you see on a staff. I also encourage students to sight read, especially by having a MetroDrone playing in the background which grounds the music in a key center. The Sight Reading Solved Course is good for this because it gives you √©tudes in all keys using 22 of t he most used modes in music. You can also go through the entire “Rhythms Series” with a MetroDrone playing the key and play the rhythms using “one note.” This helps you learn rhythms while practicing ear training at the same time.

What Songs should I Start With to do Melodic Dication?

Finally, applying this sight reading idea to real music gets you honing your ability to hear what you see. Often I recommend students to get a copy of the “Real Book.” Learn a melody a week starting with tunes that are mostly in one key center. Here is a list:
A Foggy Day
Afternoon in Paris
Alice in Wonderland
All Blues
All of Me
Au Privave
Autumn Leaves
Beautiful Love
Bessie’s Blues
Bewitched
Black Orpheus
Blue Monk
Blue Room
Blues for Alice
Blue Trane
Bye Bye Blackbird
Ceora
Dancing on the Ceiling
The Days of Wine and Roses
Dealy Beloved
Equinox
Falling in Love with Love
Footprints
Four
Freedom Jazz Dance
Gentle Rain
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat
Hello Young Lovers
I Could Write a Book
I Love You
Just Friends
My One and Only Love
My Romance
Sometime Ago
Spring is Here
There is no Greater Love
There will Never Be Another You

Eventually all these different approaches will get you to the same place, playing what you hear, and hearing what others are playing.