Aural Skills Pedagogy Research

While this textbook is inevitably shaped in part by its authors’ ideologies and experiences, it is also grounded in research in aural skills pedagogy. We will list here some of the research that has influenced how we approached this text, both as a way to thank the scholars who have been important to us and to invite curious musicians and pedagogues to further reading.

General Influences

Gary Karpinski’s book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000) is foundational to current aural skills pedagogy. This text is particularly helpful in understanding how complex skills like dictation and sight reading rely on component skills such as perception of key and meter. We have also been influenced by Karpinski’s emphasis on the importance of context.

Timothy Chenette’s article “What are the Truly Aural Skills?” (2021) helped us think through the various fundamentals required for students to acquire aural skills, and along with the article “Taking Aural Skills Beyond Sight Singing and Dictation” (2019) helped us think about how these skills relate to multiple fields of music study outside of music theory.

We have also been more obliquely influenced by the challenges to current instructional models in Philip A. Ewell’s article “Music Theory and the White Racial Frame” (2020) and Cora Palfy and Eric Gilson’s article “The Hidden Curriculum in the Music Theory Classroom” (2018). Jade Conlee’s presentation “Audiation, Musical Aptitude, and Racial Epistemology” (2021) and Elizabeth Monzingo’s presentation “Hidden Aural Skills: Implicit Learning through Experience” (2019) similarly helped us think about who aural skills classes are currently built for, and how we might think about new paths forward.

Chapter 1 (Attention)

Our understanding of attentional control and how it is affected by instruction is still very much incomplete. However, we have learned a lot from Michael I. Posner et al.’s chapter “Probing the Mechanisms of Attention” (2007) and other readings from outside of music, which Timothy Chenette speculatively applied to aural skills instruction in the chapter “Attentional Control: A Perceptual Fundamental” (2021).

Chapter 2 (Meter)

Our treatment of meter as a culturally-specific manifestation of the general human ability to predict periodic events is influenced in part by Justin London’s book Hearing in Time: Psychological Aspects of Musical Meter (2012).

Chapter 3 (Tonic/Collection and Solfège)

Gary Karpinski’s book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000) was particularly influential in how we approached finding and “setting up” tonic. Karpinski’s tonic-location methods are extended in Timothy Chenette’s chapter “Finding Your Way Home: Methods of Tonic Perception” (2020).

Chapter 4 (Music’s Materiality)

Timbre, envelope, dynamics, texture, and register are unfortunately underdeveloped in the aural skills classroom. We are aware of the pioneering work of Will Mason, Paul Thomas, and others on bringing skills involved in music production and recording into aural skills instruction and look forward to learning more.

Chapter 5 (Musical Memory)

Our understanding of memory and music was shaped first by Gary Karpinski’s book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000). The insights we gained there have been refined by reading about working memory in sources such as Nelson Cowan et al.’s article “On the Capacity of Attention: Its Estimation and Its Role in Working Memory and Cognitive Aptitudes” (2005) and Klaus Oberauer’s article “Access to Information in Working Memory: Exploring the Focus of Attention” (2002), and then by speculatively applying these insights to music in Timothy Chenette’s article “Reframing Aural Skills Instruction Based on Research in Working Memory” (2018).

Chapter 6 (Internal Hearing and Intonation)

Early foundational advice on internal hearing was published by Edward Klonoski (“Teaching Pitch Internalization Processes,” 1998) and Kate Covington (“The Mind’s Ear: I Hear Music and No One is Performing,” 2005). We have also been inspired by Sarah Gates’s article “Developing Musical Imagery: Contributions from Pedagogy and Cognitive Science” (2021), particularly in understanding the rich internal representations that support musical imagery and the insight that this ability may not develop in all musicians if we do not teach it explicitly.

Chapter 7 (Rhythm Skills)

Our treatment of rhythm skills draws on many other pedagogical sources: focusing on rhythmic cells and subdivision is common to many approaches.

Chapter 8 (Improvisation)

Ideas about improvisation in the aural skills classroom can be found in Jeffrey Lovell’s article “We Know It’s Important, But How Do We Do It? Engaging Beginning Aural Skills Students Through Meaningful Improvisation Activities” (2019) and Jena Root’s chapter “Teaching Improvisation: Starting Points” (2021).

George E. Lewis’s article “Improvised Music After 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives” (1996) also helped us think about what is valued in improvisation.

Chapter 9 (Playback)

Our embrace of this non-notation-based practice was influenced in part by Alexandrea Jonker’s presentation “Notation-Free Dictation: A Case Study in ‘Blind Hearing'” (2022).

It was also inspired in part by unpublished results referencing instrument-based imagery from a survey about how people perceive chords, conducted by Timothy Chenette, Alexandra Phillips, and Emily Wood in 2019.

Chapter 10 (Transcription)

While Gary Karpinski’s book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000) focuses more on dictation, Karpinski’s “four-stage model of melodic dictation” helped us think through the skills involved in translating sound into notation. This model gave us a framework within which to understand the relevance of the research listed above under Attention, Moving to Music (Meter), Tonic/Collection and Solfège, and Musical Memory.

The system of “protonotation” is based primarily on Karpinski’s book and on advice from the textbook Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing.

The system of “notation shorthand” is derived from Jenine L Brown’s article “‘Notehead Shorthand’: A Rhythmic Shorthand Method for Melodic Dictation Exercises” (2020).

Chapter 11 (Sight Reading)

Our understanding of what activities help people improve at sight reading is largely based on meta-analyses by Jennifer Mishra (“Improving Sightreading Accuracy: A Meta-Analysis,” 2014) and Marjaana Puurtinen (“Eye on Music Reading: A Methodological Review of Studies from 1994 to 2017,” 2018).

Our understanding of the value of “vocabulary-building” to sight reading has been influenced by Gary Karpinski’s book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000) and by Kris Shaffer’s blog post “Promoting Musical Fluency -or- Why I De-Emphasize Sight-Singing and Dictation in Class” (2013).

Chapter 12 (Ensemble Skills)

Ensemble skills in aural skills classrooms have not been well-addressed in the literature. We hope that changes and we can list more sources here someday! For now, we’ll simply mention that the discussion of tuning was informed in part by Timothy Chenette’s conversations with Fry Street Quartet violinist Robert Waters.

Chapter 13 (Dictation)

Gary Karpinski’s research, particularly his article “A Model for Music Perception and its Implications in Melodic Dictation” (1990) and book Aural Skills Acquisition (2000), has been foundational to how we understand the value of and processes involved in dictation.

Chapter 14 (Closure, Repetition, and Contrast)

Our attempt at being relatively style-neutral in our treatment of form is influenced in part by Brian Jarvis and John Peterson’s presentation “Don’t Count Your Cadences Before They Hatch: Advocating for Discussions of Closure in Pedagogical Contexts” (2020) and Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis’s research on repetition in music, as shared especially in her book On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind (2013) and in her presentation “Repetition and Musicality” (2015).

Chapter 15 (Chords)

The “Do/Ti Test” was first described as the “Guide-Tone Method” by Jay Rahn and James R. McKay in 1988. Daniel Stevens has extended the method in multiple publications, including “Symphonic Hearing: Mastering Harmonic Dictation Using the Do/Ti Test” (2019) and “Bending to Real Music: Harmonic Hearing in the Aural Skills Classroom” (2021).

Timothy Chenette has also explored the complexity of identifying chords by ear in publications like “Does Gestalt Hearing Exist?” (2021).


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