Protonotation/Shorthand in Dictation

In previous chapters we introduced protonotation as a way of conceptualizing the relationship of rhythm and meter without notation, and notehead shorthand as a helpful step in transcribing rhythms. The limited time allotted to dictation may make it impractical to come up with both protonotation/shorthand and staff notation.

Nevertheless, protonotation/shorthand can be useful in two ways. First, an instructor may ask you to dictate in protonotation/shorthand instead of or before staff notation so that they can assess your understanding of what you hear independent of your knowledge of notation. Second, because you have limited time, it is useful to have a quick way of jotting down some notes about what you hear to support your memory and help you distinguish the stages of analysis and notation. We encourage you to review the guides to these systems linked above, and to use them when they are useful to you.

If your instructor wishes for you to take dictation in protonotation/shorthand, they will define the parameters.

If you wish to use protonotation or shorthand during a notation-focused dictation process, we think that’s a good idea! Here’s our advice:

  • Writing while you listen can distract from your ability to use your attentional focus and memory. We usually advise students to wait to write anything until they have heard the whole thing. Of course, everyone is different, and you should do what works for you.
  • A small body of research suggests that rhythm may be more helpful to write down first, rather than pitch. Again, everyone is different, and you should do what works for you.
  • We particularly recommend using protonotation/shorthand when there’s potential for confusion: for example, when you’re working with some less-familiar notational complexities (say, compound meter, or a 2 on the bottom of the time signature), or when you’re having trouble figuring out a particular section.


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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