Working with Short Tonal Melodies

We move now to short melodies that are each in a key. While you might imagine that a melody is just like putting together several of the notes from the section on matching pitch, studies suggest that the memory mechanisms for these two different kinds of stimuli are different. We find that, with single tones outside of a context, we may be more focused on the “raw sound” itself, while when we hear notes that (potentially) establish a key, we focus more on their relationships. So we’re really working on a different but complementary skill here.

It may be more difficult to focus on tuning now that we’re drawn to the relationships among notes. That’s ok, because again, we’re building different skills. But as much as you can, keep focusing on making your notes as in-tune as possible, in your head, in your voice, and on your instrument.

Activity: Connecting listening, imagining, singing, and playing

Goal: Accurately represent internalized sounds in your mind/inner ear and reproduce these vocally (humming or singing) and on an instrument. (Singers may opt for piano or any other instrument with which they are familiar.)

Before you start: You’ll need to either work with someone else or find another way to listen to short strings of notes. Your sound source can be vocal or instrumental. For the final step, it will also be helpful if you have access to your primary instrument.


  1. Have a friend play or sing a short, diatonic 3–4 note pattern consisting of a mix of steps and leaps. Alternatively, if you are working on your own, find a way to listen to short strings of notes. Listen to the pattern, focusing as much as possible at this stage on the sound-as-sound.
  2. After listening, take a moment to recall the sound of the melody as vividly as possible. Imagine not only the pitches that you heard, but their timbre (sound quality), register, envelope (attack, decay, sustain, and release), volume/intensity, and other notable elements of the sound. As you recall what you heard, try to hear the stimulus in your head as accurately as possible.
  3. Hum or sing the stimulus that you are audiating. Feel free to check yourself by having your partner (or the recording) play back the stimulus as you sing it. If there were elements of the stimulus that you could reproduce more accurately, repeat steps 2–3.
  4. Using an instrument, find the starting note of the melody, then play the whole thing. Go slowly and patiently, giving your ear and body time to integrate. Ideally, the ear should lead, and the body should follow.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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.

Share This Book