We decided to create a new aural skills book for two reasons.
First, we wanted there to be a reasonably comprehensive Open Educational Resource (OER) textbook available to make aural training more accessible. We hope some instructors and students find the book useful simply because it is freely available, easy to modify and use, and compatible with accessibility aids like screen readers . While the current version of the text focuses on the foundations of aural skills (often associated with university-level classes named “Aural Skills 1”) and therefore isn’t yet ready to replace a textbook designed for multiple semesters of study, our long-term goal is to support an entire aural curriculum with open resources.
Second, there are some values that we do not feel are yet adequately represented in current textbooks. Here are the most important values we have striven to align the text with:
- Empowerment. It’s difficult for teachers to get away from their role as judges and gatekeepers when the most visible end result of a class or assignment is a numerical or letter grade. But as much as possible, we have tried to make sure that our focus is on helping you develop skills and knowledge that will empower you by making you a more fluent musician, a more sophisticated and sensitive listener, and more confident and creative. Each chapter has specific goals for things you’ll be able to do by the end of your studies, and we focus on those goals rather than constant assessment and judgment. We hope that’s satisfying and even enjoyable.
- Creativity. It’s crucial to us that the focus is on you and your music-making. Many aural skills classes focus only on listening to or reading music that was already created by other people. That’s important, and we’ll do it too, but engaging that music in creative ways, and creating your own music, is at least as important. Engaging with pre-existing music in ways that involve your own creativity, and creating your own music through improvisation and composition, can be both more fun and more useful to your learning than simply repeating strict dictation and sight-reading of other people’s music.
- Developmental inclusivity. Current models of aural skills instruction tend to reward students who have already achieved a degree of success with certain skills, particularly familiarity with staff notation, the ability to imagine sound internally, voice and piano experience, and knowledge of music theory. These are definitely strengths to be celebrated, but so are creativity, familiarity with multiple styles, and more. We have tried to embrace a wider vision of desirable skills. And for all the skills we address, we have striven to teach the foundations that everyone needs to be successful.
- Musical inclusivity. Like you, we are inevitably both empowered and limited by our own experiences and identities. But we seek for our resource to be useful and empowering across a broad range of musical repertoires and practices. It is true that we focus our instruction on several culturally-specific practices, including pitch structures based on keys and triads and a time signature-based understanding of meter. But we have done our best to do so in a manner that is as broadly applicable as possible, that acknowledges and shows respect for other ways of doing things, and that doesn’t prioritize one subset of this repertoire or composer demographic over another.
- Holistic assessment. Sometimes we need to focus in on a specific skill or idea in order to refine it. But when aural skills classes simply grade the details over and over in excruciating detail (“1 point per note, 1 point per beat”), it’s difficult for students to connect what they’re doing to their broader musicianship, and it’s also natural for students to internalize an impossible standard of perfection. We always try to keep in mind the broader goals that we are aiming for, particularly in the assessments we provide, and to allow different kinds of stumbles and failures as a natural part of the learning process.