AP Music Theory Exam: Melodic Dictation

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  • 0:04 What Is Melodic Dictation?
  • 0:40 Musical Terms and Symbols
  • 2:24 Strategies for Melodic…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever listened to a melody and wanted to write it down? Could you? In this lesson, learn strategies for listening to melodies and writing what you hear through melodic dictation.

What Is Melodic Dictation?

Do you enjoy listening to music? Have you ever thought of a tune in your head and tried to write it down? Have you studied music and are you thinking of pursuing it in college?

If you're a singer, instrumentalist, or other type of music student getting ready to take the AP Music Theory exam, an exercise you'll need to understand is melodic dictation.

Melodic dictation is the process of listening to music and writing down what you hear using musical symbols. It involves taking a musical phrase, seeing in your mind how it will look, then putting it into written form.

Musical Terms and Symbols

Melodic dictation focuses on listening to melody. Melody is a memorable series of pitches that form the main tune of a composition. In written music, melody notes read from left to right. Familiar melodies include ''Happy Birthday'' and ''Jingle Bells.'' Can you sing them? If you can, you can also learn how to write them down.

A melody is formed by a series of pitches. Pitch is the position of a sound high or low relative to others around it. A series of pitches in a specific ascending or descending order forms a scale. You have to understand pitch, scales, and solfege syllables to be successful at melodic dictation.

You also need to know basic musical notation, a written set of visual instructions and symbols for how music is to be played. Musical notation includes elements like key signatures, clefs, and a range of notes with different values. For example, in a four-beat measure, a whole note equals four beats, a half note equals two beats, and a quarter note is one beat.

Melody also has a rhythm , the placement of sounds in time with an underlying pattern that tends to reoccur. It's identified in written music through meter. For example, four beats in a measure, or common time (identified by the figure 4/4), is a typical type of meter. To take the AP Music Exam you need to be familiar with a variety of meters, including 6/8, 3/4, cut time (2/2), and others.

If any of these concepts are unfamiliar, you should review them thoroughly before taking the exam.

Strategies for Melodic Dictation

Melodic dictation is about learning to identify what you hear in a systematic way. It starts with building your skill at listening to melody.

Active listening is different from simply hearing a melody. You have to concentrate. So put down the cell phone. If you're an instrumentalist, don't pick up your horn. Be prepared to actively listen, and have a piece of paper or a digital screen with the musical staff on it in front of you. Focus on the melody being played.

Begin with simple tunes, short melodies or melodic phrases that have three or four notes. Listen for the shape of the melody. Melodies aren't made of the same pitch over and over again. The notes go up and down. Figure out the first note and write it down on the staff.

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