Memorizing Long Melodies

Question: One problem faced by my students in aural tests is memorizing a long melody. Any tips please? Thanks.

– Achilles (Malta)

Albert’s reply: The most important thing in learning melodies by ear is to learn to hear the scale degrees. In C major for instance, we can hear C, E, F, G as scale degrees 1, 3, 4, 5 in our mind’s ear.

Any accidentals not within the scale are heard by their function. F-sharp leading to G should be recognized as #4 (the fourth scale degree, sharp).

This way students learn to hear how music functions. It’s important not just for learning to dictate melodies, but also for hearing and feeling the tension within notes of the scale. Learning to hear this way will help a student’s musicality.

The second thing that’s important is to establish rhythmic landmarks, which are usually downbeats. Before the student tries to notate (or sing back) the actual pitches, he or she should reproduce only the rhythm.

If the exercise is on paper (which I recommend in the case of long melodies), the student should first write down the rhythm. Then, the notes on strong beats, especially downbeats, should be notated.

Once these tasks are done it will be much easier to fill in the remaining notes.

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