What Are the Truly Aural Skills?

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Timothy Chenette


The traditional approach to aural skills instruction, judging from chapter titles in textbooks, is to apply the tasks of sight singing and dictation to the content and order of a music theory curriculum. As a result, while the term “aural” might be understood to imply a focus on perception, such classes often prioritize the logical over the perceptual. This article proposes an alternative foundation in what I call the “truly aural skills,” those that most directly engage working memory and attentional control. This proposal is preceded by a case study in harmony: I first demonstrate how Roman numerals and inversion symbols prioritize the abstract over the concrete and logical distinctions over perceptually meaningful ones, then discuss how principles derived from cognitive science might offer an alternative model of instruction. Finally, I explore different models for implementing such a shift in emphasis, from logic to perception, through curricular and pedagogical decisions.

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