When musicians and music educators consider aural training, many of us have a tendency to imagine students transcribing melodic dictation, identifying chord progressions, intervals, and cadences by ear, and otherwise training to recognize the aural fingerprint of theoretical/stylistic devices taught in other areas of their studies. Even a cursory glance at a number of the textbooks available on the subject of aural training leads one to believe that there is a core set of aural skills that seem to be viewed (by the authors of such books, at least) as ‘essential’ for musicians, and that are consequently included as aspects of curricula. These skills, it would seem, are typically concerned with recognition, identification, and replication of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic elements, and are often presented within the context of Western art music. This is understandable, given that much music pedagogy that exists today has clear roots in the teaching and learning of such music. Indeed, the very centrality of harmony, melody, and rhythm within this area betrays the inherent influence of this historical context. However, given the increasingly accepted plurality of the term ‘musician’ and the skill set to which this term pertains, we (the authors) find ourselves in a position in which our students studying popular music need to develop aural skills that are situated and attuned to a context that will be relevant and valuable to their musical experience and/or aesthetic framework.
This chapter will begin by presenting a brief discussion on the nature of popular music education and how it differs from other more traditional areas of the field. It will then: (1) examine the challenges of traditional aural-skills training approaches with regard to popular music education; (2) critically consider some of the contexts in which popular music students need to develop aural skills for instrumental, technological, and critical purposes; and (3) present and discuss examples of good pedagogic practice in this area.