Traditional course objectives for aural-skills classes often include facility in singing prepared and at-sight exercises, melodic and harmonic dictation, and pitch mapping through a solmization system. Put more simply, we might say that the successful aural-skills sequence develops a student’s musical understanding through internal hearing or ‘aural imagination.’

Sight singing requires the student to process musical notation through the eye, into the musical understanding of the mind, and to prove that understanding using the voice. Conversely, dictation begins with sound that enters through the ear into the mind; in this case, the student proves the same internal musical understanding through transcription. What is typically called ‘ear training’ more accurately trains the ear, eye, and voice to convey the musical work of the mind. If musical understanding is the goal, sight singing and dictation are the traditional assessment tools. A third tool, improvisation, can be used to reinforce this type of musical understanding and to help the student synthesize the more traditional modes of aural learning.

This chapter will provide pedagogical guidance for instructors who wish to integrate improvisation into the aural-skills curriculum. Classroom activities range from foundational (melodic and rhythmic improvisation over a single chord) to intermediate (diatonic progression models and non-harmonic tones). The exercises are primarily vocal, but are easily transferred to an instrument, in which case they can become a means for teaching pitch-mapping within a key. Importantly, each exercise may be tailored ‘on the spot’ for classes comprising students of diverse backgrounds and musical personalities: from those who embrace musical experimentation, to those who might be more hesitant to leave the clear expectations of the notated score.