Melodic dictation is an inherently complex task that students are expected to learn. Due to the complexity of the task, fairly assessing what a student can reasonably be expected to do varies greatly. Not only do students have various levels of training and use different strategies to dictate, but individuals also differ cognitively. Additionally, the extent to which a melody is deemed appropriate in terms of its difficulty varies depending on student ability. What melody should be chosen for a dictation is often left up to the instructor’s expertise for assessments. While there is no substitute for intuition in the classroom, there is still a great deal to be understood about what can be expected of students at various skill levels given the ubiquity of aural-skills assessments. Formalizing and understanding this process is central to being able to move aural-skills research forward in a systematic way.
This chapter provides the context and rationale for using tools from computational musicology and cognitive psychology in order to better understand which factors contribute to performance on melodic dictation tasks. The chapter explains the benefits of using these tools and provides a high-level walk-through for how practitioners with minimal experience in computational musicology or cognitive psychology can begin designing their own empirical aural-skills research questions. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the pedagogical advances and new avenues for interdisciplinary research made possible by including these methodologies in regular pedagogical practices as well as the benefits the field of aural-skills research might experience if aural-skills instructors were to adopt these methods in their own research.