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Music Dictation Activity - High/Low

There are a variety of activities that can be utilized as students begin exploring and labelling high and low. These activities can be introduced after the students have been singing s-m singing games and have internalized the s-m tone set. The actual sounds do not have to be labelled “so” and “mi” in the initial stages, “high” and “low” will be enough to direct the activities.

There are a variety of activities that can be utilized as students begin exploring and labelling high and low. These activities can be introduced after the students have been singing s-m singing games and have internalized the s-m tone set. The actual sounds do not have to be labelled “so” and “mi” in the initial stages, “high” and “low” will be enough to direct the activities. 

Download Free Template

Download the free Music Dictation Activity template here.

Creating a Sequential, Pedagogical Order for Learning

Involving students in a dictation activity is not the first step in the process. In my Kodaly training, one of our textbooks was Lois Choksy’s The Kodaly Context where she provides the following pedagogical order for learning :

  • Hearing
  • Singing
  • Deriving
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Composing

Lois Choksy, The Kodaly Context: Creating an Environment for Musical Learning

(New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981), p10.

If the students have had exposure to activities in the first three areas listed above, they are ready to start “writing” what they hear, and the dictation activity is more likely to be successful. 

Whole-class Activities

We do many activities as a class, where students can draw on the knowledge of their peers if they don’t quite understand the process yet. The expectation of students giving individual responses is introduced gradually. We proceed from working as a class to pairing students, before venturing into asking students to give individual responses. 

Activities that help lead up to the writing activity can include:

  • Using a string on the floor and adding dots (or shoes, or any other accessible object). Each student chooses the sound they would like to contribute, high or low. The class works as a team and we sing the resulting "composition" together.
  • Working on the white board with a single-line staff and magnets (or markers) students add high and low sounds. I like using dinosaur magnets for visual interest.
  • Using a single-line staff, add round “notes” to represent high and low.
Composing with shoes
Composing with dinosaur magnets
Composing with magnets

In the above activities, students are asked to contribute their personal choice for high and low, but the activity is done as a class, so each individual student contribution is one of many parts that create the whole.

Individual Responses

When the students are able to manipulate the high and low sounds as a class, start working on activities that provide the opportunity for students to give responses in groups of two. This can be similar to the class activity of creating a high/low composition with only two co-contributors. As students develop their skills and build confidence, they can be asked for individual responses and they have a good chance of answering successfully.

Students working individually

Writing activities that don't involve pencil and paper

I am always looking for ways for my students to write and manipulate high/low sounds without using pencil and paper. I like using re-usable resources as much as possible. Paper and pencil activities use a lot of "one-time-use" paper, and involve sharpening pencils and providing erasers. Also, students with fine-motor issues find pencil activities more challenging. There are lots of alternate options that give the students the opportunity to show their understanding of a concept.

  • Flat marbles (my students call them “jewels” and they LOVE these!) on a piece of paper
  • Cookie sheets (with a staff drawn on it) and magnets
  • Single-line, 3-line, or full staff drawn on cardstock and "Jewels"/bingo chips used for notes
  • Individual white boards and magnets
Marbles
Composing with Cookie Sheets

Music Dictation Activity - using flat marbles

My dictation activity developed as one of many activities students did as we were progressing through the stages listed above. The students had been exposed to multiple high-low exercises and it was time to see if they could write what they were hearing. The flat marble “jewels” were used with a piece of paper on which I had created two melodic options side by side. Students listened to a 4-note melodic phrase and placed their marbles on the correct phrase. It is interesting to listen to them humming high and low sounds as they decide which is the correct melodic phrase.

The flat marbles slide nicely on the paper without rolling, and changes can be made quickly and easily. The students love the feel of the marbles, and they really liked the amazing blue colour! (I have also used Bingo chips, but they are harder to pick up and move around.)


Using the sheet with circles and lines pre-drawn has advantages:
  • The students can sing the two melodic phrases before they do the dictation activity. This helps internalize the sounds they will be hearing (and choosing) during the dictation.
  • Visual cues (the circles) assist students as they place their marbles to create the melodic phrase.
  • Providing only two options creates a manageable set of variables for the students to consider.
  • As they place their marbles on the circles, students practice writing notes that follow each other rather than being stacked like a chord.
  • The paper can be flipped to re-do the activity with a “different” set of melodic phrases! (Just ignore the upside-down numbers.)
  • The numbers help direct the students to the row to which they need to listen.

The final row on the sheet had a blank line so I could ask them for one melodic phrase that they were responsible to write, without any visual cues. I would only use this line if the remainder of the sheet had been mostly successful. If the students struggled with the previous four lines, we would finish the activity without using the 5th line, and return to it another day.

Once students have been successful with this activity, they can use their marbles and a single-line staff to write melodic phrases without any visual cues.

BONUS: Music Dictation Activity as an Assessment Tool

If you are working on assessment, grab a phone or other recording device and video the students as they are doing this activity. The flow of the class is not interrupted as you attempt to work with a checklist, and you can review the video later (with repeated viewings) to assist with your assessment.


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