Mentoring Monday: Class Preparation

Class Preparation
Connor Barz, School of Music Mentor

“DO” you “RE”member cram”MI”ng for a class in high school and “FA”lling so far behind that there was ab”SOL”utely no way to “LA”nd even a “TI”ny bit of success? If you have any sort of background in aural training or the “solfege” system in general, the previous sentence becomes much funnier. If you have no experience with the solfege system, first of all, welcome. Second of all, and much more importantly, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

On your schedule, you will most likely notice you are enrolled in the class “MTC 114-Aural Activities I” or something of the like. This is the beginning of a 4 semester sequence to train your ear as a musician to recognize intervals in tonal music (and eventually even atonal music!). Hopefully, having decided to come to school for music, your band directors, orchestra directors, choir directors, or other significant musical figures in your life prepared you for the inevitability of having to take some sort of ear training course. Although he went to West Chester himself only a few years before I did, my band director failed to prepare me for this course and I suffered the consequences. I barely passed the first level of aurals and it took me three semesters to pass the second level. You may be thinking to yourself, “why would this guy who clearly is no good at aurals be writing to me about aurals?!” The answer is because I am one of the best examples of someone who had no idea what they were doing, got some help, practiced until I actually lost my voice and ended up passing the final two aurals classes with a B+ and A, respectively. I don’t suggest it, but if you want to stop reading now, my fundamental advice is this: Don’t give up on this subject or let it determine your musical success. You are more than capable of succeeding in this course.

If you’re still reading, thank you for giving me your time. I’m going to give a few pointers and things I learned to help me through times I just wanted to quit and then some things you can do to prepare yourself for the class better than I did, basically things I wish I had known during my first semester.

PRACTICE– This may seem obvious but with the instrument classes, voice classes, oh and not to mention your major instrument/voice practice time, aurals frequently is early on the chopping block of things that get eliminated from consideration to practice. This is a skill you have probably not spent much time with and really only gets better with time. Take the time early, and you will thank yourself later. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Do not, under any circumstance, fall behind– falling behind in aurals will ensure certain demise. This is not a class you can cram for the night before. It is a class that is developing a skill. You wouldn’t go play a recital unprepared, so why go into aurals class unprepared? Stay on top of assignments, upcoming benchmark exams, and dictation expectations. If you do find yourself falling behind, do not be afraid to ask for help.

Work with a friend– Find someone who is better than you and strive to reach their level. The caveat to that is to not get frustrated when it does not happen instantly. We all want to be better musicians and the best way to do that is to force yourself to be around people who are good at what they do. Find a friend and have them play intervals on the piano while you name them. Have your friend name an interval and you sing it back to them. Take a dictation of something your friend plays on the piano. Sing melodies for each-other and make notes of successes and areas of improvement. Everyone at the school of music has to go through these courses, why torture yourself by doing it alone? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Get a tutor– There are students who work with a tutoring service to help. These tutoring sessions happen in small groups or individually, both are extremely helpful. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Utilize your relationships– Your friends, studio professors, ensemble directors, and other faculty members are much more likely to lend a helping hand than they are to turn you away if you reach out to them for assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Sing everything– Hear a song on the radio? Sing it. Go to a concert on campus and hear a catchy theme? Sing it. A tune pops into your head? Sing it, then notate it or play it on the piano. You probably heard your band director say “if you can sing it you can play it” a million times. It works the other way around too; “if you can play it, you can sing it”. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Listen to everything– Challenge yourself to listen to a song and pick out a few chords that you can identify the quality of (i.e. major, minor, diminished, augmented). Go on the internet and check it out to see if you were right. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Use the internet– There are a plethora of sites online that can help you with ear training. is my personal favorite, but consulting with any theory faculty member will provide you with a wealth of more information about software or websites that can help ear training. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Now, those are all great tips for if you are struggling/trying to get ahead in class, but what can you do NOW to make sure you are the person who is prepared on even the first day? Here are a few things I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone.

Be comfortable with the solfege syllables. If you are not familiar with the solfege system I suggest getting familiar with it at . Note that this is a transposing system and that any note can be “Do” with all following pitches following accordingly. It is most important to be comfortable with the solfege note names and be able to say them forward and backward up and down the scale. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Know what your assignment is and practice it. When my first aurals professor assigned prepared singing, I had no idea what to do to prepare them and therefore failed miserably in class. Be on top of what the assignment is and be sure to have it prepared. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Get comfortable with your singing voice. Guys, do not be afraid of using falsetto. Girls, make sure you know where your break is and be comfortable transitioning from chest voice to head voice. All vocal parts are capable of succeeding in this course as long as you are comfortable with your voice and know how to make it do what you want it to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Learn intervals. Learn everything about intervals. Learn what they sound like, what they feel like when you sing them, what notes make what intervals etc. This whole ear training concept is largely based on the concept of intervals and a mastery of that will lead to comfortability in the class (as well as theory!). Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Ask your professor how they learned certain things. My first few aurals professors just told me what to hear, but what I needed to know was how to hear what I was listening for. Learning how to listen has made all the difference in my success in both aurals and ensemble/solo playing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re STILL reading, I thank you again, but hopefully, you’ll thank yourself for giving yourself an advantage as you start your journey in this sequence of “fun-filled” classes. The most important thing about succeeding in aurals is knowing that every music teacher you’ve ever had has done it. Every upper-classman music major has done it, and therefore it is something YOU can achieve. At 3 a.m. when you’re sitting in a practice room trying to get a melody just right, just breathe and know that this too shall pass and no matter what, if you have prepared, you will succeed in some way whether that be getting an “A” or just performing better than last time, improvement is improvement no matter what it may be. A little bit of preparation goes a long way towards long-term success, and finally, if you read the end of each bulleted item above, you’ll know to not be afraid to ask for help. There is an entire community in Swope that is capable of providing any sort of assistance needed, you just need to reach out and ask.

I have no doubt that you are a skilled enough musician to succeed in this course and an intelligent enough person to get any help from any combination of resources should the need arise. I wish you the best of luck as you begin your time as a Golden Ram and look forward to seeing you around campus.


One thought on “Mentoring Monday: Class Preparation

  1. Connor – thanks for this thorough and well-written essay. I couldn’t have put it better.

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