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A Learning by Ear and Transcription Project for Intermediate Band

Updated: Jan 28

Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy coaching large ensembles. These groups are really good at facilitating the practice of reading European staff notation, but something these ensembles have historically not been good at is facilitating the practice of learning by ear, arranging, and composition. I know, ear training is part of the training, but ear training and learning by ear are not the same thing. Here is a blog post explaining the difference and the benefits of it. This year, I’m teaching instrumental music (band) to learners in Grades 7 through 9. Among their scale studies and their band rep, the Grade 8 and 9 learners have this project assigned to them where they are to pick a song they love, learn the melody and the bass line by ear and transcribe it into Noteflight Learn. I give between 20 and 40 minutes per class to work on it depending on the day. So far, I am impressed with how it is going. Many are picking out the notes right away, others need some coaching through sections of it but are ultimately succeeding with the task. They are working in groups or individually to finish the project. Here’s the plan:

A Project for Your Intermediate Band Learners

Transcription project 𝅘𝅥𝅮

For this project, you and up to 2 partners, will be learning a song of choice by ear, arranging for your instrument(s), and transcribing it into Noteflight Learn (possibly for someone else to play).


Step 1: Choose a song that you would like to learn. If the song is in a challenging key for you or your group mates, it may have to be transposed to an easier key. Use the Transpose Chrome Extension or BandLab for Education to change the key of your song.

Note to Facilitator: So far, none of them have had to transpose it. They are just learning new notes as they go, as they have to.

Step 2: Learn the melody and the bass line by ear. If you are writing for a third player, find inner harmonies that work for your arrangement. Be sure to write down the form of the piece as you go (introduction, verse, chorus, etc…). For help with a bass line, or another site can be used for clues. If you have 3 players in your group, one should be the lead on the melody, one on the bass line, and the other on inner harmonies.

Note to Facilitator: also has a transpose tool, but is also sometimes incorrect, so it should only be used for clues.

Step 3: Enter those parts into Noteflight. Make sure you know the key and tempo so playback is accurate. Begin with the pitches and then change the rhythms as needed. If you are unsure of a rhythm, ask me or a friend to help.

Note to Facilitator: This may not happen for a while, and if it does there is a bit of a learning curve for those who have never used this type of software before: one of the many skills that the larger project promotes.

Step 4: Submit your good copy (sheet music) and all your work to me. You or your group will perform this via in class, video, or other approved method.

Note to Facilitator: Performance is not necessary but a pretty neat experience. They could even record their screen playing it from Noteflight using Loom or Screencastify as a form of performance. Performance isn’t always live.

Step 5: Give your work to another classmate or group of classmates to see if they can play it.

Note to Facilitator: This could be an extra element. Consider that one of the main reasons for writing an arrangement down in European staff notation or another standardized no