top of page

How to Get YOUR Students Transcribing Melodies BY EAR by The End of Grade 3 (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series

Last time, I gave you a list of activities, materials, and singing games that you would need to do this. Today, I am going to show you what a typical progression of lessons will look like using those activities and games. You will have to refer back to Part 1 to understand the activities and songs described in this post. Typically, students will have had lots of experience with rhythmic dictation and understand rhythm and how to write it in stick notation before this point. This is important for being able to correctly transcribe pitch AND rhythm by the end of Grade 3. Also important to note is that combining both pitch and rhythm on a staff is NOT expected until Grade 3. Up to this point they are separate concepts that they should be able to understand very well separately before they are combined. If you feel like your students need until Grade 4, that is completely fine. Only you know your learners best.

The following lessons and progressions will assume that the class you are teaching is 25 to 30 minutes long. Each phase could be done in as little as 1 class but is typically assumed learners will need practice with the activities and skills in each phase. Therefore, I would recommend at least 4 classes per phase. As mentioned, you know your learners best and will know what they will need.

Grade 1

Phase 1 (introducing “Sol” and “Mi”)

5 to 7 minutes: Teach “Sol” and explain how it sounds. Give them the hand sign for it and have them sing “Sol” while they show you the hand sign. Then give them the hand sign for “Mi” and have them sing it with you. Review this in subsequent classes.

1 to 3 minutes: introduce Here We Sit – Show them the hand signs alone for the song and have them learn it one measure at a time by copying you after you sing. Then have them listen to the words of the song copying it the same way. Make sure they are signing the song while singing the words. This helps them hear the difference between the two pitches and internalize the sound. Tell them the song explains the rules and see if they can figure out how to play it from the lyrics. Review this in subsequent classes.

7 to 10 minutes: Play Here We Sit. Make sure they keep signing if they can while they sing. I like doing games in 3 rounds. Use your discretion.

5 to 10 minutes: Introduce Body Sign Game. Have them stand with their eyes open for today. Find an instrument to play and see if they can hear if the sound changes or stays the same. begin on “Sol” and always go back to it for reference. Review this in subsequent classes.

Phase 2 (adding “La”)

5 to 10 minutes: Learning “La” with Pinky the Pig. Teach them the hand sign for “La” and have them see if they can follow your signs when you teach them Pinky’s melody. I explain that Pinky can only hear the instructions if they are sung to them. My puppets don’t speak but perhaps you are a skilled ventriloquist.

10 minutes: Teach A Tisket, A Tasket while signing and ask them how many times they hear “La” in the song. Try the game. In the first class you may only get to showing them how the game works and trying it once. Make sure you keep them signing while singing and playing the game.

10 minutes: Body sign game with “So, Mi, and La.” At this point, I like to have them play until there is a winner, or at least down to the last 3. They always seem to like a bit of competition.

Phase 3 (drawing a treble clef)

NOTE: for this phase, students will need whiteboard markers. I usually have lots for them to use but they do not last very long so I usually ask them to bring their own.

5 to 10 minutes: Visit with Pinky. They will likely be able to come up with some new tricks and being very creative with some of them by now.

5 to 10 minutes: A Tisket A Tasket or another Sol, Mi, La game. Make sure to sign and sing each time.

10 to12 minutes: Learning to draw the treble clef. Many times before this, they are familiar with the letter names or at the very least, the numbers of the lines. There are a few ways I explain how to draw the treble clef while demonstrating it for them to copy. Here they are:

  1. Begin with a skinny ‘J’ and then give him a head, bum, and belly.

  2. Skinny ‘J’, then to the D, to the E, to the B. This refers to the line letter names where they intersect to make the treble clef. Or, if using the line numbers, 4, 1, 3.

Here are the steps I go through with teaching the treble clef:


Typically, during this phase they will need time just to practice their treble clefs. Use the time if they need it.

Phase 4 (writing Sol, and Mi in the key of C on the staff and transcribing by ear)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Pinky or Owly to start them experiencing “Do.”

10 to 12 minutes: Doggy, Doggy or A Tisket A Tasket

10 to 12 minutes: “Setting up their boards.” This means they are beginning the first steps in getting ready to transcribe. Only when you feel they are ready should you move them to this phase. Once I know they are all comfortable with treble clefs, I have them set up their board with three treble clefs like this: