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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:


Then we talk about the letter names of the lines and that “Sol” is on the ‘G’ line. Once we figure that out, they are to write in only the note head on the ‘G’ line and then label it “Sol.”


NOTE: This may be as far as you get the first day.

When I know they are comfortable with writing in the treble clefs and a “Sol” on the ‘G’ line, I ask them where they think “Mi” goes. Many will remember that it is lower but some will need a reminder. Show them and have them write it in.

Now they are ready to transcribe. All they need is 2 pitches to be able to do this. I begin by explaining that the other two staves are for them to write down what I play. I always give them a reference pitch (Sol) and have them sing it back to me then I give them a melody to write. Only 4 sounds and no rhythm. Before this though you should be sure to explain that if the learners hear “Sol” they need to put it ‘here’ and if they hear “Mi” they need to put it ‘here.’ Then play them a simple melody on an instrument of your choice. The first time doing this, you may only have time to do 1 transcription.

NOTE: If they have no experience with the staff, they will inevitably write the words on the lines or write the note heads in the spaces touching the lines because they are used to keeping all of their writing in the lines.

Phase 5 (writing Sol, Mi, and La in the key of C on the staff and practicing skills)

This phase should be similar to Phase 4 as it assumes they are comfortable with all of the transcribing thus far. When setting up their boards for Sol, Mi, and La their boards should look like this:


The formula for the lesson stays pretty much the same but if you feel like your students are mastering Sol, Mi, and La, start adding in some “Do” songs for them.

NOTE: These pitches on the top staff are for the student’s reference so that they practice putting them in the right places every time they meet with you.

Grade 2

Phase 1 (Review)

NOTE: Phase 1 is review of grade 1. The format for the classes is the same. 

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Pinky

10 to 15 minutes: A Tisket A Tasket or Doggy Doggy. Keep remembering to sign and sing everything that you can with your learners.

10 to 12 minutes: Body Sign Game starting with only Sol, Mi, and La.

Phase 2 (adding “Do” and reviewing writing)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Pinky or Owly. Make sure they recognize where “Do” is.

10 to 15 minutes: Pass the Stick or Mouse, Mousie, or Body Sign Game.

10 to 12 minutes: Review treble clef. Grade 2s who have done this before should only need this 10 minutes to remember how to draw them. As mentioned, however, you know your learners best.

Phase 3 (reviewing Sol, Mi, and La on the staff in C)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Pinky or Owly.

10 to 15 minutes: Pass the Stick, Mouse Mousie, or Body Sign Game with Sol, Mi, La, and Do.

10 to 12 minutes: Review writing where Sol, Mi, and La are on the staff. You should be able to get to trying one in the first class of this phase. Play ‘Sol’ and have them sing it back. Then play your melody using only Sol, Mi, and La. In subsequent lessons, have them set up their boards like this:


and to practice their skills. When you feel like they are ready for writing in ‘Do’ go to the next phase. Having sung lots of Sol, Mi, Do songs, they should be fairly ready by this point.

Phase 4 (writing and transcribing “Do”)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Owly.

10 to 15 minutes: Pass the Stick, Mouse Mousie, or Body Sign Game with Sol, Mi, La, and Do.

10 to 12 minutes: Have them set up their boards and add in ‘Do.’ Explain that it needs its own line and show them where it goes:


Do at least 2 transcriptions with them in each class during this phase once they are ‘set-up’ and ready to go.

Phase 5 (introducing “Re”)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Rocky or Smelly to introduce “Re.”

10 to 15 minutes: Teddy Bear. This is a great one for introducing “Re.”

10 to 12 minutes: Body Sign Game with “Re.”

NOTE: You may or may not get to transcribing with “Re.” Only you know your learners best!

Grade 3

Phase 1 (review pitches from grade 2)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Pinky or Owly to review pitches they already know. Make sure to sign all songs before inserting the words.

10 to 15 minutes: Body Sign Game with Sol, Mi, Do, La. No “Re” yet.

10 to 12 minutes: Mouse Mousie, Pass the Stick, or A Tisket A Tasket.

Phase 2 (review treble clefs and writing Sol, Mi, La, Do on the staff)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Owly.

10 to 15 minutes: Mouse Mousie, Pass the Stick or Body Sign Game.

10 to 12 minutes: Review how to write a treble clef on the staff and have them practice. Some may need the full 12 minutes to review drawing the treble clef. In subsequent classes, once they have their treble clefs, review where Sol, Mi, La, and Do go in the key of C. Their boards should look like this at the end:


This will be also how they should be asked to ‘set up’ their boards before we start transcribing.

NOTE: To get to this point may take up to 3 classes of review before you are transcribing depending on the group.

Phase 3 (transcribing using Sol, Mi, La, and Do – no rhythm)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Owly or Pinky.

10 to 15 minutes: Mouse Mousie, Pass the Stick or Body Sign Game.

10 to 12 minutes: Transcribing practice using Sol, Mi, La, and Do. Always give them a reference pitch before you give them the melody you want them to transcribe. I usually have time for at least 2 different 4 pitch melodies. Any of the puppets’ songs would be appropriate here because they are just quarter notes and don’t really ‘need’ rhythm notated.

Phase 4 (adding “Re”)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Rocky to show them “Re.”

10 to 15 minutes: Body Sign Game with “Re” or Teddy Bear.

10 to 12 minutes: Transcribe with Sol, Mi, La, Do and do another one adding in “Re” to their reference line:


This will be how they will ‘set-up’ their boards in this Phase.

Phase 5 (practicing and refining skills)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit with Rocky, Owly, or Pinky.

10 to 15 minutes: Teddy Bear, Pick You Must Wander (this one we will be transcribing later), or Body Sign Game with all 5 pitches.

10 to 15 minutes: Practicing and refining their skills. From now on they should ‘set-up’ their board in pentatonic order (lowest to highest). Like this:


Also a great time to chat about a pentatonic scale!

NOTE: You can switch up the starting pitch for them later in this phase but let them know before you do. Give them a reference pitch that is not the same as the starting pitch. I also begin to move my reference pitch to “Do” instead of “Sol.”

Phase 6 (adding rhythm)

10 to 15 minutes: Pick, You Must Wander. I make sure they know the solfege for this really well.

10 to 20 minutes: Adding rhythm. Give learners an easy one to transcribe at first. I usually start with something they know really well like SLSM or SMDD. Then I ask them what the rhythm is. I point to my Rhythm Wall and ask them what the rhythm would be. The quarter note rhythms of the puppet songs, as mentioned, are 4 quarters so it is super easy to notate and a great place to start with adding rhythm to their pitches. We clap it and then write in the rhythm together until it looks like this:


Then we talk about what we are missing now that we have rhythm (the time signature). Then we add it in with a double bar line on the end. They would be used to doing these for the work we did on writing rhythms. Next, I let them know that we will be learning to write rhythm and pitch together like ‘real’ musicians.

During this phase, you will likely need to do a few more examples over the course of a couple more classes for them to begin to understand it. If your students have done rhythm before then keep it to Ta-di, Ta and occasionally Ta-ka-di-mi as most of the songs they sing in class only use those rhythms anyway.


Phase 7 (practicing skills and transcribing actual melodies with rhythm and pitch)

5 to 7 minutes: Visit Rocky.

10 to 15 minutes: Pick, You Must Wander.

10 to 12 minutes: Practice writing rhythms with pitch and rhythm using easy rhythms or melodies they know. There should also be some that they don’t know thrown in there too to show they can hear it and are not just memorizing. I use Pick, You Must Wander because they know it really well and there are some easy rhythms to dictate in there. Some of the melodies, they don’t realize they might have just sang so the might need some hints. I give it to them 1 measure at a time. When they are comfortable with 1 measure melodies, I begin to give them 2 measure melodies to transcribe.

Phase 8 (writing out Pick, You Must Wander by memory with “grammatically” correct music notation)

During this phase learners will begin to write out Pick, You Must Wander (or any other pentatonic melody of your choice) by memory in the key of C. I usually just ask them to write it out with all the pitches first without rhythm or measures then they add the rhythm and measures. In subsequent lessons they will learn to write it out much cleaner and much more coherently. Concepts you will have to coach them through during this phase will be:

  1. Any notes written below the ‘B’ line are notated as ‘d’ and any notes written above the ‘B’ line are notated as ‘p.’

  2. Any notes written on the ‘B’ line can be ‘d’ or ‘p.’

  3. Quarter rests should be written in the middle of the staff and take up the two middle spaces no matter what the note before it was.

  4. Measures cannot be interrupted on a line. If a measure cannot be finished on the current line, erase it and begin it again on the next line.

  5. Put a measure line every 4 beats.

  6. Put a double measure line at the end.

  7. Each line needs a treble clef but not a time signature. Time signatures are only at the beginning.

  8. If 2 eighth notes are on two different pitches, the beam should show the contour.

In the end though, their boards should look something like this:


They will pick this up surprisingly fast and before you say, “well, they are just memorizing the pitches and writing it down,” consider this; if there is one thing that they get from this, it is a much deeper understanding of how music works. Most of our learners are visual and this is a wonderful way to help those visual students understand the complexities of music.

C pentatonic is usually where I get to with grade 3. In the past, I have had learners transcribing in G and F pentatonic and then some in C, F, and G major! To add “Fa” and “Ti” all you need are more singing games that include those two syllables and you are all set. If you follow a similar formula for the rest of these, there is no reason why they wouldn’t be able to do this! I usually begin the process in March so they are complete of all phases by mid June. There are more Grade 3 phases but will move through them much more quickly if they have done it before. Don’t forget to check back to the last post for an overview of all the activities mentioned here! Students in music class should be exposed to all kinds of listening, singing, and signing opportunities throughout the year – not just when learning to transcribe. I sometimes forget, in the later years, how helpful solfege and signing is for remembering pitches. As well, I am sure you have many other activities that would compliment this unit plan too. I encourage you to use them!

Happy Musicking!

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