Thinking in Sound - A Qualitative Study of Metaphors for Pitch Perception

Kathy A. Thompson

The mission for aural skills instruction is to enable students to think in sound. Each fall college teachers meet freshmen with varying levels of experience and ability in music reading and listening. Selecting appropriate strategies for teaching students to auralize, to "hear" how notated music sounds in the absence of physical sound, is difficult not only because of students' different skill levels but also because research in aural skills pedagogy has not indicated an ideal sequence of instruction. Most textbooks present a good variety of exercises but little conceptual framework, leaving that to the teacher's discretion. This qualitative study was initiated to help an aural skills teacher with absolute pitch understand how relative pitch skills develops. Participants were 23 undergraduate students enrolled in aural skills classes at a liberal arts university. Based on students' previous experiences, their responses to auralization tasks, and evaluation of their sight-singing, metaphors were suggested to characterize strategies to internalize pitch from musical notation. Students assessed their own strategies and then evaluated the effectiveness of the metaphors for discussing their process for internalizing pitch. Findings provided observations about the development of relative pitch and raised issues about the use of solmization.