One of the things I have done is scale degree training where you play a cadence and play any note to see if you can identify that note. I can probably be as accurate as 98%. 90% if you add chromatic.

Also I train myself to hear harmonic progression, though I'm not good at it. I'm also doing interval training

Even though doing all this stuff, I can't really transcribe in real time, I have to pause over and over again, sing the melody to identify the intervals and maybe identify the scale degree.

I'm curious to see what you guys did to help you or what you did in general that helped understand the musical language more.

2 Answers 2


Although everything you've done so far is good practice, there's one big thing that's missing: singing!

When you sing (especially when you use a particular system—more on that later), you connect particular pitches with their functions. The more you do this, the more you'll hear music and recognize what the scale degrees are, and you'll be able to do this in real time.

But in order for this to work, it's best for you to use a functional singing system. If you use solfège, you'll want to sing movable-do solfège, because the syllables map onto particular functions (i.e., "do" is tonic, "sol" is scale-degree 5, etc.). You could also just sing on scale-degree numbers.

You could sing fixed-do solfège, but it will take a little more time to reach the level that you're hoping for. I'd only recommend fixed-do if you're a young child or if you're a college music student.

I'd go so far as to say you should forego your interval training and use that time for functional singing instead. Although interval training can be helpful, it's nowhere near as helpful as functional singing.

As for harmonic dictation, the best practice is playing things at the keyboard. But as you're playing them, make sure you know what harmonies you're playing at any given time. Only then will you map function onto sound.

But through it all, remember two things:

  • These things take time!
  • And perhaps more importantly, be realistic with your goals and your progress. Very few people in the world can hear a Beethoven symphony and transcribe it all. And to be honest, such a skill is not necessary to be a successful musician.
  • You're spot on with movable do as opposed to fixed do. Although numbers is as good as any - and reinforces intervals. Mozart was good at transcribing difficult works, but not sure he managed to transcribe any of Beethoven's stuff.
    – Tim
    Jul 30, 2018 at 6:02

Answer given above is a good one. I have very good relative pitch and if I'm given the tonic chord, can identify the scale degree of any note (including chromatics) played afterward. This simply came by years of playing by ear and becoming familiar with the scales. So I'd say first of all, just don't give up and keep spending time, time, time listening to music and playing along to follow what chords/notes are being played. That being said, I still can't transcribe every note of a piano piece in real time, and I don't know if that's a reasonable goal, unless you're dealing with a simple one-part melody line. Single vocal parts are doable, and perhaps two-part harmony, but I don't think I know anybody that can perfectly reproduce every note of a complex piano score after hearing it once. And I know some people with incredible ears, even absolute (perfect) pitch. Just being able to accurately transcribe using your pause or slow speed options is a reasonable goal.

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