The Aural Idiom Drill is designed for students whose theory curriculum emphasizes harmonic idioms — short, characteristic chord progressions, often with specific contrapuntal patterns in the outer voices. It supports learning in theory by allowing students to hear the idioms. Most centrally, it also supports aural skills development by encouraging students to hear in terms of short sequences of chords rather than simply listening chord-by-chord. In contrast to most computer drills on harmonic hearing, the Aural Idiom Drill does not focus on harmonic dictation itself but rather on developing skills that will enhance success in harmonic dictation.
Hearing in terms of harmonic idioms encourages a more sophisticated form of listening, one that is more aware of larger-scale patterns in the music. It is also an extremely effective strategy for dictation exercises, because a chord sequence that might need to be heard as three separate things when hearing chord-by-chord can simply be identified as a single thing. This brings out a similarity between learning to hear chord progressions and learning to understand a foreign language, in which a transition must be made from hearing syllable-by-syllable to hearing familiar words and phrases.
The Aural Idiom Drill has been designed to develop aural familiarity with harmonic idioms, and it supports this in multiple ways. The interface allows users to select idioms, and then to see notation for the idioms and to hear them played. For each harmony topic, the program also offers several drills, in which users must identify which among some selection of idioms they have heard. After making a selections, users are told whether or not they were correct, and they see the notation and can hear it as many times as they wish. These drills develop aural familiarity in two ways. They do this directly by pitting idioms against each other — either all of the idioms in a harmony topic, or idioms that have some clear aural similarity. This can lead to an emphasis on very fine-grained kinds of distinctions — for example, was that vii°6 or V4/3 used as a voice-leading chord as tonic harmony was expanded using parallel tenths? The drills also function indirectly, in that while focusing on the specific chord used to expand parallel tenths, the parallel tenths themselves are also becoming ingrained, and indeed this is the primary goal of the training. While the finer-grained distinctions may or may not be important depending on the context, the ability to recognize the more general patterns should become a significant part of harmonic hearing in general, active not only in exercises but also in many kinds of listening and performing.
The specifics of the materials are heavily indebted to Aldwell and Schachter's Harmony and Voice Leading, as well as to Gene Biringer's music theory lecture notes.
We welcome your feedback on the Aural Idiom Drill - we anticipate future versions, with changes ranging from fixing operational glitches and errors in the drill materials to additions of new drills and units. So please let us know any ways in which the Aural Idiom Drill could be improved - and please also let us know what you don't want to see change. While we welcome feedback from all sources, feedback from instructors, and especially from instructors who have used or are considering using the Aural Idiom Drill would be particularly helpful.