Harmonic Dictation

Harmonic dictation conventions (PDF)


Harmonic Dictation – chapter organization

Considered too complex for Level 1, harmonic dictation begins at Level 2.

The last chapter of each level is a summary and synthesis of concepts and includes the progressions from preceding levels.

Most chapters consist of 16 dictations.  The summary chapters consist of 32 dictations.


Harmonic Dictations – instructions

Harmonic dictations must be written on a grand staff using the BASS and TREBLE clefs.

A harmonic dictation is made up of four to six chords.  The chords should all be written in whole notes without a time signature.

The harmonic dictation consists of identifying the outer voices (soprano and bass) and especially of labelling the chord functions (along with inversion numbers or indications of 7th chords) under the staff.

All harmonic dictations begin with the “I” chord in root position.  The soprano may double the root or may be the 3rd or the 5th.

A dominant chord may or may not contain a 7th.  If a 7th is included, it will appear in one of the outer voices.  In other words, a 7th will never be hidden in an inner voice.

WARNING: Every so often, the user may notice in the answer key parallel motion of 5ths or octaves between two voices.  Although this breaks the conventional rules of harmony, the use of parallel 5ths and octaves in these cases arises from the need to emphasize certain melodic movements in the outer voices, keeping in mind that these are exercises in listening and not in writing.  Although the parallels appear, the harmonic motion of the outer voices respects the rules of harmony.


Harmonic Dictation – audio file description

Harmonic dictations are performed on the piano and appear in a single audio file.

No corresponding scale, cadence, or “count-off” is played before the dictation.

The key is listed in the classification code after the dictation number.  By default, the key is major.  The following letters are used:

  • “m” for minor
  • “f” for flat
  • “s” for sharp


Harmonic Dictations – functions

The harmonic functions used in the harmonic dictation portion of the program are:

Diatonic functions: I, II, III, IV, V and VI

Secondary dominant functions:

  • V/II, V/IV, V/V, V/VI in major
  • V/III, V/IV and V/V in minor

Mixed mode:

  • IVmm in major (iv)
  • Imm in minor (I)

The Neapolitan chord: N (in first inversion=N6)

Certain chords may be found in inversions, depending on the level and chapter.


Harmonic Dictation – details – Level 2

In some cases the outer voices alone do not allow a distinction to be made between the IV and II6 functions, which are similar.  In these cases, the correct answer to give is “IV or II6.”


Harmonic Dictation – details – Level 3

The standard arrangement of a progression using a secondary dominant is:

I – V /x – x – V – I             

            (Note: if x=V, the progression has only four chords)

The melodic motion in the outer voices (at least one of the two voices) signals the presence of a secondary dominant.  These are standard:

I – V/IV – IV – V – I

  • In the soprano: 1-b7-6-7-1 OR 1-1-1-7-1
  • In the bass: 1-1-4-5-1 OR 1-3-4-5-1

I – V/V – V – I

  • In the soprano: 1-2-7-1 OR 1-1-7-1
  • In the bass: 1-2-5-1 OR 1-#4-5-1

V/II – II:

  • In the soprano: 7-1 of II
  • In the bass: 5-1 of II


  • In the soprano: 7-1 of III
  • In the bass: 5-1 of III

V/VI – VI:

  • In the soprano: 7-1 of VI
  • In the bass: 5-1 of VI

“V/III – III” in minor is perceived even without an accidental or a 7th.  The strength of the subtonic (bVII) leading to the relative major (III) sustains it.

The appearance of mixed mode or a Neapolitan chord is not necessarily evident in the outer voices.  In this case, one should fall back on listening to the “colours” of the chords.


Harmonic Dictation – details – Level 4

For all chapters, with the exception of Chapter 3, the type of cadence must be identified in the answer.

Plagal and deceptive cadences may employ the mixed mode construct.  Two cases may appear, in the major mode only:

  • Plagal cadence: IVmm – I (iv – I)
  • Deceptive cadence: V – VI mm (V – bVI)

In Level 4, the progressions with secondary dominants are not necessarily standard.  The melodic motion in at least one of the two outer voices (tendency tones) signals the presence of a secondary dominant.