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#1913563 - 06/14/12 05:29 PM Skills: unexpected benefits
Gary D. Offline
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Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Last spring and moving into the summer I have been pushing major and minor chords in a way I've never tried before.

Instead of being content to more or less work on chords as they occur in music, I have started off teaching all the major and minor chords almost from day one. Of course I don't teach them all at once, but I get them covered rather quickly, in triads, both hands.

There have been two unexpected benefits:

1) This has allowed me to start introducing the sustain pedal MUCH earlier.
2) By adding the idea of saying the roots of all chords, this has reinforced the names of the black keys. I have them call out sharp names ascending and flat names descending.

At first I thought I might be teaching something very confusing with names like A# major and Db minor, but upon thinking about it a bit more I realized that we get all those unusual enharmonics in advanced music. So why delay the concept?

This has uncovered an unexpected weakness. At first many students who are otherwise nailing the chords skip some when playing them chromatically.


Edited by Gary D. (06/14/12 05:37 PM)
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#1913569 - 06/14/12 05:41 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Para Otras Offline
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Registered: 05/28/12
Posts: 309
I teach the five finger pattern and triads from day one/two as well. We go over half steps and whole steps and then start on C. I tell them to move to the last note and start there, and so on (going around the circle of fifths). I also have them add in a hand-cross-over arpeggio.

I believe in technique immediately, and always to do it with theory and ear-training. Kids begin to understand the concepts quicker than we imagine. The chords are no exception. They feel right in the hands. I think you're doing a smart thing.

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#1913574 - 06/14/12 05:50 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
PianoStudent88 Offline
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Registered: 06/16/11
Posts: 2975
Loc: Maine
Do you have an idea of why the students skip some chromatically? And how do you help them learn how not to skip some?
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#1913580 - 06/14/12 06:12 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Para Otras]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Para Otras
I teach the five finger pattern and triads from day one/two as well. We go over half steps and whole steps and then start on C. I tell them to move to the last note and start there, and so on (going around the circle of fifths). I also have them add in a hand-cross-over arpeggio.

I believe in technique immediately, and always to do it with theory and ear-training. Kids begin to understand the concepts quicker than we imagine. The chords are no exception. They feel right in the hands. I think you're doing a smart thing.

Peter, that is just the start.

It all builds. I think major/minor, root position, is the gateway to getting to all three note chords.

And the dom7 is the gateway to getting to all four note chords.

I don't push inversions too hard, at first, but I do encourage students to play all chords in inversions ASAP.

I wish I could come with something for scales that students like as well. My students, for the most part, REALLY enjoy chords, and I enjoy teaching them. smile
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#1913582 - 06/14/12 06:14 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: PianoStudent88]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: PianoStudent88
Do you have an idea of why the students skip some chromatically? And how do you help them learn how not to skip some?

The skipping comes from thinking of the keys as "outside things" and black keys as "inside things".

Students tend not to see the part of the white keys that are between the black keys. Once they see in a new way, the skipping stops. smile
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#1913589 - 06/14/12 06:30 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Para Otras Offline
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Registered: 05/28/12
Posts: 309
Originally Posted By: Gary D.
It all builds. I think major/minor, root position, is the gateway to getting to all three note chords.

And the dom7 is the gateway to getting to all four note chords.

I don't push inversions too hard, at first, but I do encourage students to play all chords in inversions ASAP.

I wish I could come with something for scales that students like as well. My students, for the most part, REALLY enjoy chords, and I enjoy teaching them. smile
I completely agree. I should have added that inversions are done. Kids love them, I find! It impresses everyone they do it for.

I also work a lot in the pop and chord piano medium of teaching. Children all have a song they enjoy and I find the chords and we begin to understand their relationships from a very early lesson.

For example, one student enjoys the show Victorious and the song "Make it shine." So I tell her the chords are: F, C, d, Bb. Because she already knows these chords, we work on inversions with voice leading and different patterns of playing it. This is nothing very much hard and because they want to learn the song, they are motivated to apply these.

As for dominant (and diminished) chords, I teach those to more advanced students but that is an interesting concept to have them learn those for four note chords. I use four note major and minor chords, and introduce dominant when the scales are fully learned.

For scales, I find telling children to compose a melody with their scale helps them internalize the notes, as well as improvising them. I'm not sure if this will help you, but I don't have any students who don't know their scales because of it!

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#1913613 - 06/14/12 07:13 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
BinghamtonPiano Offline
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Registered: 11/29/11
Posts: 91
Loc: New York
I also teach major/minor chords right from the beginning, but have been holding off on the dom7 and four note chords (especially with the younger students) due to their hands not being large enough to play them properly. Perhaps I will start introducing the dom7 a little earlier in the process, though.
Good topic!
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#1913723 - 06/14/12 10:52 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
MrsLois Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/19/12
Posts: 75
Loc: Manitoba, Canada
Interesting topic... I like the idea!

As for scales... I teach them a chromatic scale almost immediately - who doesn't love playing chromatic scales?! As for the major and minor scales, I just tell the kids that this is the easiest part of piano. You start on one note, and move up two octaves, playing every note fitting the w-w-h-w-w-w-h pattern. I get them to say the steps (previous pattern mentioned), and when you get to a half step, use your thumb! A lot of my students really like this way of doing the scales, and it sure makes learning the black keys belonging to each key signature a lot easier, simply by using a bit of theory that should at this point be engraved into their memory!

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#1913753 - 06/15/12 12:05 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
AZNpiano Online   sleepy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5271
Loc: Orange County, CA
Gary--

Are you serious about this "day one" thing? I think that's way too early to be talking about chords. Even the first month or two is too early. Most students are still struggling to find individual notes and read intervals at that stage.
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#1913756 - 06/15/12 12:12 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Gary--

Are you serious about this "day one" thing? I think that's way too early to be talking about chords. Even the first month or two is too early. Most students are still struggling to find individual notes and read intervals at that stage.

Dead serious. Sooner or later any student will have to play a C chord. It require coordination. Student has to learn how to use 3rd finger with 1 and 5.

Just did it today, second lesson, adult student helping me in a lesson. We got the C, F and G chords started.

It is not a problem. Why should it be?
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#1913761 - 06/15/12 12:32 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Minniemay Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
Are you also doing this with young children? I can see how it might be technically problematic, depending on the muscle development.
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#1913764 - 06/15/12 12:40 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Minniemay]
AZNpiano Online   sleepy
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5271
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
Are you also doing this with young children? I can see how it might be technically problematic, depending on the muscle development.

That crossed my mind as well. I'm also surprised how early folks teach 5-finger patterns. That requires quite a bit of coordination and rote memorization.
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#1913813 - 06/15/12 03:48 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Minniemay]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
Are you also doing this with young children? I can see how it might be technically problematic, depending on the muscle development.

It is different with each student. In general, we have to go slower with small children. I do too.

The very first hands-together piece I do with the small ones is the "Snake Dance". That uses an open 5th in the LH. That usually is very easy for even the "littlies" to do. smile

My one rule: NO PAIN. There can never be pain. When people are ready, usually at first the 4th or 2nd fingers want to go down with the 3rd finger. This may go on for a few weeks, and we just keep trying it. If all the fingers go down, or too many, we just try it a couple times.

Usually within a week or two those two stubborn fingers magically don't get in the way any more.

But once the C chord is there, the F and G are equally easy. Same skill. Moving to D, E and A is usually easy. The long middle finger feels comfortable, and playing the E major chord actually puts hands and fingers in a position very close to what Chopin taught.

The B chord is tough, but it teaches a lot of things. First, with the LH it teaches people that it is not only OK but necessary to slide the 5th finger (LH) in, so that it is beside the black key (Bb/A#).

With a VERY small and young child it may take me months to get there. With an older kid, I can do it the first lesson if I have a student who is quick and has really good coordination.

But you guys all know that it is different for each student, and I'm not suggesting that this idea should be used with EVERY student, right from the start. However, I do cover all 12 major triads with each student in a surprisingly short amount of time, LH, and the moment they have them, I tell them to copy or clone them into the RH, so both hands. That is actually easier, once it is comfortable, because both hands balance the body much better. And at the point I make sure the sustain pedal is in the mix. If a child is too tiny to do that, or not ready, I may pedal FOR the child, at first.

Things like that...


Edited by Gary D. (06/15/12 03:51 AM)
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#1914147 - 06/15/12 04:40 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: BinghamtonPiano]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: BinghamtonPiano
I also teach major/minor chords right from the beginning, but have been holding off on the dom7 and four note chords (especially with the younger students) due to their hands not being large enough to play them properly. Perhaps I will start introducing the dom7 a little earlier in the process, though.
Good topic!

Here is what I am doing with the young ones. As soon as they know all 12 major triads, I let them use LH to play the major then add the m7 with the RH. Little hands will not be able to play the whole chord with one hand. Older kids will soon try to do it all with LH, and then I can explain the idea behind four-key chords, in this case 5 * 2 1, LH. 1 will go on m7, 2 on P5, 5 on root, but the idea is that the 3rd can be played with either finger 3 or 4, and it is trying both solutions that gives the best result for each hand.

For those who can only play a dom7 with two hands, the advantage is still huge.

We all know that the first 7 chords we see in most beginner books are the BFG and DFG configurations, and that goes straight to Mozart with an Alberti bass.

So with the G7 concept, two hands, when they end up with something like DFG, *I* play G B D F above or below where they are playing, then have students compare:

Do you have a D in your chord too? (Yes.)
Do you have a F in your chord too? (Yes.)
Do you have a G in your chord too? (Yes.)
Do you have a B in your chord too? (No.)
Are you SURE? Did you look in the RH? (OH, I see it!)

BAM, you are into a first inversion, open-voiced chord almost from the get-go, which is where most books take us much later. Thus the idea of "scrambled chords" (open voicings) and the concept that "inversion" really means "what is in the bass?" smile


Edited by Gary D. (06/15/12 04:42 PM)
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#1914150 - 06/15/12 04:45 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Originally Posted By: Minniemay
Are you also doing this with young children? I can see how it might be technically problematic, depending on the muscle development.

That crossed my mind as well. I'm also surprised how early folks teach 5-finger patterns. That requires quite a bit of coordination and rote memorization.

Rote memorization is part of learning. When it is stressed to the detriment of reading, it is lethal. When it is used to build skills that are then used to help reading student recognize patterns faster, it can actually accelerate reading.

I was an excellent sight-reader from the very beginner - it may just be a natural strength for me - but my reading accuracy increased with a thorough knowledge of chords and scales, and my ability to memorize become incredibly stronger.
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#1914413 - 06/16/12 07:16 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Elissa Milne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 1337
Loc: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Gary D, first, yay, love your work!!! More chords and sooner, please!!

But I have a quick question emerging from your OP - why do you see learning chords as a prerequisite to using the sustain pedal?!?!
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#1914709 - 06/16/12 10:42 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Elissa Milne]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Elissa Milne
Gary D, first, yay, love your work!!! More chords and sooner, please!!

But I have a quick question emerging from your OP - why do you see learning chords as a prerequisite to using the sustain pedal?!?!

Oh, because I start out with two chords, or just two open 5ths. Teaching sustain then goes right into it from the beginning.

It teaches the concept of using the sound BEGINNING, the new one, to "erase" the old sound by lifting toe, then re-depressing to hold the next chord or interval. It chains them, sets up a default "rule" of pedalling. Once I have that, the sky is the limit re pedaling. There is so much listening involved in pedaling. Hearing how the pedal holds, and blends, and creates effects is just another way to stimulate developing awareness of sound.

I use specal symbols for pedal. There are up-down arrows, very specific, down only arrows, up only arrows, and I place them VERY precisely. They move easily into the standard markings for "overlapping pedal", something that I think is a misnomer. smile


Edited by Gary D. (06/16/12 10:46 PM)
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#1914714 - 06/16/12 11:00 PM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Elissa Milne Offline
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Registered: 01/11/10
Posts: 1337
Loc: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Ah, I see.... You're meaning learning to use the pedal, as compared to simply 'using' it... I have students use the sustain pedal from the very first lesson while we are still learning the basics of keyboard geography and physical approach to the keyboard, but there is no pretence that we're learning any pedal technique!
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#1914745 - 06/17/12 12:48 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4644
Loc: South Florida
Exactly.

A central part of my teaching is that the sustain pedal changes everything. I have a COMPLETE disagreement with people who insist that everything should be practiced with no pedal.

Instead, I want defined from the get-go where pedal should be used, and where it should NOT be used. To play a Chopin nocturne without pedal is just wrong. But to play any passage that is meant be played "clean", with no pedal USING the pedal destroys that too.

Understanding what the pedal does is vital to avoiding tension. Gifted players will use physical contortions to attempt to connect WITH the FINGERS that which can NOT be connected with the fingers when they have not been shown how to use the sustain.

Almost every transfer student I have ever taught has come to me pedaling exactly in reverse. "Pinocchio pedal". Hand goes up, pedal goes up, hand goes down, pedal goes down.

The result is the hand jerking and the whole playing mechanism becoming rigid. The student is atttempting to "leap" from one chord to the next, with close to zero "gap", and the pedal does NOTHING. smile

It's like clutching a car wrong, only on the piano it just makes horrible sounds. In a car, using the gas pedal and clutch together, same direction, either immediately stalls the car or races the engine, causing a beginning driver to panic and jerk both feet away.

Lurch. Hop. And if you are lucky, no BAM as another car - or something else - is hit. laugh
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#1914794 - 06/17/12 07:19 AM Re: Skills: unexpected benefits [Re: Gary D.]
apple* Offline


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Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
i've found your posts interesting Gary. the very first thing i do for my beginning students is teach them two handed arpeggios (135 531 135 531 in the keys of C, F and G... then D, E and A. .. (major) i sprinkle in a few minor chords as well). There are so many benefits to getting the hands on the keys this way.... including being able to readily identify exactly the name of the keys.

we start sight reading at the same time.. Most of my children come to me with a year of Suzuki under their belt so they are used to listening.
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