As part of the curriculum for one of my adult students, I would really like her to be able to play songs she likes (note - NOT classical). I understand that to do this, she needs to know basic chords and common progressions.
I would like to give her "your first fake book". Some questions though:
1) How should the learning of chords be introduced so as to not overwhelm? (I ask because many of the songs use quite a few chords that I can't imagine can all be learned in any meaningful way within only a few weeks)
2) Should inversions be used?
3) Any resource suggestions for helping someone learn chords, and theory, especially to be able to play standards, rock, pop, jazz but at a very beginning level?
Is there a "method" book out there that teaches primarily through learning chords and progressions?
Basically, I am looking for a successful formula that you have used with beginning adult students that puts them on their feet in a realistic time-frame to be able to play songs they know and like.
Well, first, the student would need to have a good grasp of finger numbers and note names. I would use a method book like Hal Leonard, because regardless of the style (unless she's only going to play by ear) then she will need to have the basics down. I would only go through Book 1, however. As a beginner, things look very much the same, so you should also have her work through a good theory book, like Keith Snell's Fundamentals of Piano Theory
Once she displays she understands finger numbers well and can find her notes on the keyboard with relative ease, then start with scales.
She should learn her major scales and chord (I IV V) progressions and arpeggios in all keys. As a beginner, I'd start her out just doing scales & chords, one octave, hands separately first until she's comfortable, then hands together.
Once she has gone through the Circle of 5ths on both sharps and flats, then I'd say she's good enough with finding the chords in a key. At this point, teacher her a 12 bar blues progression (I I I I IV IV I I V IV I I, or some variation thereof) in C. This is so standard in jazz, blues, rock, pop, etc. that it is something she should become familiar with. Have her play the chords in root position while you improvise a melody using a truncated blues scale (maybe something like C Eb F F# G), then switch places. Then you can have her try playing the root of the chord only in the LH in the 12-bar progression while improvising in the blues scale in the RH. As she gets better at this, she should be able to play the LH chords in root position while she improvises the RH.
Once she does this, then you can point out how it's rather tricky to jump around so much in the LH to play the chords, and if you restructure them a bit (stack them differently from bottom to top) then the LH doesn't really have to move much at all. Teach her about inversions.
At some point here you can also introduce 7th chords, by showing how adding another third on top of a chord, you get a different sound. Any chord can be a 7th chord by doing this. I would stick to dominant 7ths and their inversions (and how you can leave out the 5th and then the 3rd and still have that "dominant 7th" sound) to start until she gets that. Then you can introduce major 7ths, minor 7ths, half diminished and fully diminished 7ths.
It's all about having a plan and a logical progression for teaching something. It's always better if you can show a need for something, but that won't always be possible, but at the very least you can lead her to why a major 7th sounds different than a dominant 7th.
Now when you get in the thick of it - and depending on how far into the jazz realm she wants to go - one issue you will encounter is that different fake books will name the same chords differently. There's no real standardization for names, and more "classical" approaches have different names for things than pop or rock, and those may be different from jazz. So, it becomes quite difficult. There is a book that you may want to own yourself, even if you never have a student work out of it called Jazz Keyboard Harmony
by Phil DeGreg. The most valuable portion of this book, IMO, is the Forward. Namely part III talks about all the different names you can have and next to those names it spells out the chord in C major. This is great for reference when working from lead sheets that may use unfamiliar chord names. The rest of the book is great, of course, but I would only use it with those who want to be serious jazz pianists, who have a strong foundation in traditional piano.
This kind of teaching can be loads of fun, and the student will help guide you as they choose their own songs that they'd like to learn.