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Using piano repertoire as a springboard for a theory lesson: Major, minor and Diminished Chords (Videos)

One of my adult students is working on the gorgeous J.C. Bach Prelude in A minor which has a second page full of “Major,” “Minor” and “Diminished” chords. The sonorities progress in sequences, but they also have a secondary dominant relationship to resolving chords. The “harmonic rhythm” moves quickly.

While this particular pupil may not be ready to understand “functional” harmony or the “modulation” dimension of the broken chords as they occur in the B section, she could learn how to form “Major,” “minor” and “diminished” chords, and then appreciate their differences through ear-training exposure.

In this video, sent between lessons, I reviewed Major, minor and Diminished chords and their derivation from five-finger positions which she has been studying in the Major and Parallel minor. The fact that the chords (broken) moved in a sequence, or a pattern also helped her navigate this section.

The Secondary Dominant aspect had been briefly noted, but will be more deeply explored as the student’s scale work around the Circle of Fifths gives an opportunity to build chords on every degree of the scale, noting harmonic relationships, cadences, and modulations.

Teaching Video:

In part B, the music blossoms into a series of secondary Dominants against sobbing, sighing pairs of descending seconds, before it returns to a familiar revisit with part of the opening A section.

Sustaining a melodic line through recurring broken pattern chords is paramount to playing the Prelude poetically and musically. Varying dynamics and tapering phrases are woven into the artistic process.

Playing through entire prelude, first in chords, then as written in broken chord sequence.


Music Theory doesn’t have to be drudgery


Beethoven "Tempest" Sonata, Beethoven Sonata Op. 31 no 2, Beethoven Tempest sonata, No. 2, piano, piano instrruction, piano learning, piano lessons, piano teacher, repertoire for piano students, word press, word press.com, wordpress, you tube, you tube video, yout tube

Supplementing piano lessons with videos

Just a few years ago, the furthest thing from my mind would be to send videos to piano students between lessons. In the past, I had routinely e-mailed assignments for the coming week along with practicing suggestions. (This created an organized set of notes to track learning and progress)

Those were the old days, before the advent of Skyped piano instruction which changed my whole perspective and had ramifications for my traditional, in-person lessons.

With Skype, where occasional transmission issues during a busy network day could affect the flow of instruction, it was important to shoot off a video to make practicing directions crystal clear. Sometimes I would e-mail two short videos that reviewed warm-up technique, and focused on ways to learn a particular piece in baby steps.

For adult students just starting out and needing reinforcement, the videos were a perfect reminder of all that transpired during the lesson. (Both Skype and non-Skype)

Videotaping a lesson-in-progress, and extracting parts of it, with the camera aimed at my arms/hands/fingers was another valuable lesson supplement.

This past week, I decided to make a video for a new adult student, introducing her to repertoire she might want to explore. (She had taken lessons as a child and returned to the piano after a long interval.)

In planning this first video, I wanted to ascertain what pieces she “liked” so she could help shape her own musical journey. (Her preference was Classical style works)

I. The selections I previewed were from Faber’s Developing Artist series, though often, I drew on repertoire from diverse sources such as the Toronto Conservatory albums, and collections of Kabalevsky, Bartok, Gurlitt, etc. that had spirited and colorful pieces from beginner to more advanced levels.

II. In this instance, I sent an adult student the Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata (opening movement–first part)

To this point, he had lessons covering this material, which consisted of parceled-out practicing in baby steps. (also videotaped and sent to him)

In summary, sending out videos to enrich piano lessons has been a valuable teaching tool in my studio and others.



Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata