Progression : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I have a background as a teacher (not piano)though am not currently teaching. I took several years of piano as a child, and have been taking group lessons for about 4 years.

My question is this: If my goal were to teach someone to use a computer (for example), I would have a progression in mind of the steps to take: acquaint the person with the hardware of the computer, how to turn it on, discussion of software, starting a program, and so on, each step leading to greater mastery of the use of the computer.

In studying piano, I've used books that are labelled Level 1, 2, 3, etc., and those, of course, establish a progression of sorts. However, as a student, I don't really understand the progression of knowledge that leads to mastery. That is, a beginning student learns the staves, the note names and placement, etc., and you move into scales and other theory. But as an "intermediate" student what is the progression? Just practicing more difficult pieces, is that the way you learn to be a better player? Or are their specific things one can do to speed the process along?

I hope this makes some sense. I guess I'm looking for theories on how one goes about mastering the piano. How does one learn to read chords, for example. Just keep learning music with different chords in it?

I hope someone can suggest a web site that may have material on the subject as I know this must be a huge topic. There must be a body of material on it but I don't know how to obtain info. Have tried my local library but am not really sure what I'm looking for is called.

-- Janice Santos (, July 27, 2003


Janice, that's a huge (and very good) question!

Although I am a qualified piano teacher, I can't claim "mastery"! There is always more to learn.

However, I will give you a few thoughts about your example of learning to read chords.

In a "typical" classical excerpt that is in a particular key (let's say C major to keep it easy), you will find that the most common chords can be built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the scale. (Called degrees of the scale, and labelled I, IV, and V). So in C, we have C, F, and G triads: C-E-G, F-A-C, and G-B-D. Take some manuscript paper and write out each of these triads in as many ways as you can. For example, in Bass clef, C-E-G, C-G-E (big stretch), E-G-C, G-C-E for the I triad (C major triad).

Write out the IV and V triads as well, then add the V7 chord (G-B-D-F). This one (V7 or G7) gives you loads of possibilities: you can leave out the D or have it in, so you could have: G-B-D-F, G-B-F, B-D-F-G, B-F-G, etc.

After you've written out all the chords, play them several times, keeping yourself aware of the "root" note (the one that gives the chord its name: C, F, or G, in this case). Then play them as broken chords and in Alberti bass fashion. Once you're very comfortable and familiar with them, look in your music and see how many of these chords you can find. You should be able to recognize them very quickly and play them comfortably.

It's very useful to play triads and 4-note chords up and down the keyboard (root position and inversions); although you don't need to see them written out in order to play them, it is useful to write them out occasionally so you are used to what they look like, and recognize them when you have to play them in a piece.

You will, of course, encounter many other chords that are not the primary chords (I, IV, and V) in your pieces. Sometimes they are variations of these chords (example: C-F-G; what a guitarist calls Csus4, and usually followed by a C chord). Sometimes they are simply more complex chords. Often, the music will have moved temporarily into another key (frequently the dominant (5th note of the scale -- example: in C major, the dominant is G, and all of a sudden you start noticing F#'s);or the relative minor (C's relative minor is A minor; the clue would be G#'s).The more theory you know, the easier it will be to recognize and play these chords.

I hope this is somewhat helpful to you -- since I don't really know your level of theory, I apologize if my advice seems either simplistic or too complex!

-- Alice Dearden (, August 19, 2003.

Janice, it is most important that we music teachers apply appropriate terminology. The response you have to your question is addressing the subject of "progression", which is the flow from one chord to the next, a progression of chords. The terminology is appropriate as one chord flows to the next, requiring specific preparation in resolving notes of the previous chord to those of the following chords.

But I think you are seeking help with progressive lessons from aparticular level. I normally refer to this type of student as a transitory level. The best thing you can do for him is to:

1. Discover his weak and strong areas of knowledge and skill. 2. Design instructional strategies to develop and address both his "good" and "bad" points. 3. Try to use published instructional books with care as not all publications offer the perfect plan for progress. They are good to give you an idea of what to select and use. 4. An excellent source to base levels you will find with the Royal Schools of Music, Trinity College of Music (both of London), and the Australian Music Examination Board (Melbourne)examination syllabuses. They strike an excellent balance in hardship between the theory and practical studies. 5. More so, I encourage you to use your initiative. Place yourself in your student's shoes and ask yourself, "where do I want to be with my music in 12 months?"

-- June Ryan (, October 19, 2003.

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