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May/June 2018: Create and Motivate

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Combining scales and chords Here are three exercises that benefit all  musicians regardless of their preferred style  or approach to making music: 1. Scales 2. Chord drills 3. Scales and chords t ogether The last two columns offered interesting  ways to practice the first two. Now, here's  a way to combine scales and chords into...
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Apps for teaching: Tools for triggering creativity with pop music

Why integrate popular or "non-classical" music into piano lessons? Retain students Integrating pop music into your curriculum can meet students "where they are." Encouraging them to learn what's on their Spotify or iTunes playlist may draw them to practicing more, which results in progress. Progress motivates, and will keep them on the bench. Devel...
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Expanding your vocabulary of chords

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  Do you think Johann Pachelbel knew how popular his Canon in D would become? When I discovered the same chord progression in a few familiar songs, my search for more examples began. As you play this chord progression are there songs that come to your mind?  This chord progression is often played with a scale in the bass:  The Canon ...
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Beyond major and minor: A composer’s understanding of chords and scales

​Major and minor. Together these form a basic polarity in Western music. Major scales and chords are usually characterized as "happy," while minor ones are saddled with the label "sad." After composing, improvising, arranging, and teaching for more than forty years with these musical materials, I have come to a different way of understanding them. ...
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Pencil Practice 101

​Recognizing chord symbols is one of the biggest obstacles faced by beginning improvisers learning to play from lead sheets. Just as foreign language students write conjugations to become better speakers, pianists can improve their chord fluency with pencil practice away from the piano. Writing chords by key Follow these steps together with your st...
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Comping 103—Waltz-time broken chords

​ Here's a riddle: What do you break to fix? Answer: bland blocked chords. ​Whether improvising teacher accompaniments or helping students dress up ho-hum arrangements, broken chords are a very useful trick to have in your bag. Broken chords sound great with lyrical, long-note melodies that beg for a busier accompaniment. They are also particu...
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Comping 101 - Accompanying Students

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Accompanying students is an enjoyable way to transfer musicality from veteran to rookie efficiently without so much "teacher talk."  For students, it  • tightens up their sense of time;  • helps them listen while playing;  • enables them to feel more like "real musicians";  • prepares them to play in ensembles;  • and ...
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Diminished seventh chords, and, pardon the expression, half-diminished seventh chords in jazz and popular music

Diminished seventh chords In jazz and popular music, diminished chords are invariably played as four-note chords, rather than triads, whether the chord symbol says Cdim (C °) or Cdim7 (C ° 7). A diminished seventh chord consists of a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh above the root of the triad: ​However, enharmonic spellings are fre-...
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Chord Substitution

One thing that has always drawn me to jazz is the harmony. It is fascinating to hear how a single chord change can define one artist's interpretation of Autumn Leaves or Night and Day from another artist's interpretation. Applied judiciously, these harmonic variations will add touches of color to your own arranging and performing. When one chord is...
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How Do You Teach Fluent Chord Reading?

Countless times, teachers hear something similar to "I don't  want Johnny to be a concert pianist, I just want him to be able  to play hymns . " Usually, we take the time to explain that hymn playing- or any chord reading for both hands togeth e r-r ep r ese nts one  of the hardest kinds of reading any student has t o l ea rn t o do....
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