This section proposes a way for students to reflect the scale degrees of the bass line in real time using hand signs. Comprehension of the bass line in terms of scale degrees is, for most students, a vital first step toward comprehending the harmonic progression.
The Voice-leading and Chord Quality Methods
This page presents two methods for determining the chord once the chord’s bass note and harmonic function are known. The voice-leading method uses scale degree content (detection of a chord’s distinctive scale degree) to determine the chord. The chord quality method uses the quality of the chord (limited here to major, minor, diminished triads) to determine the chord. This narrowly focused application of these general techniques provides the student with a manageable first exposure to each method. The chords at issue are IV or ii6 in major keys and iv or iio6 in minor keys. The harmonic functions they serve are pre-dominant or plagal.
In Karpinski’s Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing, Chapter 38, the voice-leading method is presented as a way to determine whether a root-position chord or a first-inversion chord occurs over any scale degree in the bass. I prefer a more limited context—judging whether a IV or ii6 chord appears over scale degree 4—as a first exposure to this method.
The basic process advocated here, of identifying the scale degrees of the bass line and then identifying the chords (with a narrow, but expanding set of possible chords), can be accomplished by a number of activities. For instance, once the scale degrees of bass notes are understood, they be identified by the use of hand signs performed in real time, by singing back the bass line with scale degrees, and by writing out the scale degrees.
In order to engage with harmonic progressions in real time, it is important to listen to music in which the harmonic rhythm is not too fast and in which the palette of chords is limited. This is a list of suggested music in which I (or i), IV (or iv), and V chords are clearly presented, in which the IV (or iv) chord is used as a plagal chord, and in which the pre-dominant is either IV or ii6 in a major key and iv or iio6 in a minor key.
Steven Laitz’s textbook, The Complete Musician, has many recordings for harmonic dictation. Here are some that can serve especially well as practice using the listening strategies described in the other pages listed above. (I intend to update the example numbers to the current edition soon.)