3. Activities for Engaging with Harmonic Progressions

Play a recording of music that is limited, at least within a given a passage, to the chords you are working on.  It is helpful to use something simple so that listeners can understand the progression in real time, as the music is playing.  A slow harmonic rhythm is especially helpful.


1. Gain an understanding the bass line and its scale degrees.

Indicate the scale degrees of the bass line

Use hand signs while the music is playing.  (If a recording is too fast, you can perform the music on the piano in order to slow the music down; but it is exposure to a variety of timbres is desirable.  If one can only understand harmonic progressions when performed on the piano, that is very limiting.)

Sing the bass line on scale degrees while using hand signs while the music is playing.  Do the same after hearing the music.

With pop songs, you might invite students to keep track of the repeated harmonic progressions as you listen to the whole song.  “Have we heard this before?  What is this section?”  The verse and the chorus are easy to identify.  You might have to wait out during a more complex bridge section, but then you can jump back in with hand signs or sung scale degrees after it is over.

Write out the scale degrees of the bass line, with or without any durations indicated.

Identify the function of each chord built above scale degree four above the bass.


2. Conceive of the bass line in a specific key.

Individuals can play the bass line on an instrument they have brought to class or on the piano.

They can sing back the bass line using letter names in the given key or in a new one.

They can notate the bass line on staff paper.


2. Identify any pre-dominant triad(s) on scale degree 4.

Try using both the voice-leading method and the chord quality method!

Discourage people from blurting out their findings, but each person should have a chance to commit to an answer by writing down either IV or ii6 in the context of a major key, or iv or iio6 in a minor key.


3. Recreate the chord progression.

Notate the chords using Roman numerals.

Arpeggiate the chords vocally.  If the harmonic rhythm is slow enough and if people are adept at moving through the chords, it is possible to arpeggiate the chords as the music is playing.

Play the chords (on the piano or by arpeggiating the chords on a single line instrument).


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