Developing triad chord fluency

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Like language students who have memorized vocabulary but are not yet conversant, pianists who have learned to construct chords may not yet be "chord fluent." So how do we help our students move beyond music theory worksheets to being able to interpret chord symbols and identify underlying harmonies in literature more easily? One approach involves assigning chord drills independently from learning pieces—similar to practicing scales and technical exercises. Here are some examples you can use to help your students recognize and play triads effortlessly.

Diatonic chords

1. When they can play the scale associated with a given key, ask your students to play and name all of the triads for that key using one or both hands.

2. Repeat in all inversions. To make it easier, you can assign left-hand root notes instead of chords under the right-hand chords.

3. Repeat for each new scale/key as it is encountered.

Note the optional major V (the E chord has a G# note) in measures 3 and 6 of the A-minor example to accommodate conventional minor-key harmony. 


Cadences


To make the most of this familiar primary chord exercise, repeat it in all inversions for each new key learned. 


Chord crawls


Pick a single chord quality and run it up or down chromatically in all inversions. As a stepping stone, you might try just white key roots, then black key roots before combining them into chromatic chord crawls. Repeating with diminished and augmented chords is optional.  


Cycle progressions


This one moves by fourths alternating root position and second inversions. Start with left-hand roots as written and then play chords in both hands. Refer to counter-clockwise motion on a circle of fifths diagram to keep track of the roots. Repeat starting on different inversions.  

Next time I'll share more chord drills for improving fluency with seventh chords.

Until then, enjoy your creative music making journey. 

Practicing double-thirds scales
Cliburn 2017

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