Seeing and identifying chords in non-accompaniment pieces

Joy O., Alabama

In many SM pieces, learning by the playing-based strategies, I very quickly see chords. For example, Dark Blue starts with an A flat chord plus G. Lullaby has C, F, and G chords all over the right hand part. It’s almost like my brain sorts the music into groups of chords.

I have a couple of questions:

  1. Is this (seeing the music in groups of chords) a common experience for SM teachers and students?
  2. Would it be a good idea to point out these chords to students as they are learning the piece? What would be advantages and disadvantages to doing so?

Leeanne I., Australia

I think it’s normal to see patterns unfold as you go through the program, both for teachers and students. I try not to point out things to my students, as I like them to discover things themselves on their journey. I call these ‘Aha’ moments. Often though, they will pop up in conversation so we discuss it then.

Mark M., New York

Discovery is great. Also, overloading them with intellectual information can inhibit ease of playing. I become more likely to point certain things out only over time as students develop and deepen the knowledge base that can allow them to take in extra information and make sense of extra connections.

If a piece involves an actual chord shape/type that students have already covered in the Accompaniment program, I will absolutely point it out and reinforce it. Inversions, for example, are a different beast entirely — just because I recognize an inversion of a D chord as a D chord doesn’t mean that that’s information that students can take in easily simply because they know the triangle shape root position D chord. It’s stuff like that that I’ll talk about only later on with students who have enough of a foundation to allow those conversations to be meaningful and actionable for them.

Cate R., Australia

I usually ask them what they see. I make them think about it. Don’t tell them everything that there is to see in any given piece. I’ll see if they can recognize some cross-pollination going on.

Sharon L., California

I often ask students to look at where their 1, 3, 5 fingers are placed. Does it look familiar in any way? I don’t know if that’s the same as “pointing it out”, but I find it helpful. I’ve at least brought it to their attention, initially, and they can then sometimes start noticing chords on their own.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

That’s a good way to guide them toward discovering for themselves without just telling them what to see. I do the same when guidance is needed.

Heidi M., Canada

I saw the chords and chord patterns in music for most of my life well before SM. I point out some on occasion but only if it is a chord the student already knows.

Sue L., California

I see those chords and others. Some students seem to grasp the connection to chords easily and we talk about it. Sometimes I point it out. It depends on the student.

Jeanne W., Connecticut

My experience is that the way we start right out teaching chords is the biggest strength of the method. I’m always reinforcing the chord shapes whenever they appear. It simplifies and accelerates the learning process in so many ways. Music is basically chords and scales, and the sooner you can see the chord patterns, the more it all makes sense.