I am a strong believer in students actually understanding key signatures, harmony, chords, triads etc. I find all too often that students have “learnt” a way of working it out and they don’t really understand the inter-relationship that goes on between scales, chords, keys etc. So I devised a way of bringing this to life a little bit. It is nothing revolutionary I can assure you, but it might be something that you would like to try.
So lets assume that you have covered key signatures. You have given them a way of remembering them, whether that be a circle of fifths picture or good old Father Charles and his battle ending skills. But what we now need is for students to understand a little more about how chords are generated and also start to think about what this all looks like on a piano. We also want them to start to think about intervals – this links to listening, composing and a analysing.
So why give them a diagram when you can make a Human Piano.
How it works
It is quite simple. Students lie on the floor and make a piano – see picture below. I came up with this idea once when looking at a row of students, some wearing blazers and some in just their white shirt. Now your uniform might not lend itself so nicely to this, so you may need another ingenious way of making students lying on the floor look like a piano. Why lie on the floor though James, that sounds a bit weird. Well precisely, it is quirky and the students love it. And it is physical, kinaesthetic learning and I believe that is the kind of thing we should do. Give it a try anyway.
I then proceed to get them to sit up to form different triads. This gives a visual picture of what a chord looks like and most importantly the semi-tone gaps that form the different intervals. I get the other students standing on chairs looking down on the students lying on the floor, and not only does this give them a good view but it also very much like a scene from the Dead Poets Society – not seen it, well maybe you should.
What I find is that students really grasp the concept behind harmony and chords. You can extend this to augmented chords, minor chords, diminished chords and then go from there. I think it is so important that they are able to work out notes in a chord. Also it is way of bringing to life a dry lesson on key signatures and harmony.
Whilst I am here I must say that I also find it really useful to take the students back to the concept of Modes and how Major and Minor came out of that. The Human Piano could also be used to show scale patterns of tones and semi-tones and what patten you need for say a Major Scale.
So that’s the Human Piano and it might be something that you want to try at some point. If you think of other uses for it then let me know! And I have learnt that not all students actually understand how a keyboard works and where the notes are despite all those diagrams they must have drawn over the years. I also find that they remember semi-tones and intervals all the better in future work. And apart from all of that, it is a fun lesson.