IMG_1725While happily catching up on podcasts during my commute, something literally gave me goose bumps. I couldn’t wait to get back to my computer and share. So, here goes.

That something happened during an episode of Performance Today’s Piano Puzzler (which I am pleased to report I did actually solve). Bruce Adolph talked about how he had composed the puzzle explaining parallel harmonies and harmonic function as he went along. (listen to episode 1-7-15 here)

Function in harmony is always tricky to explain particularly when a pianist is self taught or has only played in 2 or three keys. One of the things I make all my students do is play and name the triads as they are built on each degree of the scales they are studying.

Alas, even after my triad exercise, the discovery that chords built on the same scale degrees will always have the same quality (Maj., Min., Dim., Aug.) eludes some students. They get hung up on the names of the chords. Confusion and frustration ensue.

However, Bruce had a crackerjack way to help. He gave the audience the example of a high rise apartment building. The kitchens line up one above the other all the way up, So do the living room, bedroom, bathroom etc. The space is functionally the same even though the floor number is different.

Students who have never experienced mid to high-rise apartment buildings might not find this as helpful as those who live in large cities so I got to thinking. It seems to me that cars or bicycles might be perfect illustrations of function too.

Every modern car has a steering wheel on the same side, 4 wheels, a trunk in the back, an engine compartment, etc. Every bike has handlebars, wheels, pedals, chain, etc. So, why not use the student’s car or bike and help them see that each functional item is in the same place no matter what color or who owns the thing.

What everyday things, large or small, would you use to illustrate chordal function to those of all ages? Want to go the animal route? Elephants, would work. So might lions, tigers, or bears. (Oh my!)

Anyone up for collaborating on an infographic?


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