Exams are only a tool, emphasized Jean Auger-Crowe in her session on teaching SATB as sound drama at the CFMTA Convention. Plan your lessons this way and teach a curriculum that is about SOUND. A musical composition is a sound drama; this connects all our musical experiences.
Jean uses the Bach chorales as the framework, then messes things up by throwing in different scales. She teaches the students the “rules” of writing in the common practice period, (Western music, circa 1600-1900) but at the same time gets them to think and write their own music in their own style using such things as whole-tone and blues scales.
The beginning of our musical sound has been given to us by nature; the model for good SATB writing comes from the overtones series. The first 3 different notes are the notes of the major triad; it also provides the most natural and pleasing spacing solutions, with the bigger intervals between the lower voices. This isn’t the only thing that works, however. Students should be encouraged to try different voicings, listening carefully to the different effects of having a tighter weave, or the difference between hearing the root, 3rd or 5th in the soprano. Despite the emphasis on doubling rules for RCM exams, no two authorities actually agree. A better bass and soprano could justify altering the “correct” doubling.
Our Western harmony was summed up nicely by Hugo Riemann in the 19th century as functional harmony, which recognizes the role of each of the 7 notes and their chords in relation to the key. All chords can be put into one of three categories: the tonic, or resolution; the dominant, or tension; and the pre-dominant, or the “coffee break” as Jean calls it! She gets the students to then compare this functional harmonic sound drama to chords in something like the whole-tone scale, in which there is only equality of pitches and therefore, no tension and resolution.
This is just a tiny taste of some of the ideas for teaching harmony that Jean has distilled in her 30 years of teaching. The really exciting news is that she has almost finished writing a text book (with assignments) for teaching basic Harmony. She is passionate about the subject and wants students and other teachers to experience the full drama of sound. Her book will go beyond other harmony workbooks; this is not teaching to the test, but it will prepare students well for the test that is only a measuring tool. Her plan is to have a separate teachers’ edition that will assist teachers who are new to teaching harmony; there is, after all, no pedagogy of theory out there like there is pedagogy of piano/voice/ strings, etc. I was thrilled to get a sneak peek yesterday of what the book will be. If all goes well, it should be published by next year.
For those of you in Alberta, she is also doing a presentation at the APTA Conference in Canmore at the end of September. You don’t have to be a member to attend. See here for details.