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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Canon Chords Improv Assignment

I absolutely LOVE Pachebel's Canon in D; in fact its on the CD I listen to each night at bedtime. The soothing repetitive chord progression is so calming. It also happens to provide the harmonic framework for some of my favorite peaceful Christmas songs:
"The First Noel"
"Guard Him Joseph" by Sally Deford
"The Christmas Spirit" by Lindy Kerby
and of course the well known more jovial song
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas."

So this Christmas season I've given a few of my students the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge of chord symbols and experiment with some improv accompaniment using the following chord progression:

I-V-vi-iii-IV-I-IV-V

(Its a lot easier to follow if you draw the chord symbols in relation to their pitch direction with arrows connecting them - but since my technical skills are limited on blogger... you'll just have to imagine)

I (down to )V(up to) vi( down to)iii(up to)IV(down to)I(up to)IV (up to)V

After identifying the letter names that match the chord symbols in the key they are assigned, they begin with a few of the following basic bass patterns:

Low Bass Note (LH) + Blocked Chord (RH)

Low Bass Note (LH) + Broken Chord (RH)

1 8va arpeggio (LH only)

Open 5th + octave (ex: if I is C Major = Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C)

Rolling Open 5th + octave (in C Major + Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C, back to G)

For those up to the challenge, they then vary the rhythm, come up with their own patterns, try transposing it to another key add a familiar melody in the RH or compose their own melody to match the harmony.

For those inexperienced with this type of transposition it is helpful to point out the pattern of the interval changes between chord roots:

Tonic - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 4th - Up a 2nd

No wonder I love this song.......my brain loves order!

It was so invigorating to watch a couple of my students who are sisters play a lively little Jolly Old St. Nicolas duet together after just a few minutes of practice at their last lesson.

The pre-reading and elementary versions of Jolly Old St. Nicholas on Susan Paradis's website work great for the upper duet part for this assignment.

How do you teach improvisation in your studio?


1 comment:

  1. Ooo, that's fun. I did it with two students today using Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. Thanks for the clever tip.

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