Spice up your harmony lessons

“A chorale a week keeps the harmony doctor away!” I say sagely to my 6th form students every week (usually met with a groan – hopefully due to my amazing adaptation of this well known expression, not because they don’t like a chorale a week). I firmly believe that in order to teach 4-part harmony effectively, that you should get your students to sing through a chorale a week throughout the year. It doesn’t matter whether you make it to 2, 3 or 4 parts, or simply sing each line through, any kind of singing has its value in terms of internalisation, and analysis can start with key signatures and progress through to melodic shapes and chord progressions.

After your students have grasped the basics of 4-part (i.e. keys, chords, melodic shapes etc) ,then this is the perfect time to consolidate the learning, as well as beginning to develop aural skills, for their own musicianship, but also if you know you have dictation in your listening paper at A2. The following game ensures that all students participate, listen and internalise, and combine all this with their knowledge of 4-part harmony.
Before you start:

Put the class into groups/teams. 4 per team is ideal, but obviously it depends on your size of class. A spread of SATB voices is desirable, but again, this depends on your class. You will have prepared them for singing by “A chorale a week” so they should be happy to use their voices.

Set up a keyboard with headphones (ideally the number of headphones should be the same as the number of teams). You will play a melodies through this to each team member.

Take a phrase (or two!) from a reasonably simple chorale (i.e. easy key, not too many passing notes). Label the SATB lines 1-4 randomly.

Step 1: Give the students the key, starting note of each melodies 1-4 (not necessarily at the same pitch) and indicate any other points of note (eg. crotchet anacrusis etc)

Step 2: one student from each groups comes up to the keyboard to “fetch” a melody. They are not allowed anything on which to write. You play them melody 1 (for example the bass line, but an octave above) twice.

Step 3: The student then dashes back to his/her group and sings as much of the melody as they can remember. The others try and write it down.

Step 4: The next student then comes up for either the same melody or the next melody, depending on how much they have been able to write down. Again, twice only. Sometimes you can combine this with a member from another team coming up, sometimes not, just play it by ear. Don’t forget to vary the pitch of 2 or 3 of the melodies so that the students don’t just guess which part it is due to its register.

Repeat steps 3 and 4 as many times as it takes for the teams to get all the melodies. EVERYONE must go up and the must take turns.

Ban the use of the keyboard until things are getting a little desperate or you are running out of time!!

Once the group has all four melodies written down, then they need to decide which melody is soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. The first group to write out the chorale, sing as many parts as they can (together) are the winners.

It’s up to you how you mange the remainder of the game. As the extension, the winning group could do some analysis of chords at the cadence, and also justify why they think each melody belongs to each voice part.

The memorising aspect is a good way of encouraging the students to try to memorise a whole phrase, not just note by note. It also encourages them to assess how they try to memorise melodies, and how effective they are. The ability to reproduce the phrase to their peers is also telling in terms of how well they have internalised the melody. I played this with a group of approximately 50 music teachers at John Finney’s NAME Eastern Region Conference in 2013, and the results were fascinating. Most teachers complained that they weren’t allowed to write anything down at the time of hearing the melody and became preoccupied with writing each and every note down, that they forgot to think the phrase as a whole. They acknowledged that had they not been so busy being cross about not being able to write, they could have probably been more efficient and successful at the “fetching” part.

I think that the benefits of this game are clear, as well as engaging the students in a slightly different activity. I have played this 3 times with AS class this year. The 2nd time, I created sound files of me and my colleague playing a variety of instruments (apologies for the quality – some of them were our Grade1athon instruments!), and also formalised the game with a worksheet. The resources can be found below, as well as the number of the chorale used (Riemenschneider).

I have also included some videos of the first game, and can only apologise for my hilarious 6th formers who are posing at the back of the winning group’s sing through.

Click below for resources for the Harmony Game:

Examples resources for Harmony Game.

Videos of the game in action:

The winners:

Feel free to contact me if you want more details: @myhanhdoan @BeaumontMusic


2 Comments on “Spice up your harmony lessons”

  1. Jane Werry says:

    love it love it! That’s my year 12 lesson tomorrow sorted.

    So sad about the erosion of chorale harmonisation in the new specs… Ranty blog coming soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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