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Introduction to the course
For musicians and teachers it is not difficult to appreciate the value and utility of knowing the scales and chords. We see them constantly in the music we play and teach. We think in terms of them when learning new music. We reference them in conversation with other musicians. They are the building blocks of music, the vocabulary, so to speak, and being a musician without knowing the scales and chords is like being a writer without knowing how to spell.
From a beginner’s perspective however, the concept is often a little more opaque. Since beginners don’t have the benefit of ten or twenty years of music education, seeing just how prevalent scales and chords really are in music, and how most music is, in essence, built on scales and chords, can be quite difficult.
So what can we do about this? One of the biggest problems I see with the traditional approach to teaching and learning scales and chords is that it usually takes too long to cover all the keys. It’s not uncommon for a student to have been studying an instrument for several years without knowing scales and chords in all keys. Why is this a problem? As I see it, the real benefit of knowing scales and chords only appear when you have learnt all of them, understand how they are constructed, and how they can be rearranged. Helping students to reach this point in their musical development is the principle upon which this course is built.
As a student, if you are able to recognise every scale and chord in a piece of music, even if it’s just fragments of them, then the time it takes to learn the music drastically diminishes. If you can learn to think in terms of scales and chords, instead of individual notes, a passage like this from Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Op. 39, No. 18…
…is transformed from 44 individual notes into one scale and three chords, and that’s merely four bars of music. Consider the difference this would make over the span of an entire piece of music.
Of course, I’m only talking here about learning the notes of a piece of music, not about learning to play the passage and play it well. However, if the notes could be learnt more swiftly, it would leave that much more time for practising, instead of struggling to remember the notes.
It could be argued that a student need only learn the most common chords and scales, or those relevant to the music they are learning, slowly building up their ‘vocabulary’ as they learn new music. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it does beg the question; if they aren’t already familiar with a particular scale or chord, how could they hope to recognise it in a piece of music? Furthermore, they may find that they go for long intervals without encountering new scales and chords.
This course takes a different approach. Instead of learning each scale, chord, and arpeggio one by one, in its entirety, you will learn all scales and chords simultaneously, building them up step by step from single notes. As you progress through the course you will slowly add elements to these single notes until in the final stage you have covered the full range of scales and arpeggios, over four octaves, as well as chords I to VII in every inversion (both triads and 7th chords), in every key.
This is no less a monumental task than the traditional approach, of course, and in some ways this course actually demands more of the student. However, the benefits will come much sooner than with the traditional approach, since you will have learnt something about all major and minor keys by the end of the very first stage.
The approach I have taken here will allow you not only to learn the scales, chords, and arpeggios, but also to understand how to construct them, how they relate to one another, what they have in common, and how they differ from one another. This, I hope, will not only help you build a solid foundation on which to base your knowledge and understanding of music, but also provide a more reliable and useful approach to learning the scales, chords, and arpeggios.