One of the first harmonizing activities I like to do with all levels of students is to harmonize and re-harmonize a familiar folk tune.  I particularly like to do this with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as it harmonizes with traditional I, IV and V7 harmony as well as harmonizes with many secondary chords and seventh chords.  Here is how I introduce it, sometimes combining several of these steps into 1 week of assignments depending on the ability of the student.

  1. Encourage them to play the tune by ear.  Try to have them pick out the first part of the tune at the lesson.  If this is somewhat successful, then tell them to come back with the melody polished up.  If it is not successful, then make a note that you may need to find some easier tunes to help your student learn to play by ear.  Then, give them this Twinkle Twinkle Melody in C.  You might also be interested in giving them the same tune in a different key: Twinkle Twinkle Melody in D.
  2. When they return and can play the tune successfully, then ask them to use their chord progression they are practicing in lessons (or root position chords work as well) to harmonize the piece for the next week.  Make sure you do this to the first part of the tune before they leave their lesson.  They must feel like they can do it when they leave the lesson to be most successful at home.  I make them do this by ear…I don’t think most students need music, though they may still wan to look at the melody as they choose the harmony.
  3. When they return with their tune harmonized using traditional harmony, teach them that there are some even more colorful chords called secondary chords that will make their melody sound beautiful and more interesting.  You can explain about Major and minor chords here.  I typically just show them that they can create a triad on every note of the C Major scale.  THEN, the assignment the next week becomes to re-harmonize the tune with the secondary chords (only using the primary triads in a minimal number of places).  Depending on the student I might also get into how their chords will sound better and be easier to play if they move by step with only a few skips or leaps.  Here is the worksheet for helping them choose harmony. I do have them write down which chords they choose so that they can remember their progression and see if it moves smoothly by step or skip.  Twinkle Twinkle in C_Choose Triadic Harmony, or Twinkle Twinkle in D_Choose Triadic Harmony
  4. If the student is old enough, the next step I do, after successful completion of the previous steps, is to have them harmonize the tune with 7th chords.  We might spend some time talking about the kinds of seventh chords they will have if they use only notes from the scale (see bottom of worksheet where it is clearly spelled out).  Twinkle Twinkle in C_Choose 7th Chords

Most importantly, it’s important to make sure that you demonstrate how beautiful you can make a melody with secondary and 7th chords by playing the tune and harmonizing it yourself! Do this before you get into how to do it.  Students need to be motivated that this will indeed be fun before they pay too much attention!

Have fun!

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