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Chapter Five


Chapter Five

[5.1] In this chapter I will summarise the principles of popular teaching methods by two large and respected publishing houses. Learning styles will be addressed as a precursor to the main discussion which focuses on a system that is used on many pieces in the standard repertoire for piano, as found in Piano Teaching Repertoire by Fannie Leigh.  As an example, I am using four bars from a Grade One piece, Soldier’s March by Schumann (Leigh, 1995a, p.42). This method is presented to teach in ways to satisfy different learning styles, using concepts from the circle of fifths whilst demonstrating the required technique. The benefits to this method for an elementary student have been evidenced to be a greater understanding of the rhythm and harmonic concepts used by the composer, rather than being able to play only the notes on the page with little concept of the harmonic fundamentals being used. The understanding and methodology can be transferred to other pieces thus reducing practice time and, potentially, increasing confidence and enjoyment of the music through knowledge.

[5.2] Alfred Publishing are recognised as a world leader in piano pedagogy publishing many methods, as well as performance, and reference literature (, n.d.). Professional Piano Teaching Vol 1 recommends an extensive method for teaching a piece to an elementary student which promotes preparation and awareness of content. Initially a generic lesson plan is formulated stating the pedagogical reasoning behind the choice of piece and the level of difficulty. The teacher is recommended to list the technical, musical, and reading characteristics and challenges. The section culminates in a suggested format for introducing a new piece through a series of questions to guide a student through the piece. While the C and G major five-finger positions are mentioned, the connection between the keys is not detailed in the suggested pedagogical points (Jacobson et al., 2015, pp. 173–199). This way has been taught many times and it is not contended that it works for some students; however, it teaches the student to perfect the piece they intend to play, and pieces with similar concepts. It does not answer why these notes are used, nor does it teach the foundational principles of music which, if applied, will bring clarity and understanding to other music.

[5.3] James Bastien, in How to Teach Piano Successfully, goes a step further detailing the study for second year students and encourages teachers to expand both repertoire and knowledge. Bastien presents a practice formula that promotes hands apart playing, slow practice and attention to rhythm, finger patterns and phrasing. These are essential parts of the daily practice, but the author stops short of highlighting the underlying harmonies at this stage. Later in the section entitled Second Year Theory the concepts of the tonic, dominant and subdominant chords, and inversions are introduced (Bastien, 1995, pp.124–133). The connection between the keys and the chords is not discussed in the book nor is a suggestion made to apply the knowledge of the chords to the music during practice.

[5.4] When using any teaching method, it is beneficial to be aware of the students' preferred learning type. In the report Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education Richard Felder has expanded these accepted learning styles. Research has shown that when the presentation of work by a teacher is in a version the student prefers, the information being taught is retained longer, utilised in extended situations more effectively and has a more positive long-term experience with the subject (Felder, 1993).  

[5.5] A visual learner will recall images from teaching documents that use colour, spatial expressions, and character. If these aspects are not present a learner may create them mentally or physically to strengthen the learning process. This learner will understand the images and writing, especially if colours are used for the different chords and notes. A visual learner will additionally find that lists are beneficial to group similar concepts together (Kuo, 2013). An auditory learner will benefit from accessing exercises through sound and may find it beneficial to make up lyrics to a section of music as an aid to memory recall. They like talking about problems and difficulties but are often distracted by noise. This learner gains enhanced knowledge from audio files and recognition tasks and will listen intently to the notes, exercises that involve audio files to ‘identify a chord’ or ‘spot the mistake’ sections will be beneficial. A replication learner, one who reads the subject matter and then writes their own notes, will gain from an interactive learning model (Drago and Wagner, 2004). A kinaesthetic learner uses movement, coordination, and rhythm. This style of learning will benefit from moving the chords up and down the registers and playing the sections in different ways. They do not do well sitting still for long periods and moving will help retention of the learning experience (Syofyan and Siwi, 2018). When preparing a lesson plan or series for a piece, all learning styles are to be considered.

[5.6] Learning a new composition from the circle of fifths perspective requires the music to be split into sections or bite-size pieces. Bite-size learning makes longer works accessible; focusing on a single concept allows the student to feel positive and able to complete the task, facilitating application of what they have learnt in other places (Bingham, 2021).  When using the circle of fifths method with a new piece, it is beneficial for the tutor to analyse the content and refine small sections. Each unit should be selected because the concept in that portion requires study, either for rhythmic clarity or work on the required technique. Within each segment the chord structures, the circle of fifths and many different activities are used to enhance the student’s learning potential and musicality. Different parts highlight different learning preferences, the required content should be selected according to the student’s learning style. Worksheets are chosen that will present material with consideration to the students’ natural abilities, while drawing new experiences into their educational understanding that create a feeling of success. All activities emphasise the understanding of chordal structures in ways that will be of benefit to visual, auditory, replication and kinaesthetic learners.

[5.7] Soldier’s March by Schumann is a popular piece for elementary students. It has been an exam piece for many years often set at a grade one standard. The piece last appeared in the grade one exam syllabus from the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in 2011 (Chan, 2011). The first task to understanding the piece is to split it into bite-size phrases. This is a listening task and can be combined with leading questions to enable the student to become aware of details. Once a student has selected which phrase to learn first, the initial task is to break the section down to the skeleton chords. This concept is used in mathematics to reduce equations to the simplest form.

[5.8] When the initial phrase of Soldier’s March is reduced to the skeleton chord structure the student can be guided (Figure 5-1) to write the required chords and identify these in the music, which is ideal for a repetition learner.  Experimenting with the pitch will benefit keyboard geography and the aural understanding for a kinaesthetic learner. Playing the chords on the beat using a crotchet pulse reinforces the internal metronome and the understanding of the steady pulse. Locating other presentations of this section, from the chords and skeleton melody in the original score, will help a student move beyond the notes to the structural understanding of the piece and be of great benefit to the spatial awareness and pattern recognition of a visual learner. Finally, using the companion sheet (Figure 5-2) and using movement to represent the sounds heard from the QR code, in the form of a graphic score, offers additional benefits for an audio learner.  


[5.9] The second task is to reduce the crotchet notation to a quaver beat followed by a quaver rest (Figure 5-3). An additional rhythm activity worksheet reinforces the rhythmic change (Figure 5-7) providing additional kinaesthetic experience required for some students. The introduction of the passing note and changes from the technical names for the chords to common names extends the knowledge and understanding of the chords for a replication learner. Extension activities include playing the melody and chords in other ways, perhaps on a guitar and recorder. These changes are of benefit to students with short focusing ability and reinforce the concepts for audio learners by hearing the melody and chords in different textures. Writing the phrase for multiple instruments is an extension activity for repetition learners where they can experience the division of melody and harmony with different timbres. The location of the chords onto a limited part of the circle of fifths reinforces the relationships between the chords and the use strengthens the knowledge of the movement of chords around the circle. Students who benefit from visual learning experiences can picture the positioning of the chords on the circle of fifths and the piano using an extension worksheet where the circle is used to show the chords as triangles and trapeziums (Figure 5-4). 


[5.10] The next learning point to address is the rhythmic change on the first beat and the cadence point (Figure 5-5). The rhythm change is supported by a rhythm worksheet which assists kinaesthetic learners to understand the rhythms used (Figure 5-7). This worksheet extends the chord concepts to highlight the cadential point and changes the inversions of the chords. Inversions of chords are covered at an earlier level which will be discussed in Chapter Six. Naming the chords can be done two ways; the example shown is with the Roman numerals representing the technical names and extensions. An optional addition to this worksheet shows the common chord name abbreviations, i.e., C for C major, with the abbreviation for the bass note which is shown by C/E for a first inversion chord and C/G for a second inversion chord, this also includes the alternative full and half close nomenclature. The preferred method depends on the student, as a replication learner will enjoy the new words whereas pupils who do not appreciate complex language will prefer the everyday words. The optional audio worksheet reinforces both terminologies with some fun diagrams for visual learners (Figure 5-6).

[5.11] The final presentation on this phrase is an observational task regarding the compass of notes used (Figure 5-8). Visual learners will benefit from this keyboard geography activity to clearly see the compass of notes being used.  This task allows the teacher to highlight the fact that the fifth is the predominant interval in the initial phrase of Soldier’s March and the kinaesthetic learners will benefit from the location of these notes on the instrument before playing. The audio worksheet uses this concept to identify the correct version from the options played and the additional spot the mistake audio which includes the odd chord out of place (Figure 5-9). A visually biased learner will benefit from using rainbow colours with this exercise and this is explored in the written work which accompanies this sheet (Figure 5-10).

[5.12] This piece consists of forty-eight bars, but the study explored here has covered sixteen bars or four repeats of the same section with many skills that can be repeated in other sections. The relevance of the circle of fifths to elementary music education can be seen in each stage of teaching these four bars. The relationship of the notation, chords, cadences, and range have been identified. The importance of these foundation links in elementary knowledge encourages a student to see the chords behind the music, opening possibilities otherwise seemingly inaccessible including composition, improvisation and playing modern popular music from lead sheets. The confidence gained from an understanding of the reasons why the notes are on the page can help avoid the negative response of confusion, whether emotional or cognitive. The interpretation of the confusion can be difficult to determine but one documented reason can be the student’s response to educational literature which is biased to a common learning approach instead of their preferred learning style (Lodge et al., 2018). Two students may have strikingly different responses to the same material, presented in the same way. In one-to-one lessons it is the tutor’s responsibility to choose the appropriate material for the individual student.

Figure 1

^ Figure 5-1. 

Soldier’s March Interpretation Skills 1a.

Figure 2

^ Figure 5-2. Soldier’s March Musicianship Skills 1a.

Figure 3

^ Figure 5-3. 

Soldier’s March Interpretation Skills 1b.

Figure 4

^ Figure 5-4. Soldier’s March Written Skills 1a.

Figure 5

^ Figure 5-5. 

Soldier’s March Interpretation Skills 1c.

Figure 6

^ Figure 5-6. 

Soldier’s March Musicianship Skills 1c.

Figure 7

^ Figure 5-7. 

Soldier’s March Rhythm Skills.

Figure 8

^ Figure 5-8. 

Soldier’s March Interpretation Skills 1d.

Figure 9

^ Figure 5-9. 

Soldier’s March Musicianship Skills 1d.

Figure 10

^ Figure 5-10. 

Soldier’s March Written Skills 1d.

C Leigh, 1995a, p.42
C Lodge et al., 2018
C. Alfred
C. Jacobson
C. Bastien
C. Felder
C. Kuo
C. Drago and Wagner
C. Syofyan and Siwi
C. Bingha
C. Chan
Figure 5-1
Figure 5-2
Figure 5-3
Figure 5-4
Figure 5-5
Figure 5-6
Figure 5-7
Figure 5-8
Figure 5-9
Figure 5-10


Bastien, J.W. (1995). How to teach piano successfully. Third ed. San Diego, Calif.: N.A. Kjos Music Co, pp.124–133.

Bingham, J. (2021). Large pieces of content? Developing bite size knowledge acquisition through curriculum design. [online] LTE Online. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].

 Chan, A. (2011). ABRSM Piano 2011-2012 Grade 1 B:6 Schumann Op.68 No.2. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Aug. 2022].

Drago, W.A. and Wagner, R.J. (2004). Vark preferred learning styles and online education. Management Research News, [online] 27(7), pp.1–13. doi:10.1108/01409170410784211.

Felder, R. (1993). Reaching The Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles In College Science Education. J. College Science Teaching, [online] 23(5), pp.286–290. Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].

Jacobson, J.M., Lancaster, E.L. and Mendoza, A. (2015). Professional piano teaching : a comprehensive piano pedagogy textbook. Second ed. Los Angeles: Alfred Music, pp.173–199.

Kuo, Y.-T. (2013). A proposal of a color music notation system on a single melody for music beginners. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jul. 2022].

^ Leigh, F. (1995). Piano teaching repertoire. Broughton: F. Leigh, p.42.

Lodge, J.M., Kennedy, G., Lockyer, L., Arguel, A. and Pachman, M. (2018). Understanding Difficulties and Resulting Confusion in Learning: An Integrative Review. Frontiers in Education, [online] 3, pp.3–4. doi:10.3389/feduc.2018.00049.

Syofyan, R. and Siwi, M.K. (2018). The Impact of Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learning Styles on Economics Education Teaching. Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research, [online] p.643. doi: (n.d.). About Alfred Music | Alfred Music. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Jul. 2022].

(Bastien and E Gregory Nagode, 1995a, p.124)
(Drago and Wagner, 2004)
(Felder, 1993)
(James, 2021)
(Jeanine Mae Jacobson, Lancaster and Mendoza, 2015, pp.173–199)
(Kuo, 2013)
(Leigh, 1995, p.42)
(Syofyan and Siwi, 2018)
(, n.d.)
Lodge et al., 2018

Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

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