When preparing for a recital and focusing so much on one piece as we just did in December, the time is ripe to not only memorize the key of the piece but master the scale and chords AND know how to spell and notate them. However, with limited lesson time, my introduction of these important theory concepts needs to be packed with memorable, hands-on experience. I ask students to “listen first before they look” with as many of these concepts as time allows.
A while ago, Susan Paradis provided beautiful templates for “W” and “H” cards at her site. She suggested using erasers to identify the keys to use in a scale. The students measure the distance between each key and label it with a “W” card for whole or “H” card for half-step card. I took it one step further and added numbers to each eraser. As I believe it is crucial for students to see and memorize where half-steps occur within a scale, this process provides the perfect visual for what makes a major scale (half steps between scale degrees 3 and 4 and 7 and 8) or a minor scale (half steps between 2, 3 and 5, 6). Students are asked to memorize these codes (ex: 34-78) –just as well as their zip code.
Once the scale is constructed and fingering refined, there is nothing like the Octavian Basics app as it displays the scale but also the diatonic chords, chord symbols, inversions and even the intervals found in each scale (and more!). Although I like to introduce these concepts thoroughly myself, the app encompasses the basic elements through powerful visual and aural experiences which greatly enhances student comprehension.
Along with Octavian Basics, the pianist and I review a sheet (All About Scales) to be completed during lab time.
The worksheet asks theory enthusiasts to:
1) Identify the key signature from the circle of keys
2) Circle the key and the mode
3) Place either a white or blue sticker on the 8 scale degrees (white stickers representing white keys and blue for black–can’t find black stickers!)
4) Notate the scale
5) Notate the three primary chords in root, 1st, 2nd inversions
7) Notate the intervals found in the scale
On the sheet you will notice that the three primary scale degrees and chords are color coded, matching my bulletin board hanging by the piano.
If you are wondering, yes, my students “cheat” and use Octavian to help them complete the worksheet. They use head phones as they can listen to all the elements they are constructing. This is not a test, but a chance to learn terms, how to notate and become familiar with a good dose of theory. Quizzes and tests can come later. Also, my early level students complete only the sections I assign. The sheets are always saved in the students’ binders. Concepts can always be referenced or completed later as their theory knowledge grows. As students prepare new repertoire, they will complete a sheet for each piece (and new key) and acquire a collection of valuable information in their binder for future reference.
Octavian Basics offers a number of other features including solfege and additional modes. Once your theory experts outgrow this app, make sure to have the Octavian Keyboard Calculator (the big bro) on hand. This app features an extraordinary amount of scales, chords, progressions above and beyond the Octavian Basics all provided in 5 different languages.
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Leila’s Opinion of Octavian Basics $.99
An excellent reference tool or calculator if you or your students need to know how to spell or notate ANY scale or chord in major, minor, and also Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian. Bonus–all the information is offered in 5 different languages.
Application Potential: 5/5 An excellent tool for mastering essential theory concepts.
Ability to Use with Ease: 5/5 Students of all ages catch on to the app quickly. With the limited information available (compared to its big bro) this app is ideal for entry-level theory students.
Assessment of Investment: 5/5 Absolutely worth the 99 cents.
Total Score: 15/15
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Leila’s Opinion of Octavian $2.99
Explore scales, chords (9ths, 11ths, etc) progressions and the circle of fifths, intervals, solfège, scale modes, and more than you can possibly imagine – in five languages. All presented on a single iPad screen with handy options for display and playback.
Application Potential: 5/5 An excellent reference tool for mastering essential theory AND beyond.
Ability to Use with Ease: 4/5 Students of all ages catch on to the app quickly. However, with the magnitude of information available, it takes more time to move about the app with confidence.
Assessment of Investment: 4/5 Really can’t beat the price for the amount of information at your finger tips but for much less, Octavian Basics provides enough essentials for the first years of music study.
Total Score: 13/15
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