Monday, May 16, 2016

Difficulty with Cadences

Last week, I administered the last section of the piano proficiency exam at WBU. Traditionally, this section has proven to be the most troublesome for students because of its content -- the dreaded scale routines, or what we refer to as SATCs. SATC stands for Scales (two octaves, hands separate), Arpeggios (two octaves, hands separate), Triad Scale (hands together) and Cadences (hands together). Students must complete SATCs in all major keys as well as the minor keys that begin on a white note of the piano. As I began teaching SATCs to second year students, I quickly realized that the I-IV-I-V-V7-I progression was proving to be most problematic. How in the world was I going to teach this concept? The solution I ultimately arrived at is what I'm going to outline in this week's post.

Playing the cadences in root position was not a problem for most of my students. Once I realized that the assumption that they were thinking harmonically while playing them was false -- they had actually memorized hand movements and figured things out by ear -- I began to see that I had to step back to the beginning of the teaching process.  Together we backed up to spell each chord of the progression in root position. Once we were able to correctly spell the triads, I made sure that the concept of inverting chords was clear theoretically as well as at the keyboard.

I had the students play the C major cadence in root position, but this time I asked them to notice what inversion of each chord was being used. I wrote the progression on the board and we discovered together that a "rule" seemed to be at play in this progression. Common tones shared by parallel chords (i.e. I and IV as well as the I and V that would follow) had to remain in the same location of the following chord. For example, the common tone between I and IV is do (or C if we continue to work in the key of C major). Since the C is located on the bottom of the root position I chord, the rule demands that the same pitch (C) remain on the bottom of the IV chord. The result is a IV chord in second inversion (in C major, that chord is spelled C - F - A). We continued to discover that the common tone in the I and V chords is sol. Now we had a pattern to follow!

Before progressing, we needed to find a way to define the 7th of the V chord. The easiest way we discovered to identify the 7th is to add the pitch located a whole step below the root of the V chord. This eliminated the need to remember if we had to think in the key signature of I or V when adding the 7th to the V chord.

Now that we had a rule to follow, we needed to make sure it worked for inverted chords. As a class we built a first inversion chord in C major. To begin the cadence, do is the common tone and remains in the same voice while the other voices move. Return to the inversion of I that was just played and identify sol. Sol remains the same and the other voices move down. Add the 7th (whole step below the root of the V chord) before returning home to the inversion of I. Guess what? It worked! At this point, students also realized that the direction of the non-stationary voices moved in the same direction -- up to the IV and down to the V -- and wondered if that would be true in second inversion.

Second inversion caused a slight problem because the 7th of the V7 chord appears at the top of the chord to allow for stronger voice leading. At this point, students began to see that the 7th was resolving down to the third of the tonic chord in all inversions -- and understood the exception to the rule.

Many of my students were vocalists, so I decided to have them examine the movement of each voice of the cadence independently. What we discovered together is that the melodic movement of each voice remains the same regardless of the inversion and that the most active voice is the one that contains the third of the tonic chord.

Suddenly, I realized that I had a good method for teaching cadences that seemed to work with the majority of my students. This semester, all of my students passed the cadence portion of the proficiency exam and my freshmen students are well on their way to mastering the first 10 keys that I have taught them using this method.