This week starts my pentascale unit in the piano studio! I have a big crop of beginner students this year, and Spring is my time for pentascales. Several years ago, I wrote a post about how I teach these by starting with learning about half-steps, then learning the half and whole step formula. It’s been one of my more popular ones, so it seems like a good time to do an update. I made the video above for my students to watch in between lessons as a reminder about half and whole steps. Maybe it will be useful for you too! (There’s a verbal gaffe in there where I say half-step when I meant whole-step – extra points to my students if they can tell me when I did that!)
I teach all the major pentascales and their related major chords to my first-year beginners, then all of the minor pentascales in the fall of the second year. When playing the chords, many of my beginners don’t have the control yet to play block chords, so I teach them as broken chords and encourage them to experiment with playing them as block chords, as much as their fingers cooperate. We’ll spiral back to block chords later. As we go, we classify the major chords associated with each scale and log them on a chart. These are the chord types: Snowman, Hamburger, Oreo, Ant, and 4 Triple Scoop Chords.
As students practice their pentascales and chords, I have them name the keys out loud as they play. I have a printed chart that goes in each student’s notebook. Each week in the studio, we mark the keys with colored pencils that belong in the pentascales and chords assigned for that week. The following week, when they demonstrate mastery, we check the box. I’m feeling particularly generous today and sharing this 8 page document with you along with my Chord Shapes and Sorter doc! Links at the bottom of the post.
Here’s my week-by-week plan.
Week 1- Learn half steps and whole steps.
Week 2 – Review HS and WS. Learn the pattern. Assign C, G, and F pentascales and chords. (Snowman chords)
Week 3 – Review HS and WS. Review pattern. Review C, G, and F. Assign D and A. (Hamburger chords)
Week 4 – Review everything learned so far by playing Scale/chord roulette with Decide Now app
Assign all pentascales and chords learned so far as pre-practice warmups.
Week 5 – Assign E (hamburger chord) and B (TS-VOB chord)
Week 6 – Scale/chord roulette with Decide Now app for all white key pentascales and chords
Week 7 – Assign Db, Eb, and Ab (oreo chords)
Week 8 – Do Gb (ant chord) and Bb (TS-COB chord)
Week 9 – Review all
Week 10 – Pentascale roulette and certificate
Most of my beginning students are second graders, and this is absolutely not too hard for them. Occasionally, I have a first grader that needs to go a little more slowly, but this is usually fine for them as well. Besides the theory knowledge they get from this unit, I make a big deal of talking about hand position, collapsing finger joints, legato touch, etc. By this point in the year, they have so much more muscle control than they had in the fall, and this is a much more successful experience than it would have been sooner. And, then at the end of their first year of piano, I have students that have ALL the major chords in their vocabulary! Woot!