Music Lesson Planning:
Ten Steps To Understanding Scales and Chords

Music lesson Planning: Scheme of Work

Ten step scheme of work aimed at ensurng that our music students understand all scales and chords without needing any knowledge of notated music?

Below is a graphic that sets out to detail a scheme of work designed to take a student who has no knowledge of music theory whatsoever to a situation in which they come to fully understand the construction of all major and minor scales and triads as well as the chords that can be created from any major scale.

The two interesting things about this scheme of work is that it does not rely on notated music in any way. This leaves the educator free to introduce notation as a “separate area of study” if required or desired and means that the student is not obliged to study a subject that they do not understand (music theory) using a language that they do not (yet) speak (notation).

The “Ten Steps” are intended to follow on from a short period of preliminary study where students are familiarised with note names. Follow this link for a music lesson plan dealing with the “correct” naming of notes
Using Music worksheets to teach scale spelling and chord construction is the best way that I’ve found to make sure that my students learn (which is the only point of trying to teach them?) or, perhaps just as importantly to let me know where the barriers to developing understanding are.

Music worksheets provide me with a precisely defined learning path with clear and measurable objectives which allow me as a  teacher to see just how well my music theory students are doing. They also give me clear and graphic evidence of just what my music students do and don’t understand at any given point in time.

If we are not careful too much of our music education can be concerned with getting students to “jump through hoops” (graded exams etc?)  rather than to develop a joined up knowledge of the subjet that they are supposed to be studying? It can be argued that those students who have a “joined up” theoretical knowledge base will be able to jump through the hoops anyway (and probably at a higher level?).

An example of this problem can be found in a common approach  the graded music examinations set by many awarding bodies in which musical scales, chords and keys are “drip fed” to students as they progress through the grades. Elementary grades will generally concern themselves with the keys of C G and D. Intermediate grades will introduce flat keys and intermediate/advanced material will involve working on some of the more # or b laden keys.

On the face of it this might seem perfectly reasonable but I would argue that such a progression is devised more for the benefit of the graded music examination system (providing as it does a simple and logical way of constructing distinctions between grades) than it is for the creation of a “joined up” (theres that phrase again) knowledge base for our students.

If at a relatively early stage our learners became confident in their own ability to construct any major (or minor) scale (rather than just remembering how many #’s are in the “simple” ones) because they understood fully the sequence of intervals and note names involved then we can move on to more advanced material knowing that they have developed an analytical framework relevant to the subject and not a syllabus.

If Music Theory Students can count to twelve……?

Music theory is not complicated. If our students can count up to twelve and know the alphabet from A through to G they are in posession of a set of theoretical tools that will (if they are trained to use them properly) allow them to be able to understand the harmonic and melodic content of all western music from Pearl Jam to Prokofiev . If our students can not count up to twelve and do not know the alphabet from A to G then maybe they need to spend more time with their Maths and English teachers before they come to see us in the Music department?

I believe it was Einsten who said something along the lines of “if you don’t know enough about something to explain it in simple terms then you don’t know enough about the subject to teach it”

I’m with Albert on this one. Making (seemingly) complicated things simple is the essence of what we do as music theory teachers. Scale Spelling and Chord worksheets (combined with a well constructed plan) are an invaluable tool.


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