Blocking the Broken

Photo by Milk-Tea on Unsplash 

Blocking broken chords I find helpful for students to better understand the relationship of the whole to its its parts. Students learn that when I start circling a group of notes, whether in either or both hands that typically surrounding beats one and two and then three and four where harmony might change, that I expect them to play the group as a block chord as a warm up before starting a new piece. Whether it is two-part writing in one hand, a melody that outlines the harmony, or block chord in one hand and an arpeggio in the other, we focus to move quickly playing one block chord to another to build reaction time and kinesthetic memory. Reaction time will be important if the tempo of the music is fast. If fingering is useable I will have them use correct fingering. If however the figure requires shifts in position, we might forego the fingering and simply demonstrate the reading of all the notes as a group. Being picky, I will remind them of the instructions if at any time they start to play the notes one at a time. The goal is for the students to see the groups of notes as harmonically related and not to think of as a string of notes somehow unrelated. Sometimes I will circle groups of notes just to indicate hand positions and their shifts from measure to measures. In other words, steps may be occurring more than arpeggiation of harmony.

Once completed, sight-reading begins. If harmony in left hand is mostly broken chords, I will have the students perform with block chords in the left hand while playing the melody in the right before attempting to play everything as written.

In the “A” section to Santa Rosa Breezes right hand offers opportunities to observe both harmonic relationship to the left hand in addition to melodic hand positions for notes in each measure. Various portions of part two and three in the piano trio Old Woman, Old Woman can be studied for harmonic analysis with your students. In a Bonsai Garden you might consider bar to bar as blocked chords for hand positions. The pentatonic structure of the melody may stretch the readers ears a bit  with the occasional steps that occur. Many of the solos found in Summer Scenes would also benefit for hand position as well.

Syncopation offers an opportunity for drawing attention to broken chords and simplifying a what may appear to be a difficult rhythmic texture upon first glance. Reducing to quarter or half note blocked chords, as the case may be, can ease apprehension the student may have for the syncopation and allow them to focus on hand positions as the harmony changes. In Keyboard Confections the solo Marshmallow Fluff for most of the work could benefit the student with this approach.