This post about a structured piano chord curriculum was originally published in June 2015, and updated in June 2019 and April 2020.
Piano teachers would almost universally agree that teaching piano chords to our students is important. But without a structured piano chord curriculum, we often resort to teaching chords in whatever order they happen to pop up in our students’ repertoire or method books and crossing our fingers that we eventually get through them all.
For a student, this haphazard approach makes it difficult to see how chords relate to each other. It can seem like there are way too many types of piano chords to keep track. It can be overwhelming.
That’s where these chord challenge levels come in.
Chords Challenge Levels
These 5 levels of chord challenges give teachers a clear structure for working through all the major, minor and dominant seventh chords with piano students, including inversions.
- Challenge Level 1: Major chords in root position
- Challenge Level 2: Minor chords in root position
- Challenge Level 3: Dominant seventh chords
- Challenge Level 4: Major and minor chords in first and second inversions
- Challenge Level 5: All chords in random order with appropriate inversions
For students, the 5 challenge levels provide a sense of accomplishment with landmarks along the way to guide progress.
Learning Chords Through Playing
Once I decided what each chords level would cover, I had one main decision left to make: written, played, or both?
If you’ve followed my blog for long, you’ll know I’m a big advocate of teaching theory through playing wherever possible. So, for my chords challenges, I decided that I wanted my students to be able to play the chords in each level effortlessly. Once students are comfortable playing the chords, the notation side of things becomes much easier. (Speaking of teaching notation, the tips on my Music Theory page can help!)
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The Chords Challenge Levels booklet will walk you and your students through each level and what’s required, with handy visual references along the way. Feel free to adapt this to the way you teach chords and have fun with it!
Are you a Vibrant Music Teaching member? Access the booklet instantly in the VMT library along with backing tracks and an iReal Pro playlist to add some excitement to your students’ chords practice.
Adding the Magic Pixie Dust
When it comes to technical work, sometimes we need to get a little creative to give students the foundation they need to be successful.
Simply adding a super fun name to each level pumps up the appeal for kids. After all, who wouldn’t want to become a Chord Ninja?
One way I recognise my students’ achievements when they complete a challenge level is with these custom stickers which we put on the front of their assignment folders to show off their achievements.
I got my stickers printed at moo.com, but I’m sure you can also print them at home or get your local printer to do it.
What do you think?
How do you decide what chords to teach, and when? Do you use a similar piano chord curriculum, or is there a different system you like? Let me know below!