Using Rounds in Piano Teaching

Guest post by Karen Marshall

I was first introduced to singing rounds as a very young child at Primary school…

It was much later in life that I realised their potential for instrumental use. I can remember being quite miffed that – even though I learnt three instruments – I’d not played one round during any of my instrumental lessons.

I try to incorporate rounds into my piano teaching along with using them constantly in my choir and whole school singing assemblies (I work as a music specialist in a Primary School along side piano teaching).

Rounds and their use as a teaching tool

A type of canon, a round has equal bars of melody that harmoniously fit on top of each other.

Children and adults get all the benefits of playing in parts with just one simple – usually memorable – melody to use.

Other benefits:

  • Ensemble playing:  learning to blend with other performers – starting and ending together.
  • Maintaining a pulse:  in order for the round to work, all players need to maintain the same pulse. This can sometimes take some training!
  • Interpretational development:  as students play together they learn from each other. They can mimic things such as phrasing and dynamics.
  • Aural skills:  identifying intervals within a round and stating the time signature.
  • Theory:  looking at the harmony, counterpoint, phrasing and structure of the music.

Putting this into practice

DOWNLOAD: Fie, nay prithee, John (Sheet Music)

This round ticks all of the above, but has an additional advantage. Because of its large notational range, use of triads and varied number of intervals (9 in total) this is a fantastic technical finger warm up too.

Activities using the round

Ensemble playing

Simply get three children, or three groups of children to perform the music in canon. If you teach individually you can use the end of one student’s lesson, the beginning of another and yourself to make up a trio. Beginner students can often play a drone – repeated perfect 5th chord suitable for the key – as other students play the melody lines.

Improving technique

Why not use the round as a warm up at the beginning of the lesson. Change the articulation to a mixture of slurs and staccato – in sections two and three. Or simply play the round legato and then staccato.  Use it for both left and right hand.

Use the round to explain the different uses of the wrist – a flat lateral movement (especially useful on the arpeggio sections). A vertical wrist movement (drop / lift) works well for slurs and staccato phrases – in parts two and three.

Intervals – locating, identifying aurally and visually

The round includes the intervals of a major and minor second, major and minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major and minor sixth and an octave. Give one interval a week for a student to identify in other music they are playing – ‘the interval of the week’. Teach the student to aurally and visually identify the interval but also to find the interval on their instrument from any given note e.g.  Play a perfect fourth from G.

A few examples of intervals in the music (bar 1 – first two notes, major third, bar 2 – first two notes, minor third, bar 5 – first two notes, perfect 5th, etc)

Tonic triads and a dominant seventh

Teach your student about tonic triads. Can they find all of the ones within the round? (The notes appear consecutively). The tonic triads are C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor. Why not point out these keys in the cycle of fifths?

It’s also an ideal opportunity to explain relative minors. If you wanted to take a bright spark a little further there’s a dominant seventh on D in bar 10.

Examples of triads in the music (bar 1 –D major, last three notes, bar 2 – B minor, last three notes, bar 3 – G major – last three notes.  Lots more included in section 3)

Teaching rhythms using words

There are examples of dotted rhythms within the music.  Why not get the student to make up different words to the rhythms?

And last but not least sing it!

If your student is willing, do get them to sing the tune before they even play it on the piano. The large intervals are a challenge to done but if performed with yourself the teacher (as support), there’s much to be gained from the exercise.

Further Thoughts

For more simple round playing, use some of the very familiar ones: London’s Burning, Three Blind Mice and Frere Jacques. I’ve used Bells in the Steeple in Get Set! Piano tutor 1, which students really enjoy.

Professional development: Whilst attending a Kodály course I sang huge quantities of rounds. Look at their website for courses .  It’s a great way to get hands on experience!

Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall is currently writing ‘The Intermediate Pianist’ for Faber Music with Heather Hammond. It is due to be published in August 2017.

She has also compiled the ABRSM ‘Encore’ series and co-authored ‘Get Set! Piano’ with Heather Hammond.

Karen teaches students of all ages and abilities as a peripatetic, private and classroom music teacher (primary) in York. She is a specialist in Music and Special needs.

Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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