Clavier Companion - May/June 2017 - 72
Apps for Teaching by Leila Viss
Lock in theory with iReal Pro
through technical challenges
can be more beneficial when
combined with theory concepts
and exponentially more engaging when locked into
Fellow Clavier Companion contributor and improvisation specialist Bradley Sowash recommends
developing scale playing with backing tracks that
he generates in an app called iReal Pro. I observed that when I play both of his exercises called
Squared Scales and Scaling the Chords with an
iReal Pro backing track, I'm more invested in the
task and show improvement with coordination and
Seeing my own skills improve with iReal Pro made
me think I should combine theory and technique with
a groove in more activities for my own students. This
triggered the idea of playing five-finger patterns
around the circle of fifths. This sequence logically
connects just about every aspect of music theory.
Major five-finger patterns or pentascales fit nicely
under small hands and are the building blocks for
triads, tetrachords and scales. Playing five-finger
patterns around the circle develops familiarity with
the sound of "major," the topography of each key and
introduces the tonic/dominant relationship.
1. Beginning on C, students play and memorize this
2. After mastering this hands together, students
replace the right hand finger five on G with right
hand finger one, and replace the left hand finger one
on G with left hand finger five.
3. Students play the melody beginning on G. After
mastering G, they continue to D.
Through guided discovery, students learn what
keys create the major five-finger pattern on D.
They discover the whole- and half-step pattern
and identify the required black key (F#). Students
return to C and G and notice that this pattern
holds true for any key. Moving clockwise
around the circle, new five-finger patterns
can be added each week. Students can
eventually play along with the iReal Pro
chord chart I generated.
Playing without errors while keeping
up with the backing track is challenging,
and students ask to do it again and again
until they master it. Each week the goal
is to play further around the circle with
iReal Pro. If it gets too difficult, students
continue with only the right hand.
Throughout, students are challenged to
mind their hand position, change to a
staccato touch, add dynamic changes,
play the triad in one hand and the pattern