The device of presenting ideas within the framework of a student-teacher conversation goes back at least as far as Plato, and probably beyond.  But thinkingMusic is itself a platform for presenting ideas, so why this ploy?

While thinkingHarmony may appear to use this device, it's actually the real thing:  a selection of email conversations that took place between my students and me, as part of our long-distance lessons in classical and jazz harmony.  Rather than use a teacher-student framework as a vehicle for my ideas, my intention is the reverse:  to show that long-distance instruction can be deeply effective and enjoyable, given the right mix of technology, creativity and personal style. While lessons are now exclusively by video chat, these email conversations still accurately portray how students and I approach the study of harmony.

These email conversations took place between me and “Gustave M.”.  “Gustave” is not a fictitious character, but a real-life, actual student of mine.  At the same time, he represents all of the long-distance students with whom I've established long-term, teacher-student relationships.

I hope you enjoy these conversations -- my students and I certainly have!

conversations . . .

Just Friends (jazz harmony)

The analysis of Just Friends poses a conundrum:  on the one hand, the song's long-standing public exposure means that its harmonic language is almost idiomatic;  on the other, a close look reveals an odd harmonic ambiguity. Gustave‘s harmonic analysis of the song is the starting point for an in-depth discussion, that touches on sequence, secondary dominants, mode change, pivot chords, and the common-tone °7 as passing chord.

Common-tone Modulation (jazz, Impressionist, & Romantic harmony)

While thinking about some of the beautiful compositions of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Gustave and I naturally came around to the topic of modulation — how, when, and why.  This led to a discussion of ‘common-tone’ modulation — a technique of interest to Romantic, Impressionist, and jazz composers — that can be used to expressive effect.

Classical Harmony (using “Harmony and Voice Leading”)

An excellent example of the fluid and instructive dialogue that can take place via email lessons, this conversation traces the growth in Gustave's classical harmony technique, as he worked his way through an early chapter of Harmony and Voice Leading, by Aldwell & Schacter.

Figured Bass (classical harmony)

Harmonic analysis employs an ancient notational system called ‘figured bass’. Instruction in figured bass is therefore often part of the preparatory training that I give to students who are new to harmony.  This email was the first in a short series of lessons through which Gustave quickly mastered this very old practice.