Ear Training for Guitar Students with Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory

Ear Training for Guitar Students with Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory

Sarah Perry
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TI:ME Technology Areas Addressed:



High School




Software needed: Alfred’s Essential of Music Theory (Available for PC or Mac).


50 Minutes

Prior Knowledge and Skills:

This lesson is intended for use with beginner and intermediate guitar students. The students could be in high school or studying at an undergraduate level. It could be useful for first or second year music therapy students in a beginning guitar class as well as for individual study. This lesson plan has been designed with the beginner guitar class of music therapy students in mind.

MENC Standards Addressed:

MENC 2: Performing on instruments, alone and with others, a varied repertoire of music.
MENC 3: Improvising melodies, harmonies, and accompaniments.
MENC 5: Reading and notating music.
MENC 6: Listening to, analyzing and describing music.


Materials needed: 1. Alfred’s Essential of Music Theory. 2. Guitar. 3. Staff paper or manuscript notebook.


Objective: The students will demonstrate the ability to identify tonic (I), sub-dominant (IV), and dominant (V) chords in at least three given major keys.

Purpose: Music therapy students must be able to recognize the basic chord structure of a given song when working with patients/clients in order to immediately adapt to the requests and needs of the client. The music therapy student must also be able to transpose familiar songs to keys that are in his own vocal range or the singing range of the client. Being able to recognize the major chords in a given key is a very important and necessary tool in the development and practice of a successful therapist.


Anticipatory set: The guitar class will play (together, in the same key) a familiar song that can be played with I, IV, and V chords as accompaniment such as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. The students will be asked to identify the chords by letter name and write this in their notebooks. The teacher will then ask the students to transpose Twinkle, Twinkle to a different key and write the chords in their books as well. The class will then play the song in the new key to determine if they have transposed correctly. Once the students have successfully transposed Twinkle to the new key, the teacher will identify the relationship of the chords as I, IV, and V. For example if the original key was C Major using C, F and G chords ö the students and teacher will label C as I, F as IV, and G as V. Next, the students will label the chords in the new key (G major for ex.) as I, IV, and V to prepare for the drill and practice of chord identification in the EMT tutorial.

Procedure: After completion of the chord identification and transposition of a simple, familiar song, the teacher will demonstrate the exercises in Alfred’s EMT on the computer. Since the anticipatory set could easily take up most of a 50 minute undergraduate class, there may only be time for demonstration in that class period. This assignment may be given as individual work that should be completed as homework and practice or may be used in class if time permits. The students will be shown how to sign in and have their scores recorded if they are not already familiar with the program. The exercises to be used for this first stage of ear training and recognition of chords should be limited to only the I, IV, and V chords in a given key. Minor chords may be a way to expand this lesson in the future.


Demonstration of studentsâ understanding: The studentsâ scores will be recorded by the program for the teacher to evaluate. In addition to monitoring the studentsâ performance using the program, during the next class meeting the teacher can play I, IV, and V chords on her guitar in various major keys and ask the students to identify the chords verbally. The teacher may then ask the students to play back a chord progression in a given key after her demonstration. This could be completed as a class and then individually as a mini-quiz.

Closure: The teacher will ask the students how they felt about using the computer program. Questions to be asked can include: Was it easier or more difficult to identify the chord progressions when using the computer program rather than listening to the guitar or even a piano? How comfortable do you feel with identifying the major chords in a given key? Do you think you could identify the I, IV, and V chords in a childrenâs song if I played and sang it for you right now?

Follow Up:

Extensions: Once the students have displayed an understanding of I, IV, and V chords in more than one key, the teacher can give the students some simple melodies with the chords in a given key and ask them to transpose the song to two new keys. The teacher may also sing or write out a familiar melody and ask the students to identify the chord progression that would best accompany the song. Once the students have mastered the I, IV, and V chords, the exercises can be repeated incorporating the common minor chords used in each key. The students can complete ear training drills with minor chords using Alfred’s EMT and can even take the familiar songs they have already been working with and determine points in the song where a minor chord may be substituted for a major chord to add color or depth to the song or change the overall mood and feeling of the song.

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