In today’s undergraduate music studies, a group keyboard class is often required of all majoring students. However, I have noticed that students wonder why they should take the keyboard class when they are majoring in other instruments. The purpose of the keyboard class should be not only to learn the keyboard skills, but also, more importantly, to learn how music works through use of the keyboard, an instrument featuring simple structure and multiple generations of pitches. Otherwise, it would be like requiring piano majors to take a timpani class — a waste of time.

Music theory class tends to be passive and abstract, including only simple and theoretical exercises, while group keyboard class examines how to realize four-part harmony or read a complicated score written in alto clef. Students often cannot find any relationship between the two classes, making the keyboard class feel only like a skills class (and therefore unnecessary for some). These two classes should work closely as two main requirements of undergraduate music studies, but it is hard to interact between two separate classes without any dependable materials.

This book is designed to be used as a textbook in keyboard class or a supplementary text in music theory class. Students can review the music theory, examine it on the keyboard, play familiar pieces related to the theory, and create fun and musical projects upon the theory. Students will not only learn the keyboard skills and music theory, but they also can embody what music theory means beyond a simple practice of music theory or keyboard skills. All exercises, examples, pieces, and projects are extremely related to one another, so that students can track what they are learning, and see the whole thread of how music theory, real music, creating new music, and performance work together. In this integrated and practical process, students should develop a deep understanding of what music means to us. I do think this is why a group keyboard class exists, and it could become such a great class to experience and discuss how a musician may think and understand the nature of music differently from other people.

One semester may cover four chapters, and each chapter presents the same layout:

  1. What do we learn in this chapter?
    A brief introduction to music theory
  2. Warm up

    Warm-up exercises applying to the theory introduced
  3. Music theory
    Summary, examples, and tables of music theory following the conventional tonal harmony books, and its practical exercises on the keyboard
  4. Pieces to play

    Short piano pieces related to the music theory
    *Each piece has two or three versions of varying difficulty so that students (or the instructor) can choose one according to their skills.
    A fun and meaningful project related to the theory
    Or, a keyboard duet to play with a classmate

A keyboard duet is a fun and educational practice in which two students work in a pair and help each other. I have had the best results in playing duets when students develop a partnership and get feedback on how they are playing and what they can improve.

The book is mainly based on Western classical music. However, I care about students’ multicultural backgrounds, so the examples, projects, and pieces are chosen from pop, folk, jazz and classical genres.  Finally, I hope that the contents of the book help students enjoy the group studies in class such as playing the warm-up exercises together, performing duets, and presenting and sharing their creative works with classmates.

Working through chapters 1 to 8 (2 semesters), the students may accomplish:

  • All major and minor scales in two octaves
  • Diatonic tonal harmony and its exercises
    (Chromatic harmony will be introduced in chapter 9)
  • Several short piano pieces
  • Three pieces of keyboard duet
  • Five creative projects

Chapters 9 to 16 will be published in August 2014.

August 20, 2013

The book is available in two places:
iBook: will be updated in few days!
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