Chords and Harmonic Progressions
All beginner students who study piano quickly become aware of possibility of constructing and playing different chords; from nice sounding to not so nice sounding. Also, they very quickly discover the simple rule based on 1-3-5 (every other key on the keyboard) which allows them to achieve simple harmonic constructions. If not guided into the secret of chords and harmonies they will remain disadvantaged of understanding and using chords as building blocks of modern music - whether it is classical, pop, R&B or bluegrass.
The art of harmonic thinking and harmonic understanding used to be a part of the subject called Solfege. By singing simple melodies (which progressively get more difficult as the student advances) accompanied by piano, usually in chords, helped students develop a quick understanding for certain harmonic movements. They also become aware of scales (major and minor for starter) and inherent tensions and resolutions within the scale. The first pattern that becomes "cemented" is the ubiquitous I-IV-V-I. The authors of Solfege books and material are very skilled in manipulating harmonies through melodic lines that are necessary for proper and complete music training and development.
Today, the art of Solfege is slowly going into oblivion, especially in settings where the demand on teacher and student to produce quick results is the only paramount. However, the art of listening and developing harmonies can be easily achieved through everyday exercises and relevant music samples. Teachers can create short melodic lines with corresponding harmonies covering basic and most common chord progressions. To name a few:
I-IV-V-I, I-VI-II-V-I, I-III-VI-II-V-I, I-II-V-VI-IV-V-I ...etc ...
Once student becomes familiar and comfortable with these simple patterns, the teacher can get a bit deeper into the theory and explain all the rules pertaining the chord construction and use.
This is just a short description of some approaches that I use and can be used in training young musicians. Introducing the dry theory can be repulsive to many without being able to understand its merits, meaning and point. This way, through active listening and producing harmonies, student will feel more engaged, which in turn will produce better learning experience. Learning and manipulating harmonies may enable a young student to venture into the world of composing his/her own music. These attempts, no matter how rudimentary or incomplete, must be strongly encouraged and rewarded. One never knows: the little kid who is struggling with "Twinkle, twinkle little star"today, may be another Mozart in making tomorrow.