The Heart and Soul of Pop Music

url From a past blog (sorry, quite awhile ago) I explained how I find Heart and Soul  to be an important, no, essential early step in the creative process. You don't know how many people raise their eyebrows at me for my inclusion of such a "low brow" activity. Really, I won't name names, but...before you hastily dismiss this as just an annoying pattern some play until it drives you nuts, consider the benefits. Hmmm...a pattern kids are willing to "loop" for hours, there has to be something that can be extracted from it? Ahh, yes, those four chords. Four chords that inevitably find themselves in just about every pop song. Watch the video below that proves my point.

Approaching theoretical concepts is much easier to swallow for students of any age if you can relate it to something they find "easy and fun". Once they master this pattern (they all come back and tell me how their parents played the melody along with them--what a great way to lure parents to the bench and promote collaborative music making!) then it's time to be creative.

Below are various ways I've expanded upon this pattern.

Boomwhackers: Last summer I designed a good deal of my Piano Olympics around the Heart and Soul pattern. Here's James and Matthew spelling/playing the chords with my favorite colored tubes. They provide such a dynamic way to reinforce chord spelling.

Here's a larger group challenged to play and spell the chords at the right time.

Paper Plates: Taken directly from Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, I have used this activity for years to teach form and in general, promote active listening. Part of my presentation at the MTNA conference included a listening activity using paper plates to promote chord ear training. I choreographed movements for the I, vi, IV and V chords.

I = Rub plates together at tummy level

vi = Rub plates together behind back at bootie level

IV = Slap plates together at high right, high left, low right, low left (four corners)

V = Slap plates together above head forming a "V" shape

These moves are mastered first without a groove, then with a back track I created on the Clavinova. The fun starts when the back tracks change styles (Funk, Latin, etc) as well as change up the order of chords.  Here are three young men that took this pattern to heart and even created their own special moves for the IV chord.

Improvisation: Below is a lovely improvisation called "Abi's Chanson".  Abi was a transfer student and was eager to create at the keys. Borrowing the Heart and Soul chord progression, she created a lovely right hand melody. We explored a more colorful option for section B and we enjoyed brainstorming how to return to section A. Abi was quite pleased with her creation.

This is a free, easy, off-the-page and popular tool. Take advantage of your student's initial attraction of the Heart and Soul "back-pocket" pattern and then see their creative skills blossom.



By the way, if you are interested in more posts about creativity,  check out and Bradley Sowash's latest article "Scalin' the Chords" here.