For most aural-skills curricula, much time and effort is spent on training students’ ears to hear harmony, both recognition of individual chord identities (i.e., isolated identification of chord quality and inversion) and how chords relate to one another in a progression (i.e., hearing function and contextual listening). Aural recognition of harmonic structures and the progressions that feature them is typically accomplished in two basic ways: isolated drill and harmonic dictation. To some extent, either way conditions students to compartmentalize their listening, as they attempt to aurally interpret each harmonic event individually. An atomistic preoccupation with this type of specific recognition may be to the detriment of the development of more holistic tonal listening.

Building on Karpinski’s step-by-step approach to developing harmonic listening skills in students, as outlined in his Manual for Ear Training and Sight Singing, 1 in this chapter I present a complementary method for harmonic listening development that places emphasis on tonal patterns, or groups of harmonies that share similar functions. The three harmonic functions each represent a module that receives attention: tonic, predominant, and dominant. Each chord or groups of chords that belong to these categories are introduced in stages as listening options and are expanded upon gradually until students are able to aurally comprehend a tonal phrase of music. Students are expected to memorize these modules by learning to sing and play them at the piano throughout the course. By drawing attention to the larger patterns (modules), it limits the possible harmonic choices and pathways to the more common tonal trajectories, allowing students to sharpen their harmonic listening skills without getting unnecessarily burdened with less likely distractions.