Aural-skills curricula that emphasize a functional, harmonic approach to sight singing and dictation, as opposed to an interval-based approach, make explicit chunking strategies within a tonal context, skills that are essential for fluent sight reading and effective memorization/dictation. I propose to further situate this harmonic approach into idiomatic progressions, or schemas, from common-practice and popular traditions. With support from music memory studies, this chapter describes how I use harmonic schemas to build audiation, sight reading, and improvisation skills in the first two semesters of a four-semester aural-skills sequence.

The six harmonic progressions I use in my classes (Tonic–Dominant–Tonic, Tonic–Predominant–Dominant–Tonic, Lament, Circle of Fifths, Pachelbel, and La Folia) were chosen because exemplars of these progressions are found in a diversity of styles and repertoires. After students can fluently arpeggiate these progressions on solfège, they complete various prepared and unprepared performances, structured improvisations, and transcription activities to reinforce these stereotypical patterns. In this chapter, I will provide examples of these progressions in various repertoires and sample classroom activities.

This approach is loosely based on Gjerdingen’s theories of galant schemas, not just reflected in some of the chord progressions (the Pachelbel is the root-position variant of the Romanesca), but in the cognitive foundations of his theory. While other scholars have used Gjerdingen’s schemas to teach improvisation in the galant style, my schemas reflect the diversity of musical experiences and aspirations in my aural-skills classroom. This methodology encourages students to listen analytically and functionally to music from diverse repertoires and provides a tool to increase musical memory through the internalization of harmonic schemas.