Barbara Allen: Harmonic function dictation

This 15-20 minute activity will set the stage for more nuanced harmonic analysis that includes predominants. We will use the King’s Noyse recording of the English ballad “Barbara Allen” (here’s the handout). The class goal is to work with vi, IV6 and IV. This handout is a middle step towards that end.  

First we will sing some paradigmatic progressions that use a bass arpeggiation (^1, ^6, ^4, ^5, ^1 bass lines) and progressions where ^6 in the bass leads directly to ^5. Then we will work through the worksheet, allowing and encouraging group work. Finally, we will locate the paradigms in this ballad and sing it as a bass-melody duet.  I’m looking forward to it because it’s both a beautiful melody and beautiful counterpoint.

Here is a recording with the German alto, Andreas Scholl, singing. The harmonization here is a little more complex than the King’s Noyse recording.


Post-class update

This melody was beautiful and enjoyable to work with. The harmonic dictation worked well, although I had to switch up the order I listed on the handout.

First, we absolutely had to get barlines in, which meant identifying the meter. This step also opened an opportunity to discuss the strong stresses (through durational accents) beat 2 throughout the song. The harmonic changes are what clarify the meter.

Second, I allowed them independent, unstructured, time to work on harmonic function.  Since the harmonies change relatively quickly, I recommended focusing on just the first chord of each line, just the last chord of each line, or finding all tonics.  Then I let the song play through multiple verses while softly calling out when a new line started.

Third, we wrote down scale degrees for the melody before discussing the harmony.  I sang them a line and they sang it back on numbers. We located segments that implied a certain harmony (such as the ^1-^3-^5 opening melody implying a I chord), and then worked through the specific harmonic functions.

Finally, we located the paradigms in the song and sang it as a duet. In the interest of maintaining challenges and fighting boredom, our duet work included singing it (without notation) on solfege…  That was interesting and more successful that I expected.

There are several other versions of the song (Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, in particular) that I’d like to explore over the weekend when I have more time. Perhaps there is a follow-up activity that builds on this one…

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