Team Chording: A Phoenix Autoharp Adventure

My second-ever time teaching Team Chording to budding autoharpists took place in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday, February 27, 2015.

Every now and then we autoharpists need to stop playing and think about the music we make so that it sounds really succinct.  Team Chording does this by giving autoharpists a chance to zero in on the harmony end of autoharping, in an all-day meeting where regular folks of varying tune-playing abilities gather around a dining-room table (no music stands!).  The group, without my help, works together to chord three familiar songs so that the melody as written sounds with a sensible, plain-vanilla harmony underneath.  (Our chord choices are certainly not about playing the melody only!  And sometimes I leave and take a walk to remove some of the “edge”–it’s always harder playing for the teacher.)

Once the group decides on the chords for each song, I cease to be a fly on the wall (at last, I’m allowed to return to the dining room).  Everyone sits back while I play the group’s final chorded version.  We listen carefully to the interaction of melody and harmony, noting where the tune’s energy sinks.  Once identified, we talk about which chords will restore energy where it’s needed.  My book “Chords Aplenty” gets a workout in this class; it’s a good time to help the participants use it like the helpful reference it is meant to be.  (Do not even think about reading this book from cover to cover.  Even I don’t do that!  Dive in to the section you need when a chord question comes up.)

Here is the Phoenix group discussing the first tune du jour (photos by June Fessenden):

I'm obviously making a salient point to the group!

I’m obviously making a salient point to the group, while Leticia seems to have an Aha moment…

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And here is the other half of the group listening in!

…and here is the other half of the group listening in!


Throughout the day, I offer ways to organize the chording process so that it moves step by step, in the hope that everyone will be able to use this same process after the workshop to chord tunes alone.  And I need to emphasize that all the chording work that goes on in Team Chording occurs as a group; no one person is expected to do it all.  (Everyone in the class needs to have some experience playing tunes.)

During the day, we took a long break at “mid-term” to enjoy a wonderful lunch prepared by June Fessenden, our hostess and my right arm in handling registrations and other details for the day.  It was a full day of discovering chord choice in new ways.  All of us, including me, came away tired but bursting with ideas about how to chord tunes with greater confidence.

The first round of Team Chording occurred in June 2014 at Nancy Hay’s house in Somerset, Pennsylvania.  And the third round?  Perhaps in your locale.  Have autoharp, will travel!