How to harmonize a scale in 4 parts
A few organists asked me to demonstrate how I would harmonize a scale. So today I would like to share with you how you can do it using simple three-note chords. Mostly they are root position chords but in one instance you will need a first inversion chord as well.
If you want to master scale harmonization, transpose this exercise to every major and minor key (on paper or at the instrument). The starting point is here in closed position, but it's possible to begin the soprano one octave higher in open position (chords C-G-E-C and A-E-C-A).
Knowledge and mastery of harmony is very important to every organist. Therefore I teach these and many other concepts in great detail in my Harmony for Organists Level 1 course.
Knowing that the Advent starts this Sunday, yesterday I found the Introit for the 1st Sunday in Gregorian chant notation which looks like this (excerpt):
Then I created a harmonization of this chant (presented in soprano) using only major and minor root position three-note chords which sounds quite modern. The chords change twice in a measure (every half note) which makes it easier to play.
Here is the score of this harmonization. If you want to play it, I recommend softer flute sounds in the manuals. The bass part could be played with or without pedals. If you play it with your feet, use 16' and 8' flute stops.
Knowing that we celebrate 350 years from Heinrich Scheidemann's (ca. 1596-1663) death this year, I have just found out about the collection of his Praeambules and other non-chorale based organ works in public domain (total of 15 compositions).
This edition is rather old fashioned (edited by Max Seiffert) with some interesting suggestions for manual changes and the use of pedals but it's one of the few pieces of this composer that can be downloaded for free online. There is of course edition available from Baerenreiter, if you want an authoritative score.
I thought I will share this collection with you today because you could play some of these fabulous pieces on your organ before this year is over.
This week I had an amazing opportunity to spend three days with the group of extremely motivated church organists from all parts of Lithuania leading the course on harmony and improvisation.
During that time we basically covered more than a year worth of material about the foundations of harmony from the simple T-S and T-D progressions all the way to the inversions of D7 chord.
In addition, I also taught them how to improvise a piece based on choral, chant or hymn tune in ABA form.
In order to help the Lithuanian organists even more, I recorded everything on camera and will create a video course on harmony and improvisation.
It's amazing how technology of today enable people without any special computer skills like me to connect with others and help them reach their goals.
The only thing which is needed is to take the initiative and lead.
We are not worthy of success...
...which is of course one of the great lies very often we tell ourselves.
Who am I to keep practicing the art of organ playing and perfecting this craft?
What right do I have to be trying to learn improvisation at the level of the great masters of the past?
Why should I try my hand at composing if all I do is an imitation of someone else's style?
Only people with real talent can see their dreams come true.
I don't have the necessary academic and theoretical background to be even trying.
I'll never master this piece. My technique is too weak.
These are the things we tell ourselves when the going gets tough, when we get frustrated.
It turns out that the stronger the voice in the back of our heads telling us to stop pursuing our dream, the closer we are to it.
Use this voice as a compass.
Some teachers say that first students must learn to play a piece without ornaments and only then they can add them to the musical text. In other words, it's like treating an ornament for what it is - an ornament, an addition to the musical content.
I like to suggest a different path. An ornament in early music was not a choice, it was really the part of that particular musical style. It's not like you could perform a piece without ornaments and it would sound fine without them. The ornaments were one of the basic elements that made that style real.
So it appears to me we should learn to play the ornaments right from the start. This of course is a tricky task for many people. But the real reason people can't execute ornaments well is not because they don't know how they should sound (it's easy, just click here for the famous table from the Clavierbuchlein for W.F.Bach which lists all the main ornaments that J.S.Bach (and many French Baroque composers) used.
The real reason is that many people have a weak finger technique. When they start learning a piece and want to add a trill, often it becomes a mess. They struggle playing it the right way, even in a slow tempo. Especially in a slow tempo.
What I really recommend in such situation is to work on improving your finger technique. Those technical exercises little by little will begin to pay off in the end. Of course, you could strengthen your fingers and playing from the great collections, such as Two-Part Inventions and Three-Part Sinfonias by Bach.
Too many people learn one or two of these little gems, become bored and move on to something else. But what if you could master all 30 of them? That's what Bach would recommend to his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann - we know that for sure (he included them in a collection specifically designed for his development - not one or two but all of them). If you could do that - your finger technique would become really solid and you will not have any trouble with playing ornaments (because these pieces are full of them).
All of this has to be done very slowly and without haste. Treat the ornaments as part of the piece and learn them right away. Working in separate voices and in short fragments repeatedly is a key here.
Of course, there are many stylistic differences in terms of how you would execute the trills in pieces from different schools of organ composition (Spanish, Italian, French, English, South German etc. - check out Historical Organ Techniques and Repertoire series from Wayne Leupold Editions if you are really serious).
As in everything with organ music, the slower you practice your ornaments, the faster you master them.
Did you know that this year (2013) is the 350th anniversary from the death of Heinrich Scheidemann (ca. 1596-1663)? Hopefully you have already or will celebrate somehow the 300th anniversary of Johann Ludwig Krebs but Scheidemann is too important to miss out.
Scheidemann was a direct student of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck from Amsterdam and worked for a long time at Katharinenkirche in Hamburg (the same church were after his death Johann Adam Reicken took over the position and J.S.Bach visited him at least twice).
Scheidemann was probably one of the two most influential north German organists/composers/improvisers at the middle of the 17th century Hanseatic city of Hamburg (the other being Matthias Weckmann).
His music was considered "sweet" by the contemporaries in contrast with the "serious" style of Jacob Praetorius II. He left a large body of organ works - praeambules, toccatas, fugues, fantasias, canzonas, chorale verses, chorale fantasias, and a set of amazing 8 Magnificat cycles (on each of the psalm tone).
By the way, the Swedish organist Karin Nelson proposed in her dissertation that these Magnificats were used in teaching improvisation during Scheidemann's style. I couldn't agree more - these settings indeed can even serve as models for our improvisations because Scheidemann employs such a huge variety of contrapuntal styles and techniques in each of them.
In 2012, I played two full concerts featuring these Magnificats at Vilnius University St. John's church as part of my ongoing monthly cycle of concerts "Seven Centuries of Organ Music". It was a little too early to start celebrate his anniversary but I couldn't wait - I literally fell in love with his music a long time ago - at Gothenburg International Organ Academy in 2000 where they were inaugurating the newly built 4 manual North German style organ in Orgryte New church.
But yesterday I played a full recital of Scheidemann's music at my church - a nice mix of most of his organ genres, everything arranged according to the keys (or modes) d, C, e, G, g, and F.
I hope you will enjoy his Magnificat Primi Toni from last year's concert and Praeambulum in e (performed at the church of the Holy Cross in Vilnius last Friday during church service where I substituted for a friend).
So if you like Scheidemann's music, I invite you to think about how you could celebrate his anniversary before this year is over. One of the obvious choices would be perhaps to play a few of his pieces for a church service since there is not much time to prepare for the full recital. You could also learn one or two pieces, or record a video or two and post them to YouTube.
This is called transposition. It means that the piece or its fragment is simply re-written or played in any key you want with the same mode (major or minor).
How do you do it? Although there are a few methods for transposing, one of the simplest is this:
1. You need to know the key signatures of the original key and it's scale degrees.
2. You need to know the key signatures and scale degrees of the destination key.
3. Then keeping the original scale degrees in mind, simply transfer them to the new key.
One time I was playing the famous C major two-part invention by Bach (BWV 772) and thought it would be fun to transpose it to a few other keys. Here is what happened:
Original in C major
Transposed to G major (a perfect fourth downward)
Transposed to F major (a perfect fifth downward)
In the above videos I play from the facsimile of Bach's handwriting - the right hand part is written in the soprano C clef (treble C is on the first line).
Would you like to learn transposing like that?
A test with 5 tetrachords (part 2)
Everyone who has completed the first test with 5 tetrachords have received their results in their email inbox (I used online grading program called Flubaroo). An average grade was 7.66 out of 10 points. That's not bad as an overall result.
I hope it was fun for you to do this test (in case you missed it and would like to do it right now - click here - it will take just a few minutes). I have already received some feedback that this test wasn't very easy for some people. However, I believe everyone who completed it, could have benefited from the refreshment of these theoretical concepts.
So today I have taken one more step and created a second test with 5 tetrachords. This time it is longer and on this page you will see the picture with the melody in 10 measures.
All you will need to do is to find every tetrachord and select the correct answers from the list. Make sure you read the description of the assignement before taking this test.
I believe every person who knows musical notation is capable of doing it correctly. You will only have to check for half steps and whole steps (please double-check your answers for the best results).
I wish you good luck and the results will be ready in a few days when everyone will have had their chance to complete it.
For some people Articulate Legato touch (the articulation we generally use for music composed before the 1800s) is a little difficult to understand and even more difficult to apply (I fall into this category of people when I first started playing the organ).
In order to facilitate the appreciation and application of this concept, I recorded a short video with actual demonstration of this type of articulation on my organ. I hope you will find it useful.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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