First, the news:
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And now, let's go to the podcast for today.
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 118 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. Today’s question was sent by Neil, and he writes that he finds it hard to think of chord progressions and keep on sticking to a few major and minor keys. Basically, Ausra, he needs to progress, but he’s stuck, right--with harmony.
Vidas: So...Do you have students like this in your classes?
Ausra: Yes, of course I have them.
Vidas: Who only love a few keys, like C Major, a minor, G Major, e minor, F Major, d minor--and that’s all!
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. I have such students.
Vidas: Do you sometimes ask your kids in which key your dictation will be today? Sometimes I do.
Ausra: Yes, I do.
Vidas: And what do they reply?
Ausra: “C Major!”
Vidas: C Major, right? What about E Major? Probably never.
Ausra: Hmm...not too much.
Vidas: Right? So, young people love keys with zero or one accidental.
Ausra: That’s right. But we have to use all keys. Such is life.
Vidas: You have some experience with key characters, right, now?
Ausra: Yes, because I’m going to have a recital, actually. To…
Vidas: Announce and to lead, right?
Ausra: Yes, to lead the recital, yes. Which is called “ABCs;” and the idea of this recital is that I will have to talk about different keys and their meaning.
Vidas: So what are the keys that will be in the program?
Ausra: Well, basically, 12 pieces of a minor, 8 C Major, and then I think 2 or 3 A Major, 4 c♯ minor (wow)
Ausra: 3 c minor, and only 1 b minor.
Ausra: And no other like piece--no B♭, no minor or major, no.
Vidas: So why do people...why are there so many keys, by the way? Why can’t a composer create everything in C Major or a minor?
Ausra: Well, because you know, in old times, different keys sounded differently, and each had its own character.
Vidas: That’s why they chose different keys, right?
Ausra: Yes, yes; and only after 1917 all keys started to sound the same--you know, after all instruments started to be tempered in equal temperament.
Vidas: Mhm. Which is now changing, of course, because of the movement in early style and early performance practice.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. Plus, we are organists; we have so many historical instruments that are tuned in different temperaments.
Vidas: Mhm. So you are going to explain all this, a little bit?
Ausra: Yes, a little bit, because there will be kids from first grade till the end of high school, so my talk needs to be appropriate to everybody. So I cannot talk on a very high musicological level.
Vidas: Not like we are talking today?
Ausra: Oh, don’t make fun of me!
Vidas: Hahaha! Excellent. So, what are the differences between some major keys--let’s say, what is the most joyful key, do you think?
Ausra: C Major, probably.
Vidas: C Major, right?
Ausra: But F Major is joyful, too. And A Major.
Vidas: E♭ Major might be a different character from C Major, although it’s a major key, too.
Ausra: Yes. But for example, A♭ Major, you know, is the key of “grave”…
Vidas: Grave key, right? Serious key.
Ausra: Yes, it’s a serious key, although it’s a major key.
Ausra: So there are very interesting things, actually.
Vidas: And with minor, too, there are some characteristics of sadness, melancholic keys; but there are also sorrowful keys, which is not the same; and also some pathetic keys, like very dramatic, like c minor…
Ausra: Yes, that’s right, yes.
Vidas: There is a reason why composers chose to have a “pathétique” sonata, right-- Sonata Pathétique (by Beethoven), in c minor.
Ausra: Yes. And actually, its middle movement is in A♭ Major.
Vidas: Uh-huh, uh-huh. True. And in different historical periods, composers chose different key relationships for middle movements. Do you remember, we have been playing Franz Seydelmann’s 4-hand sonatas? And middle movements are always in the key of the subdominant.
Ausra: That’s very often the case with Classical sonatas, say with Mozart.
Ausra: You very rarely find keys of dominant in the middle movement.
Vidas: And even no keys with parallel major or minor.
Ausra: Yes, yes
Vidas: As was the case with Baroque music.
Ausra: Yes, but then the Romantics already did things differently. For example, like Edvard Grieg, his famous Sonata in A Minor--the middle movement is in C Major.
Vidas: True. So, Neil and others could really benefit from looking deeply into the keys and their meaning, right?
Vidas: And discovering, for example, the differences from one piece in one key and another piece in another key, of the same composer, let’s say, because it will be easier to compare.
Ausra: As Neil said, he has a hard time understanding chord progressions.
Ausra: Actually, you need to study chord progressions before actually playing or learning to play that piece, just for a better understanding of how music is written. But when you will actually perform it and learn it, you won’t always have to think about every single chord.
Vidas: There is no time for this.
Vidas: You have to make music.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: So, in order for him to understand chord progressions and get better acquainted with different keys, could he try playing sequences?
Ausra: That’s right, yes. And YouTube is full of my sequences that I played as examples for my students.
Vidas: True. And this helps, right?
Ausra: Yes, it definitely helps.
Vidas: Mhm. Because you can take a very simple chord, like a dominant 6 chord, and play up and down; so you can play those sequences in descending motion or ascending motion, right? That would help, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that would help; and it would help you to get familiar with all keys, and to feel comfortable while playing any key.
Vidas: You can stick in one key: that is called the tonic sequence...
Ausra: Yes, but you can, you know, transpose them to different keys.
Vidas: ...While choosing a particular interval, like a major third, minor third, or major or minor second. That helps.
Vidas: Wonderful. Guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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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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