AVA222: I’m struggling with recognizing patterns in the form of chords, completely and independent, and sight reading harmonies, especially hymns
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 222, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Samuel. And he struggles with recognizing patterns in the form of chords, completely and independent, and sight reading harmonies, especially hymns.
V: Ausra, I think most of his struggles are related to chords and harmony skills, right?
V: It’s not an easy skill to develop though.
A: True. True.
V: It takes perseverance and time.
A: That’s right.
V: Where should he start? What’s the first step, would be?
A: Ah, probably he has to take some music theory.
V: Basic music theory training, like our basic chord workshop, where I teach the chords and inversions of three-note chords, and four-note chords, even the ninth chord which is a five-note chord.
V: Afterwards, he will be ready to go into probably more advanced harmony.
V: Playing with two hands, not one.
A: That’s right. And first of all you just have to start to recognize chord patterns. When you look at the score, and only after a few years, you might recognize while playing.
V: I remember John from Australia in our long-term correspondence wrote a few times that he, after studying those chords in theory, he started to notice them in practice, in his compositions that he’s playing. But little by little, maybe not even in compositions but especially in hymns.
V: At first. He said “oh, it’s a dominant chord”. Or, “oh, it’s a modulation. That’s where we have F sharp”. You know, things like that. Little by little, the new world starts to open up for him.
A: True, but it’s a slow process. And anybody who has to spend quite a bit of time with it know that.
V: Of course, it’s different for everyone. For us it was systematic training and we spent twelve years studying at the national level, art school, right? Where each grade we had to, to study ear training, and then later music theory, and then later harmony. So, do your remember back in your childhood, Ausra, were you conscious of those harmonies in your pieces that you were playing?
A: No. Not at all. Because we receive a professional training in all those music theory disciplines. I think that the main mistakes and the weakness of our school training was that we very rarely applied them here in practice. Somehow these two, performance and theory existed on their own. And only later on when I became an adult, I myself started to draw conclusions and to search for a right way, or better ways, combining theory and practice.
V: The same for me. I think the first piece that I played on the organ that was one of the chorale preludes from Orgelbuchlein, and I think it was "Jesu, meine Freude", BWV 610, by Bach. I was worrying about putting hands and feet together but not about chords and how the piece is put together.
A: Yes. But I think understanding that composition with structure and seeing the meaning and the notes is very important.
V: Especially when we teach adults. They have more developed sense of motivation.
A: Yes. And especially when you are playing like chorale based works, because we also have a text somewhere, beneath those musical notes. And that also changes a lot.
V: Sometimes you can even ask why is this chord, colorful chord here, and discover because of the text.
A: True. So it is important to know what you are playing and to understand chords.
V: Mmm, hmm. It’s good that Samuel is interested in that. Somehow it’s not a universally loved thing, an analytical approach to music.
A: And it’s just too bad, because it we would look at the middle-ages when the university system started, started going in, in Europe, actually music was a subject of science. And it was taught together with math.
V: Exactly. There is even a quote, a very famous quote about musicians and, and probably people who can understand music which is called ‘Musicorum et cantor magna best distantia’.
A: could you translate it for everybody to understand?
V: I’m trying to look up, yeah. Between musicians and singers, it’s a great distance. Which reads in Latin (This is the quote by Guido D’Arezzo. And I found it in Christoph Wolff’s book “Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician”.):
Musicorum et cantor magna est distantia
Isti dicunt, illi sciunt que componit musica
Nam qui facit quod non sapit diffinitur bestia.
A: And let tell couple of words about Guido D’Arezzo.
A: He was actually very famous for creating the musical notation system. So this is really one of the most, most important names in the history of music. So you need to, to know who he is.
V: Exactly. He created the system that we use today, the solfege.
V: So let’s translate this passage by Guido which is cited in Christoph Wolff’s book about Bach, which everybody interested in Bach’s music should read. And it, it goes as follows: “Singers and musicians; they’re different as night and day. One makes music, one is wise and knows what music can comprise. But those who do what they know least, ought to be designated beast”.
A: These are strong words.
V: In Latin beast is bestia.
V: So, the meaning of this passage is basically, the person who doesn’t understand what he is doing is like an animal.
A: (Laughs). Wow!
V: In those terms.
A: That’s a strong words. I would not put them like that.
V: But that’s what Guido in the Middle Ages wrote.
A: I know.
V: Right? It’s…
A: Way back.
V: It was like a satire, right? Humor a little bit. So, but it just means that how this ancient, centuries old battle, between musicians and singers, between scholars and, and performers, went all the time.
A: True, and I think that’s a nice quotation that Christoph wrote, chose for his book that he edited about Bach, ‘The Learned Musician’. Because in that book all the articles, they just help you to discover or to rediscover Bach and to show behind his scores, what he really did and how fascinating his music was, full of all those symbols and entire different world.
V: Yeah. So although Samuel’s interest in chords is, is not perhaps related to Guido’s quotation of course. Not at all. He’s just is interested in knowing and recognizing chord patterns, just intuitively. It says that it’s extremely important too, for everyone who’s listening to this, to understand the meaning of, of those chords and structures, how the piece is put together. Basically, this is the preliminary step before you start to create your own music. And let’s face it, not everyone is willing to create his or her own music, right Ausra?
V: And one of the reasons, I guess, I suspect is, that it’s not because of talent or lack of talent. Not at all. It’s because lack of knowledge. Lack of knowledge how those master, master works were created in the past, which could serve as models for us today. We should not of course copy them today, note by note. But use ancient techniques in a new way; combine and mix them together and create some new and original this way.
A: That’s right.
V: So I think, even though, Samuel doesn’t probably even aware, isn’t aware of, of, of this further steps, but his motivation to learn chords will definitely lead him into a realm of creating music too. Either on paper or on the instrument as in improvisation.
A: Yes. Isn’t it wonderful.
V: Absolutely. Amazing world! Every day you can learn something new from the treasury of organ music. And we wish you that. And please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember; when you practice…
A: 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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