Practice harmonizing the above hymn tune "Der Du die Zeit in Händen hast" in 4 parts this way:
1. Place the tune in the soprano and supply missing 2 middle parts
2. Use 3 note chords (tonic, subdominant, dominant etc. and their inversions)
3. Dominant seventh chord works well for the ending of the phrase.
4. End phrases in E minor, A major, G major, D major, E minor, and G major.
5. Make sure you avoid parallel fifths and octaves by moving the upper 3 parts in opposite direction than the bass
Take a slow tempo, aim for detached articulate legato touch and 3 correct repetitions in a row. Here's the MIDI file of soprano and bass parts for listening.
Post time and the number of repetitions to comments.
[HT to Pierre]
Why do we really need to know all of these chords and their inversions? Isn't simply playing the piece and enjoying it not enough? Does everyone needs to become a music theory major or (even worse) a composer in order to play the organ? That's a scary thought, for sure to many students at whatever age they might be.
No of course, you don't have to, if you don't want to. I'm sure you will enjoy the music by simply playing it. The power of great music is sometimes irresistible.
But let's start with understanding how usually people sight-read music. They play notes that are written in the score. In other words, they read music. But reading music is not the same as understanding music.
You can play the notes, but often it's quite tricky to understand what exactly these notes mean. So one of the best ways to start practicing and understanding your favorite organ piece is to be able to analyze it - its structure, chords, tonal plan, cadences and modulations.
Since cadences and modulations are rather advanced concepts in music theory, we start with simple three-note, and four-note chords and their inversions as well as five-note chords without inversions because they are used not as often.
So when you learn the chords and you try to recognize them in your organ compositions, then suddenly entirely new tonal universe opens up. It's like a hidden meaning of these notes will become apparent to you.
It's similar what composers do - they don't just writes notes at random - they have this tonal plan which fits their idea of the piece. And inside this plan obviously are many different chords and their inversions.
So for example, if you know a D65 chord and you try to find it in your organ piece, imagine how different will your playing of that passage be. You not only will be reading separate notes (like B-D-F-G) but you will suddenly realize that it is the chord, not only the combination of notes that don't mean anything.
Sure, they might sound beautifully but you might not know why. But if you knew that it's a D65 chord (the 1st inversion of the D7 chord) then what happens is that your eyes and ears will open up to its meaning. You will also start looking for other appearances of the same chord in other keys.
Here I'm talking about only one chord but imagine if you knew several other chords, then your analytic skills will be so much more powerful. You will take the score of the piece and just by looking at it you will know the meaning and function of these chords.
And it's very helpful for your sight-reading because you will not be playing random unconnected notes, but rather chords, their combinations, arpeggios, and various other patterns.
Chord mastery also helps you to memorize music because again these chords and notes will speak to you and you will not memorize automatically (using muscular memory without thinking about its meaning).
So I really strongly recommend you start learning some of these chords and you will begin to see how much more meaningful the organ music will become for you.
And the most powerful benefit of all (at least to me personally) is that your musical curiosity and creativity will be enhanced as well. You will be feeling like an explorer who finds a new and uncharted territory.
Lately more than one of my students and readers have written me about the joy of musical discovery which obviously leads to the desire to create something of their own (either on paper or as improvisation).
If suddenly you will start to feel the urge for creativity, know that this is a good thing which might lead you to some really exciting musical discoveries and adventures, if you choose to give them a try.
Today I would like to talk about one of the fastest ways to learn three, four, and five-note chords. Usually I recommend a 4 step approach - playing, listening, writing, and singing these chords and their resolutions.
This is done in moving through the system of keys with ascending number of accidentals in major and minor. You start with 0 accidentals, then practice with 1 sharp, 1 flat, 2 sharps, 2 flats and so on until you reach 7 sharps and 7 flats.
So this thorough approach is very complete and it leads to a full mastery of these chords but it takes a while to go through all these keys with just one chord or its inversion.
Not too many people these days can really focus for a longer period of time on one single task, on one inversion. So another way is faster, and a little less intimidating. Here's how it works:
You learn just one particular inversion in major and minor key with 0 accindentals, then another inversion would be in the keys with 1 sharp, then another in the keys with 1 flat. So you learn different chords and you are going through the same cycle of keys with ascending number of accidentals one pair of major and minor key at a time.
This is much faster approach than to learn all chords in all major and minor keys and still doable for many people (if you aren't in a hurry, and want to learn every chord in every key, then of course, use this complete system - this is how I practice).
Good luck in learning three, four, and five-note chords and their inversions, take action, implement this system into your practice, and you will see how much your organ playing, sight-reading, hymn-playing, analytic skills, harmonization, improvisation, and general musicianship will improve because of this.
A few days ago I opened my hymnal that I usually use for practice and started playing the hymn "Not All the Blood of Beasts" - one of the hymns for Lent. It has a beautiful melody in minor mode and a rather nice harmonization containing simple three-note chords and their inversions with occasional four-note chords.
But I found myself wondering if a harmonization could be more colorful. I wanted to use more advanced four-note chords and create more interesting modulations, at least temporary tonicizations to related keys.
It wasn't very difficult to do. Of course, I had to know these chords and the basics of harmonizing hymns with modulations and the key signatures of other keys. And yes, I recorded a video describing this process so that you could do the same. Enjoy!
Without doubt, playing from the hymnal a normal four-part harmonization of the hymn usually sounds beautiful. But what if you want more chromaticisms, more modulations and more advanced four-note chords? Then you can learn to harmonize a hymn in your own way.
For people who want to see how they can harmonize the hymn "Glory be to Jesus" I have prepared a video with the demonstration and my detailed explanations.
Are you tired of always playing your hymns from your hymnal as written in four parts? If so, you could always re-harmonize your hymns. Let me show you how it can be done.
Since we are in the season of Lent right now, I will create a different harmonization of the hymn tune "Sweet the Moments Rich in Blessing".
This video will have 3 steps:
1. I will first play the hymn tune with the right hand.
2. Then I will play the harmonization exactly as written in the hymnal.
3. Finally, I will create an alternate harmonization. In this step I will explain what kind of chords I'm using and what kind of modulations I'm creating.
Learning to harmonize your favorite hymns can be very handy so try this technique with the hymn tune of your choice. I'm sure you and your listeners will be delighted with the new and colorful ways you play your hymns.
Launching today: my new Hymn Harmonization Workshop. It's for people interested in learning to harmonize hymns and chorals in four parts. Check it out if you want to develop a skill in playing your hymns without hymnal harmonizations spontaneously.
This course will greatly enhance your service playing because you can then provide alternate harmonizations. Besides, hymn harmonization is one of the first steps in learning organ improvisation.
It took me many years of struggle to learn to harmonize hymns and chorales on the spot. You can be smarter - you have this course.
Have you ever tried to analyze harmony in some of your organ pieces? Not a general structure, form, thematic development and tonal plan but actual functions of each chord. I don't think there are too many people doing it.
There are 3 major reasons - lack of time, lack of knowledge, and lack of motivation. Let's take a closer look at each of them.
Lack of time. Here I don't mean that a person doesn't have time to practice. No, instead he/she would play so many new pieces that looking deeply at some of them is too much trouble. Of course, some people don't even find enough time to play their pieces, not to mention doing careful analysis. When they do practice, they usually only play the pieces they are working on.
Lack of knowledge. Obviously that's a big issue. In order to examine the chords, harmonies and modulations, you have to have a certain training in music theory. Not necessarily in advanced music theory but some basic skills. I think that a lot of people simply wouldn't know how to do it (curiously, not even every music teacher has adequate training in music theory).
Lack of motivation. If you are to do something as obscure as analyzing chords in your organ piece, you certainly have to have enough motivation to do it. A proper motivation comes from seeing the value of chordal analysis which in person's mind has to be greater than the trouble of this procedure.
We as teachers sometimes are guilty of making the process of analysis look too difficult and too intimidating to the student. Sometimes the assignments are too dry and theoretical with little practical application which may take away all the motivation and curiosity from the student for years to come.
Because very few people choose to go through the trouble of examining each chord, you would be in an advantageous position, if you would do it. Precisely because of that you could become a person whom your peers could look up to. Your organ playing will change, too, because you will start to think like a composer.
Bach had an interesting approach in teaching his students harmonization. His students had to begin with pure four-part continuo realizations.
From there he taught them harmonizing the chorales. But not supplying the three lower parts, as usual. Instead he wrote the bass for them and they only had to supply the alto and the tenor.
It makes sense. When the bass is given, the process is already half finished. All the students had to do was to see what kind of harmony did the bass notes imply and from there to add the two missing parts.
Finally, he asked them to create the bass themselves. This means they were ready to supply the choral tune with the three lower parts.
Apparently Bach even often composed in this order. In his autograph of the Orgelbuchlein chorales preludes, often the bass notes are more prominent. The alto and the tenor appear to be squeezed in later on.
Do you see what it means? It means that Bach already had a piece finished in his mind when he created the bass line.
Try supplying the alto and the tenor parts for this chorale and you will find out how much easier it is to work in this order as opposed to creating all three lower parts right from the beginning.
Since a few of my students asked me to explain in detail the concept of modulation, today I'm going to share with you a plan for modulating from C major to D minor. Because the note D is the 2nd scale degree in C major, the D minor key could be called the key of the 2nd scale degree in relationship with C major.
In order for this modulation to be easy to understand, I will use the chords in the treble clef only. This modulation will have 4 steps:
1. Establishment of the 1st key
2. A common chord
3. A modulating chord
4. Establishment of the 2nd key with the cadence.
As you can see in the above picture, we can establish C major with a few basic chords (T, S and D). Here I chose the tonic chord, subdominant 2nd inversion chord which resolves to the tonic and the dominant 1st inversion chord which resolves to the tonic.
This tonic chord is a common chord for both C major and D minor - in D minor it's called the chord of the 7th scale degree or the Subdominant of the Subdominant (SS).
Then comes the modulating chord. This usually should be the chord which has a new accidental of the D minor key (either Bb or C# - 7th raised scale degree). It is best to use a dissonant four-note chord for this purpose. I chose II34 chord (that's a 2nd inversion of the seventh-chord of the 2nd scale degree.
The last step is to form a cadence in the new key - that's why you can see tonic 2nd inversion and D7 which resolves to the new tonic.
Try to play this exercise on your instrument. If you know how to do it, you can use four-part texture (SATB) with or without the pedals for the bass line placing the tenor part in the left hand. After this modulation becomes easy, transpose it to G major, F major, D major and Bb major.
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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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