In response to my article about the invertible counterpoint, John wants to know why are parallel octaves and fifths forbidden? What rule forbids them?
This is a very important question to understand. We usually don't see two consecutive unisons, fifths, or octaves followed by one another (with some exceptions) in classical tonal music (not so in pop music and jazz - parallel fifths are quite common).
To answer this, we have to look deeper into the theory of the art of counterpoint in the Renaissance. Specifically, let's see what Gioseffo Zarlino, the great 16th century Italian music theorist and composer had to say about it in his 1558 treatise the Art of Counterpoint:
"They [ancient composers] realized that harmony results from things that are diverse, discordant, and contrary to each other rather than alike in every way. If harmony is born from this variety, it follows that in music not only must the parts be distant from one another with respect to pitch, but their movements should be different, and they should contain diverse consonances of various ratios. The more harmonious a composition seems to us, the more variety we will discover in it: in the vertical distances between its parts, in its movements, and its proportions."
So what Zarlino is really saying is that parallel intervals inhibit the independence of voices. By the way, parallel fifths were perfectly acceptable in the late Middle Ages - the age of organum by such composers of the School of Notre Dame as Leonin and Perotin (12th-13th centuries).
Around that time organs were tuned in pure perfect fifths (the Pythagorean temperament) and the thirds sounded out of tune and were avoided. If you want to imagine this style, just take any tune of Gregorian chant and supply the second voice in parallel fifths above the melody and you will start to hear some old and archaic sounds - something similar to the 12th-13th century music (though it was more complex than simple parallel fifths at that time).
What about the parallel thirds in the art of counterpoint? Well, even the thirds cannot be both major (F-A, G-B) because the ear perceives the dissonant augmented fourth F-B between the outer voices in these two intervals very clearly. The thirds were best used as major and minor in alternation.
Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), the Great Orpheus of Amsterdam, also called Maker of German Organists (Deutsche Organistenmacher).
Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Savior
How did composers create smooth modulations in a piece? By smooth I mean that when you play it, it sounds very natural, without any sudden and unexpected key changes to remote keys?
The best way to do it is by choosing keys which have the same number of accidentals (parallel major and parallel minor keys) or they have plus or minus one accidental.
For example, if you are in the key of D minor, going back and forth from D minor to F major is very natural. Also modulating from D minor or F major to G minor works fine, too.
Today I would like to share with you my chordal analysis of the Prelude in D minor by Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), late Romantic Austrian composer known for his symphonies, masses and motets who also worked as an organist in his late twenties.
As you sight-read this piece today, pay attention to how the modulations are constructed. In my analysis, you will see chords in Roman numerals (without the notation of suspensions). Before the modulation happens, there is a common chord, for example, I=III which means that in the old key this chord is build on the 1st scale degree (tonic), and in the new key, it's the chord of the 3rd scale degree (mediant).
Notice how after the common chord the modulating chord has to be dissonant - a seventh chord of some sort or its inversion - most commonly ii7 (or inversion) or V7 (or inversion).
If you want, you can use this chordal analysis to transpose this Prelude into C minor or E minor. Even better, you can create your own prelude based on these chord progressions. In this piece, Bruckner only uses D minor, F major, and G minor keys but you can easily expand it by experimenting with C major, A minor, and Bb major for even more colors.
That would be sweet sounding thirds (and their inversions - sixths). They form the foundation of any musical composition created between ca. 1400-1900. Thirds can be the resolution after dissonant suspensions (4-3), they can be used in parallel motion upward and downward, in canon, or even in contrary motion between the parts of two hands.
Today we'll try to sight-read Prelude (p. 4-5) from the Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 1, No. 1 (ca. 1905) by Moritz Brosig (1815-1887), little known late Romantic German composer and organist.
This Prelude consists of strings of major and minor thirds in parallel and contrary motion.
Here's how the Prelude is constructed in terms of this interval:
(1-1-2 to 1-1-3) Parallel thirds in the right hand part
(1-2-1 to 1-2-2) Parallel thirds in the right hand part
(1-2-3) Parallel tenths (a third plus an octave) between the left hand and the pedals
(1-3-1 to 1-3-2) Thirds in contrary motion between two hands
(1-4-3) Parallel thirds in the right hand part
(2-1-2) Left hand and pedals form canon in parallel tenths
(2-1-3) Parallel tenths between the hands
(2-2-1) Parallel tenths between the hands and the pedals
(2-2-3) Thirds and tenths in contrary motion between the hands and pedals
(2-3-1) Thirds and tenths in contrary motion between the hands and
(2-3-2 to 2-3-3) Parallel sixths in the right hand part
(2-4-1) Thirds and tenths in contrary motion between the hands and pedals
(2-4-2 to 2-4-3) Parallel tenths between the hands
Try to play this Prelude legato paying attention to the phrasing. For your convenience some fingering and pedaling are written in by the editor. Keep the fingers and the feet in contact with the keyboards and pedalboard whenever possible.
Ear training is very important for any musician, especially for organist who wants to recognize dissonant intervals. This is very useful, if your goal is to understand and appreciate organ music you are playing to the greatest extent. In this video I'll teach you my very efficient four-step procedure which will enable you to master any dissonant interval you want.
You have probably noticed that a lot of organ pieces from the Baroque period tend to be finished in major mode, even if the entire composition is written in minor. What is the theory behind this? Watch this video, if you want to find out the reason.
Are you tired of improvising on the organ using simple T, S, D chords and creating the same predictable sounds? Of course, you know that you could use more advanced chords and more advanced polyphonic tools, such as imitations. However, learning all of this takes lots of time.
But what if I told you that there is another way of adding incredible spice into your playing without the advanced knowledge of music theory, harmony, polyphony, and counterpoint?
This is polytonality. You will be literally shocked at how different, strange and colorful your playing will sound because of this. In this video I will explain what polytonality is and also talk about special exercises you can do with it in your practice.
Here I will be referring to the exercises with scales, but imagine what could you do with hymns or any other kind of melodies, if you applied the same concept of polytonality?
Tonality and mode are two different things. In some cases they might be related but they mean something entirely distinct. A lot of people don't understand this difference. I think it's important to feel quite at home with various tonalities and modes and be well versed in many of them.
An organist is not a complete musician without knowing how to use different tonalities and different modes. But before using them and creating them, you must first understand what they mean. So order to help you perceive the meaning of this concept once and for all, I decided to explain it today in this video.
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.
Today I'm going to teach you about the interval of the major second in major key. The interval of the major second is simply the distance from C to D. It's like a whole tone. It can be measured it two ways - in scale degrees and in steps.
In scale degrees - from C to D there are two scale degrees.
In steps - it's a whole tone.
Let's first figure out how many major seconds there are in C major scale.
From the 1st scale degree (C-D) - it's a major second.
From the 2nd scale degree (D-E) - it's a major second.
From the 3rd scale degree (E-F) - it's a minor second.
From the 4th scale degree (F-G) - it's a major second.
From the 5th scale degree (G-A) - it's a major second.
From the 6th scale degree (A-B) - it's a major second.
From the 7th scale degree (B-C) - it's a minor second.
So you see that there are 5 different major seconds in every major key (from the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, and 6th scale degrees). Since I showed you how to construct them, now we can talk about how you can resolve these dissonant intervals.
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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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