By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
Have you ever noticed a similar structure of many of Lutheran chorale tunes?
Usually they have 3 sections:
The first and the second are exact repetitions with different text followed by the remaining longer section - based on the thematic material, it looks like AAB form.
This is what they call the Bar form. Its origins rest in many German folk songs from the Middle Ages.
The two A sections in German are called Stollen and B - Abgesang.
The Stollen can have 2 or 3 phrases while the Abgesang is usually about twice as long.
Victoria yesterday asked my help for understanding the harmony and structure of the chorale prelude by Bach "Ich ruf zu Dir, Herr Jesu Christ", BWV 639 which comes from his Orgelbuchlein collection.
This was a good timing to introduce the concept of the Bar form to her.
So when you're playing any other chorale prelude which would be based on the Lutheran melody, try to identify those phrases and sections too.
Then you will be thinking strategically how composers did when they created these beautiful pieces.
Let me know if you need my help or feel stuck with anything in organ playing.
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
My good friend Dr. Steven Monrotus from St Louis, MO asked for my help in critiquing his organ compositions. He is the author behind the blog Organ Bench where he shares his experiences on his path of creating and making music for the King of Instruments.
I found his overall writing style quite colorful and solid. He likes to think horizontally and his vocabulary sometimes is based on the methods that Louis Vierne had used.
Steve uses online music notation software Noteflight which allows people to compose music without downloading any program to your computer, directly online.
For a long time he didn't know how to add a second voice in his scores on the same stave, so he found a way to do it with many dangling ties which really complicated the view for performers too much:
A lot of his works are in 4 part texture so I suggested he take a look at the possibility of adding a second voice with the stems down on each stave.
Finally he was able to achieve it using his software. Apparently it wasn't too difficult:
The above result is quite professional, isn't it?
If he wanted to send his scores to other organists with the suggestion to perform or to music publishing houses for possible publication, which version do you think would be more likely to receive more positive reaction?
Of course the second one.
What about you? Have you written some organ music yourself and are looking for help to know how to give your score that professional look which would turn on your potential fans?
Check if you use stems down for a second voice, add registration suggestions, dynamic markings, tempo indications and even articulation too.
The more precise you are in indicating how your music should be performed, the more chances for good communication you have between you and your audience.
By Vidas Pinkevicius (get free updates of new posts here)
Basically, you have to study music theory and apply it in your practice.
So not just learn some basic chords but actually try to find them in the pieces that you play.
Always start interpreting the chord from the bass up and make sure you understand if there are any doublings in a three-note chord.
Don't forget to find all modulations and temporary tonicizations.
Then you also have to study musical forms.
Think in periods.
Find the end of the first musical idea (generally 2 or 3 cadences). That's your period A.
Find where the next idea ends. That's period B.
See if period A repeats. That would be recapitulation.
If after periods A and B comes something entirely different and contrasting, then AB is a binary form. ABA - ternary.
That's a start. From here you can go to more advanced forms, such as compound binary or ternary, variations, rondo, sonata or their combinations.
Hope this helps.
By Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene (get free updates of new posts here)
One of my students was once playing an invention in D major of J.S. Bach on the piano and I asked her what key was an episode she was currently playing. She had a difficult time discovering the key but after a long pause she decided it was B minor. True enough, it had two sharps and an additional G# and A# which are the signs of the melodic version of B minor.
This answer wasn't enough for me and I decided to go even further with her.
"Why do you think it's B minor here?", I asked.
After this question, the student was lost. No evident reasoning was apparent to her so I explained my point of view:
Since the original key of the Invention is D major, composers of the Baroque period tended to modulate to closely related keys (with some notable exceptions). Now B minor has the same number of accidentals as D major which shows it's a relative key.
In any given piece you might find the tonic key and its relative, the dominant key and its relative, and the subdominant key and its relative. In the case of D major, it would be B minor, A major, F# minor, G major, and E minor.
Do you think it's wise for organists to try to analyse their pieces they play or should this skill be left only for professional musicologists, music theoreticians and composers?
When you play the organ in public, do you think of the notes you are depressing or do you think of something else, like tonal plan and structure of the composition?
In other words, do you try to think like a composer who created this piece long time ago?
I think some people who would like to do this, simply forget about it, simply get carried away by the music. Why is this happening?
One of the reasons of course is our ability or inability to notice musical text and the details. When we first start playing the organ and when our music theory experience is low, we notice very few details about that piece. Perhaps recapitulation of the theme or something else that is very obvious.
But mostly beginners think about the notes.
Later, we can start to pick up some more intricate details, like keys, thematic entrances, sequences, cadences etc.
Very advanced organists can of course know all the musical material of the piece, they can see how the piece is put together right away.
I suggest you try to at least discover major tonal areas (tonal plan) of the piece and notice them while playing. Say to yourself, "this is Eb major or C minor or G major or E minor." Transposing a piece or a part of it to other keys helps a lot too.
Of course, you have to be really comfortable with the musical text, have almost memorized it. Only then you can start noticing things that the composer worked hard to hide from an average eye.
Today I would like to share with you a chorale fughetta "Christum wir sollen loben schon", BWV 696 by J.S. Bach played at the super slow practice tempo. In this video, you will see my hands and keyboards from up close, so if you want to play it, you will find the score here.
Here's the structure of this piece:
1. M. 1 - subject in the bass in the tonic
2. M. 3 - answer in the tenor in the dominant, counter subject in the bass (2 parts)
3. M. 5 - subject in the alto in the tonic, counter subject in the tenor (3 parts)
4. M. 8 - answer in the soprano in the dominant, counter subject in the alto (4 parts)
5. M. 14 - subject in the bass in the tonic, counter subject in the alto (3 parts)
6. M. 16 - subject in the soprano in the tonic, counter subject in the bass (4 parts)
Interestingly, this piece is written in the old Frygian mode because it ends on the E major chord and has no key signatures.
If you want to try your hand at creating (in writing or improvising) this kind of chorale fughetta, choose any kind of hymn tune, take it's first line, add a counter subject moving in faster note values in the intervals of major and minor thirds and sixths and follow the structure of BWV 696.
One of my readers, Anton, asked me to explain the process of composing the development section in sonata. He likes writing various pieces for organ but sometimes gets stuck in the intricacies of some of the more advanced genres, such as sonata. If you, like Anton are writing or would like to write a sonata for organ, here are the 16 things to be aware of:
1. Unstable tonal plan. Usually the developments of the sonatas don't have one key which could function as the main.
2. Avoid the tonic key. If you use the tonic key extensively in this section, there will be no drama and no conflict. It's best to use other keys.
3. Use mostly the keys of subdominant area. Since the Exposition of the sonata modulates very quickly to the dominant area and the Recapitulation returns to the home key, the Development is very much suited for the keys of the subdominant area (IV, VI, II etc.)
4. Shorten the theme into fragments. A very useful feature in many sonatas is that the theme is presented in smaller fragments - phrases and motives.
5. Invert the theme. To further complicate things, change the direction of the intervals in the theme - ascending intervals become descending and vice versa.
6. Change the intervals of the theme. When your theme has characteristic intervals, such as leaps, you can widen them or make the narrower depending on your choice.
7. Use augmentation. The rhythms of the theme can be doubled - instead of eighth notes write quarter notes, instead of quarter notes write half notes etc.
8. Use diminution. In some cases, you can even use rhythms in the theme that are twice as small.
9. Use sequences. Sequences are wonderful for modulating into foreign keys. Choose any interval for sequencing, such as major or minor seconds, major or minor thirds, perfect fourths or fifths.
10. Use imitations. Imitations are perfect for creating dialogues between the parts. Choose a motive from one theme and write it in various parts from various pitch levels.
11. Employ counterpoint. Don't forget to write independent melodies with the help of invertible two or three part counterpoint. When done correctly, this technique will work wonders on the development of your sonata.
12. Sonata has 3 sections. Introduction, the Main section and the Dominant pedal point.
13. Introduction. In this section you can show the main theme or the closing theme in secondary keys.
14. The Main Section. This section is the longest - here you can develop the motives of one or several themes in many ways.
15. Dominant Pedal Point. The drama of the development ends with strong emphasis on the dominant key area which serves as a preparation for the Recapitulation.
16. False Recapitulation. Sometimes the Recapitulation is postponed by the entry of the main theme in the secondary key, sort of "by accident" after which the theme in the main key immediately appears.
If you want to compose or improvise a sonata, you may also find this article helpful to read.
Today I'm going to talk about how can you discover what kind of key is in your organ composition that you are practicing right now.
When you open your music score and want to practice this piece, I recommend you first analyze it, by looking at its structure, modulations, cadences, and chords. And the first step in doing all this is finding out the key. Without knowing what the key is, there is a danger of not understanding how the piece is put together.
Sometimes composer writes the key in the title of the piece like "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor". But often the key has to be discovered by the organist. For some people this task is quite complicated. I recorded this video in order to help you understand exactly how to do it.
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.
When we look at organ pieces of various composers, it often seems that many of them cultivated long and complicated musical forms. However, there is a form which is considered to be the shortest and smallest of all musical forms.
This is a period - the smallest musical form which has only one complete musical idea. Let's break this sentence into several segments and you'll see what I mean with this definition.
The period can be a complete musical composition or it can be a part of a longer piece. The length of the period can be anywhere from 4 to 64 measures. The most commonly found periods are 8-16 measures long.
The period has to have only one musical idea and it has to be complete. For example, if there are several contrasting musical fragments in the piece, chances are that the form of such piece is more complex than a period.
Also the musical idea has to be complete. For example, if you hear a fragment of the piece after which follows it's repetition (exact or with a different ending) - it's not two periods but only one (because the musical idea is the same in this case).
Now take your organ piece which you are working on right now and try to identify the first period in it. Post your answer in the comments bellow. Write in the composer's name, title of the piece and measure numbers of the first period.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
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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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