Practice transposing the above excerpt from the Preludio, Op. 156, No. 1 by Joseph Rheinberger major 2nd upward to the key of D minor this way:
1. Right hand alone
2. Left hand alone
3. Pedals alone
4. Both hands together
5. Right hand and pedals together
6. Left hand and pedals together
7. All staves combined with both hands and pedals
Take a slow tempo, aim for legato touch and 3 correct repetitions in a row in each step.
Post time and the number of repetitions to comments.
If you want to become a successful improviser, one of the most powerful tools is transposition. It helps to isolate ideas worth memorizing and make them your own. By transposing short fragments of your favorite pieces and cadences into as many keys as you can, you will be able to recollect them at a moment's notice, adapt to new situations, and use them in your improvisations in surprising ways.
Here are some of the strengths of transposition for the prospective improviser:
1. Transposition develops musical thinking. By forcing yourself to play a fragment in unfamiliar keys, you are creating a new musical universe which didn't exist before. Just as we can tell a story in our words, we too can create a musical story out of these musical elements.
2. Transposition improves your memory. In this case, we transpose from memory. Basically, we have to memorize a fragment in an original key and then try to recreate it in another key without looking at the score (except when we transpose by changing clefs and/or key signatures and looking at the score).
3. Transposition helps you to master any key you want. Don't use your key knowledge limitations as an excuse not to transpose. Don't say "I'm not good at playing with many sharps or flats." Simply master your fragment in a key without any accidentals (C major or A minor), then add just one sharp/flat (G major, E minor/F major, D minor). It's that simple.
4. Transposition develops your technique. Have you ever wished that your favorite composers created special exercises for you to practice? There you go - any fragment of any piece by any composer can become a potential exercise which will develop your finger and pedal technique and hand and feet independence. Have created something worth remembering yourself? Transpose that fragment and it will stay with you wherever you go.
5. Transposition helps you to master the styles of your favorite composers. Have you ever wished you could improvise a polyphony like Bach, choral ornamentation like Buxtehude, chromatic chords like Vierne, or colorful modes like Messiaen? Transpose their fragments and they will become your own.
Although transposition is so powerful, it doesn't come with potential pitfalls:
1. Potential to transpose without thinking. This is especially evident in advanced keys. Your fingers guide your mind. Reverse this process by analyzing the chords first and directing your fingers with your mind.
2. Potential to make your improvisations lifeless. There is a tendency to play your fragment exactly as it is when you improvise. Do this frequently and your playing will lack the spark of unexpectedness or freshness. Instead, adapt and transform your fragments so that your listeners would never know where you are leading them.
3. Not all transpositions work in major/minor equally well. Sometimes this is due to the fact that chords that in major mode are minor, in minor mode become major and vice versa. Also some progressions and passages involve progression from 6th to 7th scale degrees. In harmonic minor this interval becomes augmented second which doesn't sound well (because of the 7th raised scale degree). Usually treating a fragment in melodic minor (raised 6th and 7th scale degrees) solves this problem.
Still not convinced? You never know the true power of transposition, unless you try it. Grab a fragment of 1-4 measures, analyze and memorize it, and start transposing. And don't forget to share your experience with all of us.
There are some very clear reasons why organists should learn to transpose. Among them - playing with vocalists and performing in a lower or a higher key to accommodate keyboard compass are most easily understood.
After all, if your vocalist is not feeling like singing in a higher key today, instead of choosing another piece, an organist could offer to transpose. Also if the range of the piece is rather broad and you maybe required to play a note which is not there on the keyboard, one option would be to transpose to a lower key.
But here's another rather surprising reason to develop a skill to transpose music at sight: sometimes it's very handy when you play with instruments in an ensemble, too. Let me explain.
Suppose you have a historical organ which is tuned in Chorton pitch (about half-step higher than normal - ca. 466 Hz.) and you have to play with early Baroque instrument ensemble (consort). Since you knew in advance that your organ is tuned to 466 Hz, your instrumentalists brought with them their instruments which were tuned to that pitch level, too.
But when you get together for a rehearsal at the organ, you find out that because of the higher temperatures in the room (or maybe because of passing of the centuries), the organ pitch level rose to about 474 Hz. It's of almost no consequence to you, of course, but the instrumentalists, especially the wind instrument players, would be in a very bad situation.
Since their instruments are tuned to 466 Hz, there is no way they could adjust to 474 Hz pitch that the organ has now - simply their mouthpieces wouldn't go in anymore to make the tuning higher.
They would be very upset, of course. What to do? How could you save the concert?
You could transpose your accompaniment (continuo) pieces one half-step lower which would make the organ sound too low (in comparison with the wind instruments). But now they could take out their mouthpieces a little and adjust to the sound of the organ.
Usually there's more room to lower than to raise the pitch level of the wind instruments so that would be OK for them. I guess it's not the ideal scenario because playing on high pitch is different than playing on the lower pitch for them. Nevertheless, it's much better than nothing.
So there you have it: learn a skill to transpose music at sight not only for yourself but also for the sake of other musicians who might perform together with you.
By the way, this is one very practical reason that organs tuned in Chorton were more suited to accompany vocal and choir music back in the day while organs tuned in Kammerton (ca. 415 Hz - about half-step lower than normal) were meant to be used with chamber music ensembles.
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Old Hundredth tune is sung in many countries and in many languages. Therefore, it's not surprising that this lovely hymn is one of the most popular melodies sung in churches today. Surely every organist knows how to play it in G major or F major (the keys in which this hymn is the most easiest to sing for people). But have you tried to play it in 12 different major keys?
In this video, I demonstrate how this hymn harmonization sounds in all major keys. This could be a great exercise in hymn transposition which you might enjoy playing yourself.
Today I would like you to transpose Bach's Aria, BWV 515 from the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach to various minor keys.
Here is the PDF score for this exercise.
In this score you will only see the rhythms and the scale degrees of the melodies for the right hand and the left hand parts.
If the note goes down, there is a sign V next to the scale degree. If the note goes up, there is an inverted V sign next to the scale degree. If the scale degree is repeated, there is a sign = next to the scale degree.
If the scale degree is raised or lowered, there are + and - next to the number respectively.
Here is the order of keys I recommend you practice this piece in:
1. A minor
2. E minor
3. D minor
4. B minor
5. G minor
6. F# minor
7. C minor
8. C# minor
9. F minor
10. G# minor
11. Bb minor
12. D# minor
13. Eb minor
14. A# minor
15. Ab minor
If this exercise seems too complex for you, start with A minor and choose only a few simple keys for practice.
Take a really slow tempo and practice single parts first before playing with both hands together.
Don't worry, if the process is really slow - transposition extremely beneficial for your brain and your fingers alike.
Please let me know how this exercise worked for you.
One of my students from Organ Sight-Reading Master Course wrote to me that he has trouble playing exercises in the keys with 6 sharps and 6 flats (and probably with 5 or 7 accidentals as well). He plays everything very slowly (just as I recommend) but his frustration is very great.
He rightly pointed out that the reason why he has trouble with playing in advanced keys is that other than playing scales, he had very little experience with these keys. So the only practical advise that I could give to students like him is very simple - play as many pieces with lots of accidentals as you can find.
Of course, simply picking the prelude and fugue with 6 sharps or flats from the Well-Tempered Clavier by Bach doesn't help very much. The music is too complex too begin with and you need a nice system in order to play in all the keys.
It's best, if you could find a piece or an exercise already transposed to every key that exists in a logical order with ascending number of accidentals (0 accidentals, 1 sharp, 1 flat, 2 sharps, 2 flats, 3 sharps, 3 flats etc. until you reach the keys with 7 accidentals).
In order to help him and other people who haven't had the experience with playing pieces with lots of keys signatures, today I have transposed a chorale harmonization of Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern to every single key of the major mode.
I hope you will enjoy playing these transpositions not only because they will definitely help you in getting to know the keys with lots of accidentals better but also because this chorale is traditionally known as the chorale sung (and played) for Epiphany which is today.
As always, in order to see the best results of your practice, I recommend playing each version of the transposition at least 3 times in a row correctly and fluently before advancing to the next one.
A final thought: if you think that a special course with hymn settings like this one transposed in every key would be helpful to you, please let me know.
This is called transposition. It means that the piece or its fragment is simply re-written or played in any key you want with the same mode (major or minor).
How do you do it? Although there are a few methods for transposing, one of the simplest is this:
1. You need to know the key signatures of the original key and it's scale degrees.
2. You need to know the key signatures and scale degrees of the destination key.
3. Then keeping the original scale degrees in mind, simply transfer them to the new key.
One time I was playing the famous C major two-part invention by Bach (BWV 772) and thought it would be fun to transpose it to a few other keys. Here is what happened:
Original in C major
Transposed to G major (a perfect fourth downward)
Transposed to F major (a perfect fifth downward)
In the above videos I play from the facsimile of Bach's handwriting - the right hand part is written in the soprano C clef (treble C is on the first line).
Would you like to learn transposing like that?
I would like to thank each and everyone of you who commented (through the comment section or an email massage) on my Offertory I shared with you yesterday. It seems to me I will have to transcribe my Postlude from the same Mass setting because some people would like to have it.
Today I would like to share with you this interesting transposition exercise from F major (1 flat) to B major (5 sharps). This is a very distant key (transposition by augmented 4th upward). For your convenience I have written in scales and scale degrees of both keys above the notes.
This exercise is based on the soprano and the bass parts of the hymn setting on "When All Thy Mercies, O My God". Here is the PDF file for printing and the MIDI file for listening.
After you play this exercise, you can transpose it to any other major key, if you want. You just have to figure out from the circle of fifths how many sharps or flats it will have and keep in mind these scale degrees you see above the notes.
Of course, this could be done in writing and/or playing.
When we transpose melodies, hymns, and organ pieces, we can apply one of the two methods of transposition. Both of them are perfectly valid. I'll tell you about the third method as well which may seem the easiest of them all but in reality it will not lead you very far.
So here are the two methods:
1. Move the notes to a different place of the stave but keep the clef the same.
2. Keep the notes on the same place of the stave but change the clef.
The first method is very simple - you just have to figure out the scale degrees of the original key and apply them to the new key (with new accidentals). The problem is when the music is chromatic or when it involves modulation.
Then you either have to switch constantly to the new key when transposing (which is really difficult) or you can think in the old key but with raised or lowered scale degrees of the first key (which in a way is cheating).
The second method works this way - by keeping the notes on the same place of the stave (with new accidentals), you have to figure out which clef would work for each particular instance. By the way, there are 10 clefs total (2 G clefs, 3 F clefs, and 5 C clefs). Each of them has a special name, like the treble clef, the bass clef, the soprano clef, the alto or the tenor clef and so on.
Sometimes people like to transpose by interval. In other words, if the destination key is a whole step upward, then they play the given melody but in their mind they always have to think about playing a whole step up.
Transposing by intervals is not nearly as good as the other two methods because it doesn't provide the opportunity to think in a different key. It may seem as a simplier solution to someone who is just starting but in the long run - I highly recommend the first two methods.
Because the first method has it's own issues, I personally use the clef transposition. Sure it takes time to develop this skill. Just remember how difficult the bass clef seemed to you at first when you only knew the treble clef. But after about 3 months any new clef becomes easy to use. So it's just a matter of patient practice.
But in the long run, knowing how to read the different clefs is an essential skill to have to anyone who wants to learn organ improvisation because anytime you want to use your musical theme in a new key, you can simply switch the clef.
By the way, I teach both methods of transposition in my Transposition for Organists Level 1 course.
Earlier today I finished the preparatory work and I'm happy to announce the official start of the registration for Transposition for Organists Level 1 course. This will be a 12 week video course with 3 bonus weeks at the end (15 weeks of training total).
It took longer for me to prepare than I promised to some of my students. But I hope they will understand it because just last night I played a 300th anniversary recital of music by Johann Ludwig Krebs in my church (10 chorales from his Clavierubung). Fabulous music, by the way. Very sweet and gentle.
So although it was a busy week for me, I'm really glad the students can start developing their transposition skills right away. If you are interested, click here for more information about this course.
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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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