SOPP407: I'm taking two lines from a hymn every day and taking it through the circle of fifths
Ausra: Hello, guys, this is Ausra.
Vidas: And Vidas.
A: Let’s start question number 407, sent by Jeremy. And he asks about transposing:
I'm taking two lines from a hymn every day and taking it through the circle of fifths.
A: So, what do you think, Vidas? Is this a good way to transpose?
V: This is actually a very clever way. Maybe for some people, two lines, maybe it’s too short, for some people it’s too long, or for some people it’s just right. What would you do?
A: Well, if I would be transposing using the circle of fifths, I probably would choose the shortest segment, because it sounds like a sequence from a piece if it’s made in the circle of fifths. Probably I would in such a case, would pick up only two measures.
V: I would sometimes transpose the entire hymn, but that’s advanced knowledge I think. For people who are just starting, one line is plenty, and one line is maybe four measure long.
A: Well, and I know that you are an expert of transposition. How many ways do you know how to transpose things?
V: Maybe, three, right?
A: Well, yes. I’m a superior teacher of those three ways.
V: You’re an expert too.
A: Well, yes, such is a life.
V: So, what are these ways? The first way of course is just to transpose by a given interval, right?
A: Yes, that’s probably most common way. But not necessarily easiest the one.
V: Mmm-hmm. The second is transposing by changing the clef.
A: True. But...
V: Which means that on the same line, has to be a different note, in a different clef. You have to figure out the key and which kind of clef you will need. For example; in treble clef, on the first line, is the note E, and if the hymn is in, on the first note is…
V: C, in treble.
A: Yes, on the bottom line is the note C. Because all the clefs, all the C clefs…
V: Oh. I’m not talking about C clef—about treble clef—G clef.
A: Oh. Okay.
V: So, on the bottom…
A: Does anybody still uses it? Because that’s one of the oldest keys.
V: I think we are talking about…
A: It’s old French key, yes? It’s old French key.
V: We are talking about different terms. How would you call G clef which you use every day, in English?
A: Treble clef.
V: Treble clef! And that’s what I’m talking about now. So, on the bottom line is the note E. And if you need, for example, E Major, then the first scale degree is on the lowest note. So in a different key, then you would also need to have the first scale degree on the lowest line.
A: Well, that’s what I meant. Why would use the soprano clef?
V: Depending on the key…
A: Because the C would be on the bottom line.
V: But what kind of key then you would need? C Major, right?
V: So, transposing from E Major to C Major, or major or minor third downward, you will need a, to change the clef into the soprano clef.
A: But is it always possible to change the clefs?
V: It is, because there are ten clefs altogether.
A: But don’t you think it’s very hard for like non-advanced musician to know all of them and to manipulate them so easily?
V: It is hard. So then the first method is easier.
A: Because in reality nowadays, there are only four clefs that are in actual use—daily use. And also not for all musicians because we use treble clef, we use bass clef and we use two of the C clefs—alto and tenor.
V: But you know, what is good about clefs? That you can take it few steps further, once you get comfortable with them. And if you like to improvise a fugue for example, you could just transpose your subject this way by changing the clef. Not only fugue but any type of composition or improvisation which is based on a subject which needs to be transposed throughout.
A: True, but it’s quite an advanced technique.
V: It is. It is.
A: I think that probably the easiest way to transpose, is to change accidentals in the same clef. Of course in that way you can only transpose by half-step, but it’s very easy.
V: That’s number three.
A: Yes, that’s number three. For example, you have piece written in F Major, then you just imagine that it’s written in F# Major, so you sort of change the accidentals, next to the…
A: Clefs, and that’s it.
V: But if you need to transpose into G Major, then you have to use another method.
A: Well, yes and no. You could imagine G# Major key. It will have six…
V: G flat you mean?
A: No. Not G flat, but G sharp.
V: What is that?
A: (Laughs). G# Major key—you don’t know it? It has six sharps and one double-sharp.
V: Oh. (Laughs).
A: If you don’t use the circle of fifths, then you’re making it. You would go after C# Major key, you would have G# Major key.
A: And if you would play some compositions by Chopin, you would find keys like this. They’re not used in the real life but they are still exist.
V: What about A Major then? How many double sharps would you have.
A: Well you would have just to transpose it half-step down—into A flat major.
V: Which method would that be?
A: Changing accidentals. From A Major to A flat Major.
V: No. From F Major to A Major, or A flat Major?
A: Well then you will have to choose the given interval.
V: The first method.
A: Because the first method works all the time—all the time.
V: Mmm-hmm. You just transpose by intervals, or you transpose by changing the clefs, which is harder. Or you change the accidentals, which is the third method, but only it’s by half-step up or half-step down.
A: Yes, and then you want to actually transpose by a third…
A: It’s easy to switch a key from the bass to the treble or otherwise.
A: That’s how my students at school cheats on me.
A: Because I’m asking them to transpose by a second, and they asking, ‘Oh, could we transpose by a third?’ And then we just change these two keys.
A: So guys, I hope this discussion was useful for you. In anyway, transposition is a very useful thing for musician, and very useful thing for your brain. And this was Ausra.
V: And Vidas.
A: And remember; when you practice...
V: 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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