Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 624 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Diana, who transcribes fingering and pedaling from our videos, and she writes that:
“Sometimes I read a treble clef like a bass clef...”
Vidas: I don’t know if it’s a common problem or not, Ausra.
Ausra: Well, actually, it’s a very uncommon problem. The problem is usually that people read bass clef as treble clef, but not otherwise. So, I really don’t know what to say and how to help!
Vidas: Yeah, because if you start your musical training with the bass clefs, so it becomes your native clef, so you learn it first, and then every other clef becomes like an addition to that, so you then judge, let’s say, treble clef by the notes of the bass clef.
Ausra: Well, do you know many musicians who start their training with bass clef? Because I personally don’t.
Vidas: Exactly. That’s what I meant, you know, common experience is starting from the treble clef nowadays. Maybe she means that she’s mixing up treble clef with bass clef, but the other way around, could be.
Ausra: Yes, that would be a very common problem for people, but I would say that the more you play in different clefs, the easier it gets, because usually this problem is for beginners only. Do you mix clefs, Vidas?
Vidas: Yes, I mix them all the time, but intentionally, because I know 10 clefs. There are five C clefs on every line which indicate treble C, there are two F clefs like a bass clef and the baritone clef. They indicate the note tenor F. And there are three... or two… two G clefs. The descant and the treble clef. And I probably should mention that there is another one; an extra F clef to basso profundo. Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes. And are you comfortable with all of those clefs?
Vidas: No, I don’t use them everyday, but probably the four of them are the most common: treble clef, bass clef, then alto clef and the tenor clef. But I also use very often soprano clef. What about you?
Ausra: Well actually, I use four of C clefs very often, so soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, and tenor, but not so often the baritone, and of course the treble and bass clefs. I don’t use this contra- clef or another F clef.
Vidas: You teach students at school about those clefs. Right?
Vidas: What do they say when you teach them?
Ausra: They hate them, and they hate me!
Vidas: “Why do we need them?” Right?
Ausra: Yes! Actually, not really, because among my students, there are some who use C clefs in their daily life, because they play alto cello and like trombone, so they are sort of used to other clefs as well.
Vidas: But I mean when you explain why they need them, what do you say?
Ausra: Well, I explain how the tradition of writing music was, that paper was very expensive and the use of these clefs allow us to omit ledger lines, so and in that case you save space, you save paper. Plus, it was tradition that each voice has its own clef. It was really comfortable. And I give them for an example Mozart’s Requiem.
Ausra: Yes, because it’s in the textbook, but I guess other parts of and movements of the Requiem are written in the same manner.
Vidas: To me, there is another benefit of using clefs that changing clefs and using them in my daily training, because if you have a theme written, let’s say in the treble clef, the theme of a musical, idea four measures long or two measures long, whatever your theme is, or even an entire chorale or hymn written in the treble clef, and you want to improvise on that theme, one of the techniques that makes your improvisation more colorful and interesting is to transpose this theme into other keys. Not to play in one key, which is okay for a short time, but to change to the dominant key, to the relative key, to the subdominant key, to the relative of the dominant, relative to the subdominant, those closely related keys, let’s say, and one of the ways to easily do this is by changing the clef. You read the notes as they are on the stave, but in your mind, you change the clef, and therefore, you read different notes—you transpose them to different keys—adding different accidentals, of course.
Ausra: But that way you really need to be closely familiar with these keys and clefs.
Vidas: Of course!
Ausra: Because what I do when I have to read, let’s say, from the C clefs, I just transpose back of an interval. And I’m very good at doing that. Do you think it’s possible it’s also one of the right ways to do it?
Vidas: Well, yes, it’s not difficult if you are transposing just a major or minor second up or down, but other than that, you need to then switch something in your head. Right? So either you switch the clef, or you switch the position of the note on the staff. You can choose whichever feels more natural in this particular situation.
Ausra: You know, for me, for example, it’s very easy when I have to transpose things a second or a third below the given melody, and therefore in order to use all these C clefs, I’ll just have to switch in my head between treble and bass clef, and I can do that very easily then.
Vidas. Right. So I have this training, “Transposition for Organists, Level 1,” which teaches you to transpose 4-part hymns at sight fluently. And the goal of this course is to help people perfect their hymn transposition skills so that they would be able to transpose any 4-part hymn at sight fluently and without mistakes by the intervals of the half-step and the whole-step up and down. So this is the first step. The first level. Then the second level would be probably wider intervals, like a major or minor third up and down, and then a perfect fourth up and down, a fifth, and so forth.
Ausra: Well, but you know in a practical way, I wouldn’t say that you need to go to wider intervals, because you rarely will encounter a case that you have to transpose so far away.
Vidas: Yes, the widest interval that is probably practical, I would say, is perfect fourth up.
Ausra: Well, I would go to a major third, probably.
Vidas: But, you know, if you want to transpose from C major to G major, what do you do then? Right?
Ausra: Well, yes.
Vidas: From the tonic to the dominant.
Ausra: But lets say we are talking now about hymn transposition, and all the vocal music including hymns are related to a human voice, to a diapason of human voice, and I don’t think any of us have such a wide range in our diapason, so I don’t think you need to transpose in such wide intervals.
Vidas: No, but if your goal is to learn to improvise, transposition is one of those steps.
Ausra: Well, yes.
Vidas: Trust me. I know.
Ausra: Anyway, I don’t have any trouble to transposing anything to any key, so I don’t think it’s really for me, your teaching. I could teach you.
Vidas: Yes. Which intervals would you teach me?
Ausra: Perfect octave!
Vidas: Perfect octave.
Ausra: That’s the easiest transposition!
Vidas: Yeah, but people who need to perfect their, let’s say, transposition skills would find this course really helpful. This course is not written, of course, in different clefs. It’s in treble clef. Or not… let me think… Oh yeah, actually, I’m looking at the picture of the course, and yes, we have alto clef! Yes, we have transposition by the clefs, so it applies to those people who want to read the clefs, too.
Ausra: Well, because what I’m thinking is that if you are transposing only by a second or a third, then you could think about a given interval and which direction you are transposing by a second or by a third, but if you need to transpose by a wider interval, then probably you need to imagine a different clef. It’s easier that way.
Vidas: Yes. And the wider the interval, the more difficult it becomes. So level 1 is just major or minor seconds. So I suggest people start from there and see how it goes for 12 weeks in a row. That’s the length of the course.
Ausra: Well, another way would be if you imagine all the music in the scale degrees, then you could use that skill to transpose, and I don’t think then the right interval would be a problem.
Vidas: Yes, but then this music needs to stay in one key, like a hymn. But in hymns, sometimes, we have also temporary excursions to different keys like the dominant or to the relative key as well. So in that instance, in your mind you have to switch to another key, and then to another scale degree. That’s complicated a little bit.
Ausra: Isn’t that self-explanatory?
Vidas: Maybe, but we have to explain everything none-the-less. Right?
Ausra: Well, if you are smart enough to understand that the key is changing in a concrete part, so I don’t think it would be a trouble for you to switch to other keys’ scale degrees.
Vidas: You haven’t forgotten how you first learned, let’s say, about those clefs and transposition twenty years ago or more… it’s really...
Ausra: Yes, it was a very long time ago!
Vidas: Yes, so I think people start really from scratch and they need to do the basic stuff.
Ausra: Probably 30 years ago!
Vidas: Could be. We are very old. So guys, check out this course, “Transposition for Organists Level 1” and spend some time with those clefs and see if that helps you internalize them and my experience tells me you need one month for one clef to perfect it.
Ausra: Well, for some people it’s trouble to play in treble and bass clef enough that they struggle for years and still cannot do that.
Vidas: I mean one month, seven days a week, eight hours per day, you know!
Ausra: Like a full-time job, yes?
Vidas: Yes! For one month! Alright guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
Ausra: 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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