One of the exercises we do with 6th graders at National M.K. Ciurlionis School of Art during ear training classes when the time comes to introduce them to the ancient modes is this: I ask them to compose a melody in a certain meter with a certain amount of measures in a certain mode using any rhythms that works for this meter. How they are surprised that when later I ask them to sing their melodies together AT THE SAME TIME, it sounds quite interesting. Sometimes strange, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes really artistically pleasing.
Well, it's not exactly easy for all of them to sing different melodies together and if this is too much, I ask them to learn to sing their melodies at home and the next time they come to class we would sing them again. Usually they are delighted to hear the product of their imagination and they of course are wondering why 10 or more kids can write seemingly random exercise and it would sound great when performed together (sometimes we even add words to it to make it more fun).
So what makes it possible to do it all at the same time? That's because they all sing in one mode.
Now for those of you who don't know about ancient or diatonic modes, here is a video demonstration and explanation of them on the organ. In other words, if there no foreign notes to the mode, then it all works together just fine.
You are probably beginning to wonder how my musical adventures with these 6th graders relate to organists? The thing is, if you can internalize these modes (some of them have 7 notes, some of them only 5) and play from any note, then you can easily create a short melody on the spot using only the notes of the modes, just like my 6th graders.
And that could be a very useful skill because it's just one step away from playing two melodies in the same mode at the same time. Imagine that - two voice polyphonic improvisation is within your reach! That's amazing, isn't it? You can create dialogues (conversations) between the voices and/or duets playing simultaneously.
And that's not very far away from creating a longer piece using several modes or the same mode but in different transpositions changed at semi-regular time intervals.
That's (almost) all I do when I improvise using modal techniques.
So, do you care to try too?
What I'm working on:
Editing Modulation Workshop Week 11. Writing "One flat wanted". Continue writing fingering and pedaling for the Toccata by Charles-Marie Widor. Editing Part 1 of Sonata No. 2 by Teisutis Makačinas. He was my first improvisation teacher some 21 years ago (it seemed like yesterday). Transposing hymn setting "Abide, O Dearest Jesus". Practicing "Virtuoso Pianist" by Hanon in C Aeolian mode (with from C with 3 flats). Playing Office No. 35 from “L’Orgue Mystique” by Charles Tournemire. Improvising in Aeolian mode. Composing "A Storm". Reading "The Accidental Creative".
This blog is intrigued by the Lydian mode. Forward it to someone who is not intimidated by a 6th grader singing Frygian instead.
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Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.