Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 302 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Henry, and he writes:
I would like to start accompanying the congregation using an electronic keyboard. My question is, when and how do i start learning congregational opening hymns? Please i need your piece of advise on this issue.
V: So, Ausra, opening hymns for congregational singing—I guess Henry should start learning them right from the start!
A: That’s right. How else could you start to learn them?
V: It depends on his level of ability, of course.
V: If he can play four part harmonizations or not, yet. What to do if he can’t play four parts right away? Maybe sight read a bunch of hymns one voice at a time, two voices?
A: Yes, that’s right. And that electronic keyboard, I assume, doesn’t have the pedal board, yes?
V: Probably not. So then to me, accompanying hymns on the keyboard without pedals is more difficult that with pedals. What about you?
A: There is not much you can do on an electronic keyboard without a pedalboard.
V: And your left hand, then, is very busy.
V: Okay, so Henry might benefit from our “Hymn Playing Workshop”, probably, or “10 Day Hym Playing Challenge,” right? What do you think about that, Ausra?
A: True! I’m just not sure why he is asking only about opening hymns. Will somebody else play the rest of the hymns?
V: Right, it’s unclear. I can’t imagine the situation without him playing everything else.
A: Or is he talking, maybe, about introduction of the hymns?
V: Oh, you mean playing hymns like normally people would play, but adding introductions!
A: Maybe that’s what he means.
V: Okay, so then it’s another problem. He needs to creatively introduce hymns.
V: What’s the easiest way?
A: Well, just to play the last phrase or four measures of the end of the hymn.
V: The last phrase.
A: Yes, the last phrase.
V: Or maybe eight measures—two phrases!
A: Well, that wouldn’t be a phrase. I phrase is two measures.
V: Yes, I meant two phrases, like a sentence.
V: Is it okay to end the introduction with the dominant chord?
A: Yes, in some cases that might work.
V: You change the last cadence to the half cadence, and finish with the dominant chord, and what happens then is very interesting. The congregation is propelled into singing the first verse right away.
A: Yes, that might work.
V: Because what happens with the half cadence, Ausra? What’s the feeling?
A: That something is unfinished and you have to continue and finish it.
V: Like a question mark.
A: Yes, it is like a question mark. Very good comparison.
V: This year, when you started the harmony with kids, are you already talking about cadences or not?
A: Yes, I’m talking about cadences all the time.
V: So, how are they doing in playing or writing down cadences?
A: Some better, some worse, as always.
V: Do they have to write down cadences or play them in your school?
V: Both, right? I see. What do they like more, to write or to play?
A: Some of them like writing more, some like playing. It depends upon the person.
V: But playing is rather more difficult, probably.
A: Yes, often it’s more difficult.
V: Because you don’t have much time to think, just play rhythmically.
A: But not for piano majors or choir conductors.
V: Usually people who play melodic instruments such wind instruments or strings, they can’t play piano very well.
A: Yes, it’s hard for them. Yes, it’s harder.
V: Can they still advance with sufficient practice?
A: Of course! Everybody can advance with enough practice.
V: So Henry could also advance, probably.
V: Do you think, Ausra, transposing hymns would benefit him?
A: I think every musician needs to know how to transpose and to do that occasionally.
A: That’s a very useful tool. Well, it broadens your perspective. You get better acquainted with various keys, and it’s sort of like exercise for your brain!
V: Like Sudoku?
V: Musical Sudoku.
A: I think even better.
V: So it could postpone Alzheimer’s and similar illnesses.
V: I see. Wonderful. So guys, you see, you can sometimes create your own exercises out of real hymns or even musical compositions that you are playing right now. Imagine you’re playing a piece of organ music: a chorale prelude. Is it possible, Ausra, to take an excerpt of a chorale prelude and to transpose it into other keys?
A: Yes, of course, why not?
V: What are the principles, when you do this? How do you think? I know you are a teacher, and you can’t imagine yourself, probably, as a beginner, but what do you think about when you transpose?
A: Well, I think about a given interval, by which I have to transpose it. Well, sometimes, I add a different clef, too. That’s a possibility, too.
V: What do you mean?
A: Well, let’s imagine that this piece is written, let’s say, not in the treble clef, but in alto clef. That’s it.
V: And alto clef means that on the middle line, there is treble C.
A: That’s right.
A: Or some other key. Soprano key, Tenor key.
V: There are five C clefs,
V: Three F clefs, and two G clefs.
A: Yes, but I think the most common way to transpose, I think, is on a given interval. Think about it.
V: How beneficial is it to think about scale degrees instead of intervals when you transpose? In which kind of music would that work?
A: Well, it depends on how you think when you’re playing a piece in the home key—if you’re thinking in scale degrees or not. If you’re thinking then yes, it would be easier probably to transpose, thinking about scale degrees. I don’t think that myself.
V: I don’t know many people who think in scale degrees.
A: Me, too.
V: Because, it’s harder for your brain, and we always strive to do easier things.
A: Well, I think it’s not that it’s harder, but I think it’s more of a math approach, a less musical approach, thinking in scale degrees. There are some people who are very good at it.
V: Some are better than others.
A: That’s true.
V: So, you can think about scale degrees, think about intervals, and even think about different clefs when you transpose. Those are the main three principles.
A: That’s right.
V: And, it can work for hymns, too, when you have to transpose either an entire hymn, or just a part of it like soprano, or bass. Right. So, Henry and others who struggle with learning congregational hymns could really benefit from transposing and sight reading in a home key, too, many many hymns. At first, it’s a slow process, right Ausra?
V: And what happens later in three months, let’s say?
A: It gets easier and easier.
V: Would it always be as easy as sight reading? I mean can you sight read a hymn in a foreign key right away with fluency?
V: Yes, I believe so, too, because if you, for example, want to get certified by the American Guild of Organists, in certain levels of examinations, they have transposition exercises of hymns, too. So transpose up a half step or whole step, or downwards. Up a major or minor third, or downwards, too. We have this course “Transposition for Organists, Level 1” which would be helpful for people, too. Thank you guys, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra!
V: Please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: 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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