SOPP379: I need to recognize the patterns, so rather than playing the progressions in all sorts of keys I try to stick to one at a time
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 379 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast and this question was sent by Ariane and she writes:
“I have been working on chord progressions in F Major and tried to find the right chords for hymns in the same key. I need to recognize the patterns, so rather than playing the progressions in all sorts of keys I try to stick to one at a time.”
V: Wow Ausra, it’s so nice people are actually practicing harmony exercises.
A: Yes, that’s so rare.
A: But to be honest I’ve not quite comprehended this question. Could you explain it to me how you understood it?
V: Yes. It doesn’t mean that I am understanding it correctly but I will try. So let’s say Ariane is working on hymns, right? And she needs to understand the chords that are built for the hymns. Maybe she even wants to harmonize those hymns. So she practices chord progressions in F Major because a particular hymn that she is working on is written in F Major and she then takes some of those chords from the progressions in F Majors and applies to the hymns in the same key. So she needs to recognize the patterns basically and stick to one key. Does that make sense?
A: Well, yes and no.
V: What does make sense, Ausra?
A: That she tries something from F Major to apply to F Major of a different melody in F Major is what you are trying to say.
V: Yes, yes, exactly. It’s a long way that she’s taking, right?
A: I don’t think that’s the right way to the harmony and to learn things because it doesn’t make sense to me.
V: It reminds me of how I was approaching improvisation actually at first when I was studying Jan Peeterszoon Sweelinck’s treatise on counterpoint and composition. It’s called Composition's Regeln and it was notated or written down by his students. I believe it was Weckmann and Reincken and maybe even Jacob Praetorius who joined in writing them down but basically those rules come from Sweelinck. And at the time I was so fascinated by this polyphonic writing and this treatise that I thought if I for example take a piece by Scheidemann, which is in a similar style, right? And I deconstruct the motives and fragments and memorize and transpose them into different keys that I would be able to recreate Scheidemann’s style on my own hymn tunes or chorale melodies and remember I did this lecture-recital when I played 4 or 5 versets based on one Lutheran chorale and my patterns and polyphonic texture was entirely based on Scheidemann’s works. Did that work Ausra?
A: Well I think it worked for that occasion. But I still don’t think this is the right way to learn improvisation, to learn harmony.
V: Right, because if I understand correctly Ariane also for example tries to recognize the patterns from chord progressions, take those patterns and apply to F Major hymns, right?
A: Well if you would learn keyboard for once you wouldn’t have to do that.
A: Because if you would learn certain patterns you could apply it to any given key.
V: Exactly. What I didn’t understand at the time when I was trying to teach myself improvisation was that this treatise teaches me how to think in musical ideas, take a motive and how to develop it, take a polyphonic texture and how to compose it or improvise it so it sounds convincing in that particular style. It teaches people how to think in musical ideas, right? It doesn’t teach us how to imitate the same thing but to think basically, to work with our brains. The same thing I believe happens with harmony. When we teach people how to harmonize first of all they play progressions and we don’t require them to memorize those progressions in a way that they won’t understand what is going on but basically for themselves they will be able to think in musical terms and figure out other chords that fit that particular hymn. Does it make sense?
A: Yes, it makes sense.
V: It’s not an automatic way, you have to think about it but I think it’s much faster and more musically pleasing too.
A: I think so too, yes.
V: And you are not stuck to one particular pattern or progression that you know. You can come up with 10 or 20 or more different patterns on the spot. Whatever comes in front of you, you can react, right?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: It’s sort of free thinking in musical ideas which is much more applicable to real life situations when Ariane needs to harmonize a real hymn tune or a chorale. OK. Do you think this idea will help Ariane and others?
A: Yes I hope so.
V: So guys please keep sending us your wonderful 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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