Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 410, of Secret of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May, who our Total Organist student. And she writes:
Hi Vidas! Thank you for sending the Week 5 material of Harmony for Organists Level 1. My keyboard harmony is weak and I am still struggling with the harmonic progression from week 3, running behind. It takes a long time going through each of the six – tonic to dominant, dominant to tonic, tonic to subdominant, subdominant to tonic – the six closed and open chord forms in only the major and minor scales with one sharp or less, not including the one flat scales. I started practicing these harmonic progressions are Wednesday. I’m playing better than two days ago, but still have to pause and think, for example, which is the common note, and also going up or down. I don’t have time to write down the chords before I practice. It is also much difficult to play all four notes by hands only. My question is, how good should I be with three harmonic progression exercises before I proceed with four? Thanks! ~May
V: What do you think, Ausra? This is your expertise.
A: Well, it depends on what your final goal is. Well, what I do at school with my kids, I usually spend two weeks on one theme, on one subject. Let’s say the first theme is how to connect two chords with the common note. And we spend maybe not so much as two weeks on this subject, because it is quite easy – this is the easiest way to connect two chords if you have a common note. But, it, you know, it matters what your final goal is. Because what we do at school, we do written exercises first, but we play them on the piano, of course, from your head, not from the score. And then we sing them.
A: Which is the hardest way to do. And earlier we had to sing it from our head, now we allow them to write down first and sing from the score. And when we achieve this goal in two weeks, then we move to a new subject.
V: I feel that you are such a great teacher in harmony, Ausra!
A: (laughs) Well, I don’t think I am so great, but I am doing my best.
V: Do your students appreciate you?
A: Some of them, yes. But some of them just struggle too hard.
V: But probably all of them understand that you are an expert at this.
A: Definitely, yes. I don’t think we have any doubt about it.
V: But you said earlier that some of them just tried to do tricks with you, right? They ask you why is this so here and here and here, and you have to explain to them even though you see that they don’t understand the basics, right?
A: Yes, I have.
V: They try to catch you. But not so much now.
A: No. Usually, I am the one who catches them – cheating, for example.
A: This is funny, when we are doing exercises in four voices, you have to have, you know, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass from the beginning to the end – there’s no exceptions. And sometimes, I see there are no erasing marks,
V: Uh-huh, erasing.
A: Erasing marks, yes. And everything is so clean and nice. And suddenly in one spot, there is like, one or two measures of tenor voice missing (laughs). And I see that we cheated and we took this exercise from somebody and rewrote it. It makes me laugh, but also, you know, I laugh in my mind. I don’t show it. I think it’s a very bad way and wrong head to take things from others and place them as your own.
V: Do you think there is a market for selling your homework to a student? (laughs)
A: I don’t think, not yet. But who knows? In the future, somebody might get rich!
V: Yeah, like me!
A: Yes, true!
V: But I might make mistakes.
A: You know, by now, after teaching for fourteen years keyboard harmony, I’m pretty good at determining who can do what. And if somebody will bring me work, I’m pretty good at determining if they made it by themselves or not,
V: I will do my work, and you will determine if I did it myself or not. Yesterday, we cleaned the house, and do you think I cleaned it myself, or not?
A: Well, yes, but I had to struggle for a long time that you will do your part of the job.
V: (laughs) Oh gosh. This is funny. Do you want me to tell the guys, our listeners, what I wrote to May?
V: In response to her question, I wrote,
Thanks, May! You are certainly on the right track. Ausra’s harmony students at school also generally play very slowly such exercises. I would say, strive for fluency, but at a slow tempo, before going to the next week’s exercises. But, if you mentally understand the structure, even though you still get stuck in executing them, maybe you can go on to the next one if you feel it’s good enough. Something like three mistakes is okay.
And she wrote:
Thank you for your quick response to this. I tried the Week 4 exercises, transposing sequences, and I actually found them easier than Week 3. In Week 4 exercises, the chords are in closed positions with the right hand playing three notes and the left hand playing one note. I find it much more manageable than playing the progressions with chords in open position. Thanks again.
A: Yes, definitely open position is much harder than closed position.
V: And especially if you are playing this on the organ, you have to play just tenor with the left hand, and bass with the pedals.
A: True. And at school, actually we only play on the piano. But I always require that my students would play two voices with the left hand and two voices with the right hand. Because it’s easier when you have technical exercise, and you have one position throughout the exercise, either closed or open. But generally, when you start to harmonize more complex things, the positions change in the exercise.
V: Within the exercise.
V: So both positions are very useful to know.
A: True. But if you are thinking in the long term about mixing all these positions, then it’s easier, you have two voices in one hand and two in another, because it’s easier to think about voice leading.
V: Ausra, do you like harmony?
A: Yes, I like it very much.
V: I can feel that our listeners will feel that too, that you enjoy teaching harmony actually. Not only harmony as a subject itself, but actually communicating your knowledge with others.
A: Yes, it’s quite fun. I like it!
V: That is nice.
A: Because I believe that knowing harmony puts a ground for a solid musician.
V: Mm-hm. You don’t regret that you know so much about harmony?
A: No, definitely not.
V: Mm-hm. You know much more about music in general then, because of harmony.
A: True, true. Because now I can sort of understand any given piece of music. Because I can analyze the harmonies. It tells a lot about the piece.
V: Mm-hm. It’s like reading a poem in Japanese. You know what it means, you can translate.
A: True. Of course, I don’t know Japanese, so.
V: So you’re like a harmony translator for people.
A: That’s right.
A: And I give my students exercises, you know, of analyzing some excerpts from the music itself. And I like to tease them sometimes, talking about cadences, and keys, and non-chordal notes. We don’t like this kind of exercises, some of them. Because you need to think. And we don’t like to think.
V: Can I ask you something?
V: Remember, you did those keyboard harmony exercises videos. Sometimes I recorded them for you, you were playing, and sometimes you recorded them by yourself. And I know being on camera is not your, not your best way to spend your free time, right?
A: Definitely. I don’t like cameras.
V: To put it easily. Do you feel differently about it now than a couple of years ago when you did it?
A: Well, I still don’t think I would like to be on camera.
V: I mean, not you on camera, just your hands on camera.
A: It’s me, it’s my hands and my voice.
V: Is your, are your hands so precious and private?
A: No, I think I’m just too shy for such kind of exhibition.
V: Exhibition? It’s not exhibition!
A: Still. You know what I mean.
V: Excellent. So, guys, if you want Ausra to change her mind and do more of these videos, because I can’t change her mind for you, ask her! Be very persuasive, more persuasive than I. Okay? And 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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