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.
V: Let’s start episode 612 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Diana, and she writes:
“I don’t really understand the difference between open and closed position chords.”
V: The context for this question was that I think I talked about harmonization in one of my recent videos on YouTube when I was trying to harmonize some chorale tune in either 22 ways or 28 ways, either in two, three, four, five, or even six parts. Do you remember those videos, Ausra?
A: Yes, I remember you doing them. I haven’t watched them very closely, so I don’t know what you have been talking about.
V: So one of the versions is to play soprano in the right hand and the bass in the left hand. That’s a two part version.
A: Oh, okay.
V: And then the voices can switch, and then gradually we come to the three part version, soprano in the right hand, alto in the left hand, the bass in the pedals, or soprano in the pedals, alto in the left hand, and the base in the left hand again. It could be this way, various dispositions, but again, it’s possible to do this in four parts, and the first exercise is to harmonize in closed position; one voice would be in the left hand part in the bass, and three upper voices would be in the right hand. Does it make sense?
A: Sure, of course! I’ve been teaching harmony for many many years, so it makes sense.
V: What is easier for you? Open or closed position?
A: Well, it doesn’t matter, actually.
A: Well, if I want, of course, to make things easier, then I think closed position is more comfortable.
V: That’s because you only worry about one voice in the bass.
A: Especially if you are playing organ. You could play that bass with the pedal, and play the other three voices with your right hand, and you can just rest your left hand, which is so nice.
V: Turning the pages.
A: Sure. But anyway, if, you know, such question rises that you don’t know what the open or closed position is, then what can I say. It looks like she doesn’t have any formal musical training, because even in the music theory courses, people find out what closed and open position is. And for my students in the harmony course, I teach this thing during the first lesson, because basically the closed position is when the intervals between alto and tenor and alto and soprano voices don’t exceed the 4th.
V: Interval of the 4th.
A: Yes, the interval of the 4th, of course.
V: For example, from C to F. Right?
A: Well, yes.
V: Or from D to G.
A: Yes. Well, if they exceed the 4th, it means it’s an open position, that the space between the bass and tenor might be really wide or might be really narrow. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make any difference for the closed or open position. So basically, I’ll give you and example of a closed position C Major Tonic chord. It’s C-E-G-C. So you have, let’s say, a third between bass and tenor (C-E), then you have a third between tenor and alto (E-G), yes, and you have a fourth between alto and soprano (G-C). Now I will make the same chord and make it an open position. So you would have, let’s say C-G (bass tenor), and then you would have E in the alto, so between G and E, you would have an interval of a sixth. Then E would go to C. E-C would go from alto and soprano, it’s the interval of the sixth. So it’s open position.
V: So in other words, an open position is C-G-E- and C.
A: Yes, but this is only one example of closed and open position, because if you would take any root position chord, you could have like six basic general positions. Three would be closed and three would be open. But if you would have the first inversion of a root position chord, then you would have even more options, because you could also have positioned this which is neither closed nor open. It would be like a mixture of both.
V: Mixed position!
A: Yes, mixed position! And basically, every six chord has 10 positions, how you can place it. So it’s an entire science.
V: I mean… you mean that the distance between three upper parts in the six chord can be either a third and a fourth?
A: Well, it can be unison, too!
V: Unison, yeah. Or it could be a fifth and a unison, which is also a mixed position. So many many versions. But I think for now, Diana doesn’t have to worry about first inversion chords. The six chord root positions are quite enough trouble already.
A: Well, it depends on what your goal is. I cannot comment on that.
V: I know she has ordered a harmonization book by Sietze de Vries, which starts with those simple root position chords and teaches people to harmonize easily various melodies. And, this is the first step for people who want to improvise. So, of course, we need to talk about other things, which this book doesn’t cover, and we have harmonization of the bass in the “Harmony for Organists” course level 1, and obviously other courses connected with Hymn Playing, or Harmonization, or Improvisation as well, so you can check it out. But yes, harmony starts with the first thing, and you have to understand open and closed positions.
A: That’s right.
V: 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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