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Organ Talk

Article from Electronics & Music Maker, September 1981

"One difficulty", remarked a reader recently, "is how to play the thing once it has been made!" He went on to mention that he had obtained some music scored in Klavarscribo, which he thought avoided the difficulties for the beginner reading conventional scores.

There will be a number of readers who sympathise with his remark. It certainly does seem a pity that the constructor has to ask someone else to play his instrument - which was probably made with his own enjoyment at the keyboard in mind.

Well, this is where I feel I have to stick my neck out somewhat - and no doubt wait for the brickbats! The problem with electronic music generally is that the subject attracts those who, by and large, hail from two different sources. The skilled musician who tackles a constructional project may well get bogged down for a while with unfamiliar technicalities and have difficulty in understanding circuit diagrams or even reading resistor colour codes!

On the other hand, the electronics expert will sail through these minor details but won't know an acciaccatura from an appoggiatura, will have difficulty in reading even a single line score and will be floored when asked to play F#m7!

Chacun à son goût, as they say. But is it really a case of 'never the twain shall meet'? As far as the practised musician is concerned, reading this magazine ought soon to get him into the ways of electronics generally. In many respects, of the two groups under consideration, he is the better off.

The electronics man turned musician is somewhat at a disadvantage because electronic music is the marriage of a science and an art. Learning that particular science is possibly easier than the art of music: after all, constructing a kit organ is largely a case of following instructions with care. If you query this comment I would add that a science is something that is systematic and obeys certain fixed principles (like Ohm's and Boyle's Laws). An art is a practical skill and, although it may require guiding principles, is largely creative and expressive.

In music, it is necessary to learn those guiding principles before one can hope to begin the creative and expressive experiments. Those principles are the Rudiments of Music: all music shops stock this publication and I would strongly advise any budding musician to own a copy.

This deals, of course, with conventional music notation and I recommend the conventional as that system is not only universal but eventually leads to a good understanding of what you are doing.

The modern home organ is usually bristling with aids to the beginner - rhythm unit, one finger chords, autochord and even lights under the keys. Automatic Orchestra Computer and pedal systems that find the notes for you or offer automatic bass patterns are other facilities. Some of these can pall after a while, yet oddly enough in the hands of a really accomplished player they can become embellishments to a brilliant performance.

It should be borne in mind that these beginners aids are what sell organs best of all. They cost money, of course, and have to be taken as non-optional extras although many musicians would prefer more 'straight' organ for what they are paying.

With practice, there comes a time when one wishes to dispense with many of these frills - except perhaps the rhythm unit. For the purposes of this dissertation, let us ignore the aids for a moment and concentrate on the organ we are left with: in all probability it will amount to two 44-note manuals and 13 pedals, most of the tonal variation being available on the upper manual.

The 'King of Instruments' was crowned long before gimmicks were added and - even in the case of the small basic instrument just mentioned - what makes playing it a most exciting and enjoyable experience is that it is the most complete musical instrument devised. You make what you will of your 'one man band' (- or 'one man orchestra' in view of synthesised orchestral voices?) using every limb you possess!

In order to get the best out of the organ, it is necessary to know something about harmony and chord structure. Neither one finger chords nor Klavarscribo will help in this direction.

Let's take a closer look at Klavarscribo, which was first introduced in Holland in 1931 by a Dutchman, Cornelius Pot, and has a certain following on the Continent. Although some 20,000 editions of Klavar are available, it cannot be purchased everywhere - and this figure covers scores for various musical instruments. The music is written on a vertical 'stave' and read from top to bottom - ideally suited to Oriental musicians? Figure 1 is an example.

Figure 1. Klavarscribo

Can you guess the title of the tune portrayed without going to a keyboard? The 'stave' consists of lines that are mentally extended above the black notes of the keyboard. The group of three black keys has thicker lines than those relating to the other two black notes.

A black dot is placed on the line to indicate a black note and white dots between lines to show white notes. This music is a pictorial representation of finger positions, so the names of notes do not matter. There is no key signature or accidentals, the system being the musical equivalent of painting by numbers.

Fine - you can produce pleasing music without having a clue... Their publishers think it is a simple system because:

1) The same image in all octaves, clefs being superfluous.
2) 12 notes per octave instead of 7.
3) Nothing to remember, all information being pictorial.
4) Duration symbols not required as graphic portrayal is self-evident.
5) It indicates which hand should be used.
6) No ledger lines to contend with.
7) Subdivision of the bar is shown, accurately.

At first sight, this is the proverbial answer to a maiden's prayer. When you sit down and play, even the parrot will compliment you with "Who's a Klavar boy, then?" So why haven't we all adopted this sytem and thrown away the conventional dots?

Certainly there are advantages for the very raw beginner - but he will always stay at that level: the main disadvantage is that you don't have to think. The whole point of music for many people is as a means of relaxation - but lack of thought will not get anyone far in the field of electronics or music.

With Klavarscribo, the beginner can not progress very far musically as he will have no idea of the pictorial chord he is playing or the key concerned.

The organ has always been a excellent instrument for extemporisation, which requires a good knowledge of chord structure and harmonic progression. Admittedly, there are some who can play by ear with a semblance of perfect harmonic accompaniment, but not very many: in any case, they would not require any type of music notation.

It is only too easy to get into the habit: once hooked on Pot (I mean Klavar, of course!), it might be difficult to get out of it and really learn something of music.

Better still, get into the habit of conventional notation which might seem more difficult at first but the structure of the music will soon begin to mean something. Once this stage has been reached, music starts to become a pleasure (instead of the drudgery associated with schooldays).

Modern circuit diagrams are often rather complex, so it is necessary to settle down and study them quietly in order to grasp what is actually happening. The same approach - and both need practice - should be applied to learning music.

You may tell me that the peak age for learning is reputed to be around 15 years. If that appears to exclude the majority of E&MM readers from learning music, the same must apply to electronics - the main reason this magazine is sought after!

So, if you happen to be at the threshold of music, stick to conventional scores and buy 'Rudiments of Music' for light bedtime reading!

Organ scores for the type of music you may most wish to play may not be available, so it will be necessary to rethink piano scores (as they sound ghastly, as written, on an organ). To do this, some musical knowledge is required, especially concerning chord symbols and harmony. In subsequent articles I hope to offer some practical ideas on these subjects - for which the bedtime reading will be necessary.

Whether you buy an organ kit or design and build, a great deal of patient, hard work is involved. One has to be tenacious and prepared to spend plenty of spare time on the project. May I leave certain readers with the thought that if they have expended time, energy and cash on a constructional project, the very least they owe themselves is to learn to play their new toy!

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Publisher: Electronics & Music Maker - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Electronics & Music Maker - Sep 1981

Feature by Ken Lenton-Smith

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