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Organ Talk

Re-Arranging Sheet Music

Organ scores for classical music have always been available, those for popular music having become more numerous with the rise in popularity of the electronic organ over the last few decades. Even so, in the popular field it will often be found that an organ arrangement of a given composition simply does not exist. Therefore the only course open is to arrive at a self-arrangement for the three staves. This does not necessarily imply the use of manuscript paper (though not a bad idea at that), but rather getting used to employing a method of instant re-arrangement of the musical data.

This could be termed extemporisation and, although it is possible to extemporise with any musical instrument, none is better suited to this than the organ. Some knowledge of music is necessary before any degree of success is achieved here but the goal will be well worth any amount of time and thought expended in the process.

In a recent article in this series, the question of the type of music notation was discussed, the matter having been raised by a reader. We suggested that standard methods were the only way of learning to understand what was happening musically. At the same time, 'Rudiments of Music' was mentioned as good bedtime reading: this type of book sets the beginner on the right track - learning to sight read. The first hurdle will have been cleared when certain rudiments have been mastered - the staves, positions of notes and their durations, time signatures and accidentals.

By now our player will be able to read a single note melody with accuracy and will be encouraged until faced with reading several notes simultaneously, especially playing chords. Noticing that chord symbols are indicated on the music, why not use the automatic chords, he reasons? After all, this facility was part of the cost of the organ, was it not? He manages some quite pleasing results and tends to continue to use this method of playing but probably makes no musical progress beyond this stage.

However good an automatic chord system, the choice of chords is severely limited: the effect begins to pall after a while, his music sounding increasingly mechanical. No doubt he will admire the player who can sit down and play sheet music (even three staves) at sight, realising that that this ability is not necessarily a 'gift' but something attained through past hard work. In some cases, however, sight-readers play the score perfectly but somewhat woodenly - rather in the style of a player-piano being fed a paper roll. Without his music he may be completely stumped: although an excellent reader, his knowledge of the mechanics of music may be so limited that he cannot improvise and the best he can do is attempt to bring a photographic memory into play. So perfect sight-reading may not be as enviable as would at first appear.

At this point it should be explained why piano scores are unsuitable for an organ and require considerable modification. The (acoustic) piano is a percussive instrument and, once the hammers have struck their strings, the sound dies away fairly rapidly - even if the keys are continually held down. The Harpsichord and Piano stops on an organ have circuitry designed to follow the same characteristics as their acoustic counterparts, but organ tones of the conventional type will sound as long as the keys are depressed. The organ is a sustained note instrument in contrast to the percussive piano so that piano music can sound totally wrong when played on an organ, especially where the left hand part is concerned.

The type of extemporisation called for when using piano music involves taking the music apart mentally and putting it together again in suitable form for two manuals and pedals. The piano's treble clef part can often be played as written on the solo manual but the bass clef has to be re-organised between the accompaniment manual and pedal. If the original score has chord symbols indicated it will be easier to re-arrange. 'Buskers Albums' are the easiest to work from as the musical information is reduced to the bare essentials - a single note melody line and chord symbols.

Not being limited to someone else's written instructions, the organist's own arrangement can be as simple - or as complex - as he likes. The Solo manual and Pedal parts present no difficulties but the Accompaniment requires a good deal of patience at first: rather like learning to ride a bicycle, once you have the knack it is not too difficult. Let us look at a few guidelines, leaving the Accompaniment as the last aspect to consider.

Right Hand

Until completely familiar with rearranging, it is best to play a simple melody line on the Solo manual. This single note line is taken straight off the piano music. 'Buskers Albums' score in this respect in that the melody line is all you are presented with whereas it may be somewhat buried in the treble clef of a piano score.

Naturally, you have to find your own registration as none will be shown. An instrument which offers instant changes by means of presets is a great advantage but the main idea should be to get the melody over clearly and with gentle incisiveness. Remember that it is effective to take the vibrato off as a registration change, perhaps using Chorale instead. An interesting effect is obtained with vibrato on one manual but not on the other if the controls allow this.

When some proficiency has been obtained, the melody can be reinforced by using block chords which follow the general sequence to be mentioned when dealing with the Accompaniment manual. If 16' pitch is used for anything but a single note melody line it is best to transpose the right hand part up one octave to prevent chords sounding dull and muddy. Even if the player is capable of chords in both hands, a single note melody line is quite often the most effective.

Provided that some degree of music reading has been attained, the right hand part poses no real problems, except possibly remembering to make changes in registration and finding the right moment to do so. A 'Buskers Album' style of score is shown in Figure 1, which contains all the information required.

Chord symbols are always shown in these albums but not always on piano scores. For a start, at least, it is best to avoid piano music without those symbols.

Figure 1. A 'Buskers Album' type of score.

Pedal Part

This need be no more than the root note of the indicated chord, played on the appropriate beat(s) of the bar. In 3/4 time the pedal will fall on the first beat whilst in 4/4 time on the first and third beats. Much will depend on the player's taste and the tempo concerned. Latin-American rhythms, for example, offer plenty of scope for pedal patterns. Even so, the actual note played will always be the root in a simple arrangement.

Repeating the same pedal note twice, or even four times, in each bar can become a little monotonous, so an alternating pattern can be used instead. In this case, the alternating note is usually the fifth of the chord. Indeed, any other note of the chord can be used for alternating with the root. Eventually, when familiar with the various notes that make up chords, a walking bass pattern can be employed. Some instruments are fitted with controls for walking bass but it will often be found that patterns are only available over major chords: this is another reason for not using beginners aids once some progress has been made musically.

Occasionally, the chord indicated takes the form 'X/Y' where X is the chord concerned and Y is the suggested pedal note to be used with it. For example Cm7/F guides the player to the C minor seventh chord with F as the pedal note. Obeying this type of suggestion is usually effective.

Pedal registration must be chosen to accord with the other voices in use, particularly the Solo manual. If it is available, pedal Sustain is best reserved for slower numbers - especially those in 3/4 time. Little else needs to be mentioned regarding the pedal part at this stage as, like the right hand part, it is simple to select from printed music. However, the pedal line is the foundation of the harmony and so it is important to feel for the correct pedal: practising in stockinged feet often helps in this respect.

Left Hand

This aspect has been left until last as it calls for rather more concentration and an idea of chord formation. Even if harmony is a familiar subject, the way the chord information is used makes a great deal of difference to the final result. In fact, the left hand part is often the making of a good light entertainment organist: to verify this, listen to a skilled player performing. There is no doubt that the all-important left hand sorts out the men from the boys.

Chord books are published from which it will be seen that there are hundreds of different chords to choose from. Most of these are variations on four themes - major, minor, seventh and diminished chords. The 120-bass accordion is an example of the basic requirements which, after eliminating bass notes, counter-basses and duplicated chord buttons, has just 48 chords available: these are the four chords previously mentioned as applied to the twelve chromatic notes. Some of these chords are used frequently and others only occasionally because popular music tends to be written in a limited number of key signatures to suit transposing instruments such as trumpet, saxophone and clarinet. In practice, the task of forming and memorising chords is not therefore all that formidable.

Another encouraging aspect is that chord sequences soon start to become known as they are often similar in totally different tunes. In next month's issue we will examine a method of arriving at given chords once the key signatures of the major scales are known and also the chord 'shorthand' used in sheet music.

Previous Article in this issue

Guide to Electronic Music Techniques

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National Home Electronic Organ Festival

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


Electronics & Music Maker - Nov 1981

Feature by Ken Lenton-Smith

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