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Organ Talk

The Left Hand

The last article in this series was angled towards the organist who can read and knows basic music theory but needs help in playing rhythmically from Chord Symbols. In that issue I described my musical 'shorthand' for assembling the four basic chords (Major, Minor, Diminished and Seventh) in any key.

Useful as they are, those four chords alone will not be sufficient for popular music. Here are four more chords to add to the repertoire: there is nothing particularly difficult about any of them as they are extensions of either the Major or Minor chords.

(Chord Symbol X6)

MINOR SIXTH 1 3b 5 6
(Chord Symbol Xm6)

(Chord Symbol Xm7)

(Chord Symbol X+)

Four New Chords

It is worthwhile training the ear to recognise the type of chord heard. Try playing these chords in various simple keys, inverting the notes so that they fit the F - F compass either side of middle C.

The Major Sixth sounds bright and satisfying, whereas the Minor Sixth sounds even more sombre than the Minor itself. The Augmented chord, which is simply a Major chord with sharpened fifth, has that same 'leaning' sound as the Dominant: the subsequent chord is nearly always, and predictably, the tonic.

Does the Minor Seventh sound like any of the others in quality? It sounds much like the Major Sixth because:

Cm7 = C Eb G Bb
Eb6 = Eb G Bb C
Am7 = A C E G
C6 = C E G A


- two apparently different chords are inversions of each other. Both chords are widely used in popular music, so it is helpful to remember the inter-relationship.

Having looked at the 'shorthand' for eight different types of chord, twelve key signatures allow us to form up to 96 chords. A great number of these will be required only occasionally whilst the commonly used chords will recur so often that they will soon become committed to memory. They can all be tabulated, of course, but this approach should be avoided if possible.


Knowing how to interpret the majority of Chord Symbols likely to be encountered, we can turn to methods of using them in the left hand part.

The indicated chord may simply be sustained. Certain parts of an arrangement may call for this technique but in general the result is highly uninteresting.

Still using sustained chords, an 'Autochord' or similar facility will turn the signal on and off on instructions from the rhythm unit. Although an improvement, the pulsed chords soon begin to sound increasingly mechanical.

Better still, use the left hand itself to 'gate' the chords. It can interject them at will, whereas rhythm unit ROMs have very fixed ideas! Using the left hand enables accents, syncopated beats, changes in the rhythm pattern/tempo. This is, I feel, one aspect where a manual method is a far better proposition than relying on electronics. This very topic is on the boundary between a science and an art and where the latter should take priority.

Split Chords

How and when the chords are played will of course depend on the time signature and a number of other factors including personal taste - ad lib., in fact.

The chord can be split - sustaining part of it while playing the remaining notes rhythmically. This can be most effective, especially in fast numbers. Not many organs can boast a double-touch manual these days, but I fancy that this method of playing chords owes much to that feature. Double-touch allows the player to register two different sets of voices on the same manual, extra downward pressure on the key bringing in a second voice. The second-touch voice is usually stronger than the first, allowing the performer to play both solo and accompaniment parts on one manual.

Figure 1. Playing the upper part of the chord to fit the rhythm.

Using a standard keyboard, the effect of double touch can be re-created to some degree. Figure 1 shows a simple left hand arrangement and, by making the upper part of the chord sufficiently staccato, the sustained note line will be heard clearly above the others - even though the registration is necessarily the same across the keyboard.


Some tunes have an associated countermelody which is well known but, more often than not, one has to look for the possibility of counterpoint in the harmonic sequence.

An effective form of counter-melody is found by extracting a chromatic progression suggested by the chord changes. Figure 2 gives an example of this idea. In all probability, no two players would choose to interpret these split-chord sequences in exactly the same way - once again demonstrating the extemporisation possibilities with two manuals and a pedalboard.

Figure 2. Chromatic progression to suit chords of Nov. E&MM tune.

Other Chord Symbols

A Ninth chord (symbolised as X9) is similar to the Seventh in that both are Dominant chords. However, Major Seventh and Major Ninth chords (Xmaj7 and Xmaj9) are simply major chords with those extra intervals added. The first inversions of these chords in F may be compared:

F7 played F A C Eb
F9 played F A C (Eb) G

but Fmaj7 played F A C E
and Fmaj9 played F A C (E) G

Occasionally, fairly straightforward chords are complicated by the addition of accidentals in the Chord Symbol, which are sometimes placed in brackets. Various publishers have differing methods of indicating somewhat unusual chords: here are two examples:

E7(b5) or E7-5 means
E Dominant Seventh with flattened fifth played E G# Bb D

F7(b9) or F7-9 means
F Dominant Seventh with flattened ninth played F A C (Eb) Gb

This sort of notation calls for extra thought at times but, if a complex chord is indicated by the arranger, it is always well worth making use of it.

HARMONY? I hear a somewhat discordant note from Dallas, Texas. One of the town's music stores has just completed a 'Shotgun Spectacular' sale: it was offering a free shotgun with every piano or organ sold. Apparently a very popular form of sales promotion in that trigger-happy part of the world but will the shotgun dissuade would-be music critics, I wonder?

Previous Article in this issue

Guitar Workshop

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Computing: Basically BASIC

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


Electronics & Music Maker - Jan 1982

Feature by Ken Lenton-Smith

Previous article in this issue:

> Guitar Workshop

Next article in this issue:

> Computing: Basically BASIC

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