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Thread: Advanced hymn-playing techniques??

  1. #1
    therepetiteur
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    Advanced hymn-playing techniques??

    Hey there

    I'm looking for ideas in general hymn playing. I know there are a few things one might work on to enhance the congregation's experience -

    -re-harmonize
    -last-verse re-harmonization
    -tune solo in either of the hands or the pedal
    -modulation

    A further question would be - should someone seeking to develop these skills write out the hymns with these tricks added, or is it more standard to do this stuff on the spot, after one develops the skills a bit of course? Also, what are the best ways to do effective modulations?

  2. #2
    Moderator myorgan's Avatar
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    1 members found this post helpful.
    Quote Originally Posted by therepetiteur View Post
    Hey there

    I'm looking for ideas in general hymn playing. I know there are a few things one might work on to enhance the congregation's experience -

    -re-harmonize
    -last-verse re-harmonization
    -tune solo in either of the hands or the pedal
    -modulation

    A further question would be - should someone seeking to develop these skills write out the hymns with these tricks added, or is it more standard to do this stuff on the spot, after one develops the skills a bit of course? Also, what are the best ways to do effective modulations?
    Therepetiteur,

    What a loaded post. Let me start with the low-hanging fruit. I don't necessarily consider them advanced techniques, but they're certainly something used occasionally, but not frequently.

    Reharmonization--The most common reharmonization I use is to use the relative minor of 2 of the 3 primary chords. For example, in the key of C, the 3 primary chords are C, F, and G7. Once you have played the C chord, walk down to the Am chord, then either go to F or Dm, then to G7. Of course the order changes depending on the hymn you are playing, but experimenting with the relative minors will work. Just be sure if you're playing with a piano player, (s)he knows in advance.

    Modulation--The most useful modulation I use is the ii-V7-I of the new key. For example, if you're going from the key of C Major to Eb Major, I would go from C Major to F Minor (the ii of Eb Major), then to Bb7 (the V7 of the new key), and finally to the I of the new key, which is Eb.

    Other simpler modulations exist (i.e. adding a flat or subtracting a sharp OR modulating either down or up a semi-tone in key), but the one above will cover most situations.

    Tune Solo--Rather than soloing the tune in the hands, which is a common technique, try soloing the Tenor on a softer solo reed in the left hand, while playing the Soprano and Alto in the right hand on another manual.

    I hope this gives you a small start.

    Michael

    P.S. Occasionally, this topic has come up on the Forum, so you could also search for the key words you used in your original post.
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  3. #3
    mf Mezzo-Forte Leisesturm's Avatar
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    As Michael says, last verse re-harmonizations and/or modulations are things to use occasionally but not necessarily sparingly. One modulation that you wouldn't think works but actually works quite well is no modulation at all. Just play the last verse in the new key (probably 1/2 step higher cold). You are also not limited to only re-harmonizing the last verse. You are similarly not limited to a single modulation in a given hymn. Things that you can do to spice up hymns that can be done more often, are: inversions of the existing harmony, passing tones between quarter notes in the melody or harmony, rhythmic figurations within the context of the standard harmony, etc. pretty much anything you can do while staying faithful to the written harmony of the hymnbook is hard to 'overuse'. I wouldn't bother writing out these changes, but David N. Johnson has whole collections of written out traditional hymns with the melody in different places and, trust me, if the melody is soloed in any other hand but the right hand you will need it written out. Melody in pedal is strictly for arrangements done as voluntaries where no one is singing. Churches now sing WAY faster than when the great hymn arrangers were active. I have some advanced hymn arrangements designed to be used for congregational singing. I can't pull it off. I'd have to slow the tempo down to a very unacceptable degree. But that is when you want to do descants and really crazy placements of the melody. There is a lot you can do that will really liven up the hymns and does not require you to be a CAGO level organist. A lot depends on the denomination of church you are playing for. Liturgical Church hymnody doesn't need much enhancement IMO. A collection of "Free Harmonizations" and you are good to go. For non-liturgical churches a great deal of improvisation within the hymn accompaniment is possible and usually appreciated.

  4. #4
    therepetiteur
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    You've both given me a lot to think about - many thanks for your input.

  5. #5
    pp Pianissimo Piperdane's Avatar
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    I often will play the hymn from memory. Think outside the book, if you will. Let your improvisational skills come through with passing notes, maybe a 5 note slow glissando. Change of registration is also great between verses. Solo like in the tenor or alto on a softer mellow reed or diapason.

    Seldom play any hymn exactly as it is written. Put some excitement into your playing ... even some fanfares in a hymn like God of Our Fathers.
    A few weeks ago I added an improvised descant on the 8' Krummhorn stop to the final verse of a very well known hymn.

  6. #6
    pp Pianissimo tbeck's Avatar
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    Harmonizations would not have been possible in the Southern Baptist church I grew up in (and happily left many decades ago). Many members of the congregation tended to sing in 4-part harmony as written in the hymnal. Of course, the choir sang the hymns in 4-part harmony always.

    Tom

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