Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 195 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Brendan. He writes:
My sight reading has improved by taking the course. Slowly but surely. I continue to play very slowly though. Around crotchet 50 - 60, depending upon what's going on in the music. I need to slow well down for some of the passages, particularly where there are semiquaver sections, or triplets against quavers for example.
My biggest challenge is that I'd developed a really bad habit when I was younger and not studying music properly - I look down from the music desk to see where my fingers are, and where the note is I'm trying to hit. I sometimes play much slower just to allow my fingers to find the note without me trying to look to see where it is. That continues to be quite a challenge!
But I am improving, and I am grateful for the material.
So, Brendan is taking our organ sightreading mastercourse.
V: And he seems to enjoy it. Maybe we should clarify the British nomenclature, right--terms.
A: Yes, yes.
V: “Crotchet” means, probably, quarter note.
A: Quarter note, yes.
V: And then “quaver” is probably...probably 8th note.
A: That’s what I’m guessing, from...yes.
V: And then “semiquaver” is probably 16th notes.
V: Excellent. So now we’re on the same page. This course is devised in such a way so that you are playing the entire Art of the Fugue by Bach, plus some additional materials for legato playing suitable for Romantic and modern music and after that. But for a long time, like maybe 40-41 weeks in a row, you’re studying Baroque style, right? And playing voice by voice, and then 2-part combinations, 3-part combinations, 4-part combinations, taken from Contrapuncti by Bach. And of course, I had to do something else with this course, in order to help people be familiar with other keys. So I transposed some of those Contrapuncti and fugues in many other minor keys, in the order of ascending number of accidentals. Do you think that’s a helpful device?
A: Yes, I think so, because it’s not good to play everything in one key only.
V: Mhm. Although, this collection is written in d minor.
A: Yes, yes. I know that. But still, if you will play only everything in d minor, then you will be good only for d minor, really.
A: Because the other keys require a little bit different fingering.
V: So then...Brendan seems to be frustrated with his habit, when he has to look down to see the fingers. Is is a bad habit, or…?
A: Well, actually, it’s sort of a strange one. I have never heard about such a habit before. But you know, I could draw a parallel: he’s with playing organ like I am with computers. Because I sort of never look at the screen when I’m typing things, and only looking at the keyboard.
V: That’s good for your eyes!
A: Yes, it’s good for my eyes; but you know, sometimes, when you finally look at the screen, you see some mistakes, and then you have to correct them.
V: And that’s not how professional typists do, right?
A: I know.
V: They always stare at the screen, and they touch/feel the keyboard, and use all 5 of their fingers.
A: That’s true.
V: How many fingers do you use, Ausra? When you pla--not when you play, when you type?
A: Well, six.
V: What do you mean, six?
A: Three in one hand, and three in another one!
V: Oh, I thought six in each hand!
A: Hahahaha, no, I don’t have 12 fingers!
V: Wow, that would be a very fast way of typing! Sometimes people have 6 fingers, right?
V: Like Hannibal Lecter, remember? from Silence of the Lambs! Excellent. So now, Ausra, is it similar when you play the organ, do you have to look down at your fingers, or not? Or do you only look at the score?
A: Actually, I only look at the score. Sometimes I have to look at the pedal...sometimes.
V: How many fingers do you use when you play the organ? ...All of them?
A: All of them, yes!
V: Excellent, good for you. Because not everybody is so advanced as you. Sometimes people use 2 fingers in each hand. I’ve seen my 2nd grader do that.
A: Heheh. So he’s good with paired fingering, probably?
V: He uses like 1 and 2, maybe, in each hand; and no matter how hard I emphasize that, “You need to use all fingerings!” and “Please use my written-down fingerings for that piece!” he never listens, never looks at the numbers. So he plays with weird positions in his hand. But what can I do?
A: So he uses only 2 fingers in each hand? He plays sort of like a piglet!
V: We could say that, yes!
A: But don’t tell him this.
V: No, he wouldn’t understand. At that age they’re very sensitive.
A: I know.
V: So basically...basically, we need to use all the fingers; and is it really bad, to look down from time to time?
A: I don’t think it’s very bad. But how can you find in your score, the particular spot you are playing? Is it difficult?
V: What do you mean?
A: Don’t you get lost, when you look down at the keyboard and then look back at the score?
V: It should be more difficult this way, yes. And one of the reasons we suggest people just look at the score is to get more fluent with your playing, right? Because your focus will not be interrupted.
A: Sure. And what if you are playing from memory? Is it good to look at the keyboard then?
V: Well, it’s the same when you improvise, right? When you’re not using your score. I have to look at my fingers, right, because where else should I look?
A: Yes, you could just look in front of you.
V: Empty music rack?
A: That’s true, yes.
V: And what would i see then?
A: I don’t know. Put some pictures there--some nice photographs.
V: A picture of you, maybe.
A: If that would help you, then why not.
V: A picture of you playing the organ. Or typing on the keyboard with 6 fingers.
V: But I do the same when I improvise, right? I look at my fingers, and I sometimes look at my feet, too. I don’t feel troubled looking down from time to time. When I’m using a familiar organ like at St. John’s Church, I can feel the keyboard and the pedalboard quite well. But still, if it’s a large leap I’m making, I may look down from time to time. Should I feel embarrassed?
A: I don’t think so.
V: So Brendan--should he feel embarrassed, looking down from time to time?
A: I don’t think so. I think it’s just perfectly normal. Some of us just have better motor skills, some not so good. That’s normal.
V: But if he could reduce the number of times he has to look down, then he would probably become more fluent with his playing
A: Yes. And maybe try to look--if you are looking at the keys--at the same spots each time, while you’re playing the piece, and see if the spots are the same each time. It means that maybe you need to practice those particular spots more, in the piece.
V: Ah, that’s a good solution. Look for trouble, right?
V: Isolate trouble, and make that trouble spot smaller each time--maybe not only isolate both hands, but maybe play each hand separately.
A: That’s true. And maybe you need to correct your fingering in those spots, or make some accents, or change something else. Or maybe articulate more in those spots. Because if those spots are the same each time, it means that something is technically not right.
Maybe move your hand to a little bit different position; maybe use your wrist.
V: Right? Sometimes it’s good, especially on mechanical-action organs. So, experiment, guys, if you are in Brendan’s shoes. And that will lead you eventually to success!
V: Okay, guys! Thank you so much for your questions. Please send us more of your goals and the challenges that you are facing. We would love to help you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.