Practice opposite changes. Because it is likely that you will encounter an organ where the Great is either the first or the second manual, it is also important to practice switching manuals the opposite way. This can be useful also because you will not always know which manual will serve you best in each specific situation. So you have to be prepared to jump upwards or downwards. I personally can testify how tricky it may be, especially if the organ is unfamiliar and you are mentally unprepared to make such adjustments.
I remember playing Bach’s D Minor Toccata and Fugue in one concert where the great was the second manual and the positive was the first. I thought I was mentally prepared for it but did not practice the actual manual changes the opposite way. In this concert, I had to jump downwards for echo effects in toccata. The first manual change was like a cold shower to me – I almost missed the manual. Luckily, at the last moment I remembered that this organ had positive in the lower manual and everything went well. Knowing that, I was on my guard for echo effects in the fugue. However, the feeling of having to jump the wrong way was quite strange. Lesson learned – always practice manual changes both ways, unless there is no other way to do that (like in thumbing down technique).
If only one manual is available, imitate manual changes. My organ students often ask me if it is really necessary to have a two manual organ at your disposal to practice manual changes. My answer is the definite NO. You can practice majority of organ repertoire on a one manual instrument, even on the piano. When the time comes to make a manual change, just imitate the movement you would do with you hands if you had several manuals. In other words, make a mental note of the change, physically move your hand upward or downward but continue playing on the same manual. This type of practice greatly saves time because it involves a powerful strategy – visualization. Using this technique, we visualize the manual switch and make appropriate movements with the hand but use only one keyboard.
Imitate the movements on the table. I explained how manual changes can be practiced on one keyboard but you may be surprised to find out that it could be done on the table as well. Just do all the movements of the hand and pretend you are playing the real organ and jump upwards or downwards for manual changes. This technique is a real time saver. You can practice on the table even during TV commercials. Imagine how much of your precious time that will save. Usually there are at least three commercials during a show or a movie each lasting at least 5 minutes. Practicing your manual changes this way will give you at least 15 minutes (most likely even more). This amount of time is surely more than enough to master at least one difficult manual change in the piece.
If you follow my suggestions, your accuracy will improve over time. Try to plan this in advance, practice slowly and repeatedly. When you hit the wrong note when changing manuals, always go back, correct the mistake and practice not until you play it correctly but until you can’t make the same mistake again. In other words, make your manual changes automatic. Take advantage of the piano or the table and the difficult jumps will become easy to you.
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