Today I‘m very excited to announce the first article from the 3-part series of articles of how to master prelude improvisation in the style of Bach.
These articles are part of the opening celebration for Prelude Improvisation Formula, a 16-week training program which teaches the art of improvising keyboard preludes in the Bach style.
In these articles you are going to learn...
1. 9 deadly mistakes new organ improvisers make and how to avoid them
2. A proven and tested system for long term improvisation success
3. A practical step-by-step plan for getting started with your improvisations
So today in the first article, let me explain to you what those deadly mistakes are so that you can avoid them and become successful as an improviser.
You see, not every organist who sets out to learn improvisation masters this art and achieves a high level. Many fail to stick with it for a long time and quit before they even start to see the results of their practice. This can happen because they fall into one or more pitfalls that slow down their progress. Avoiding these mistakes can save you much precious time and energy.
Here are the 9 common mistakes in organ improvisation:
Mistake 1. Having too many wishes. Because so much of the organ music is so beautiful, sometimes people cannot decide which style is the most important to them to learn to imitate for the moment. They watch videos or listen to recordings, find a piece or a composer that they like and decide they want to create similar music. However, the next day they might find another piece and another composer and the same will happen.
And so they have just too many styles and genres to improvise for one practice session. Only the very best organists with much experience can do that. So limit your wishes to just one style and one musical genre and let others wait for their turn in the future.
Mistake 2. Not doing the steps which lead to success. Let's face it, many people avoid taking action to learn to improvise on the organ. Although this can be changed, they spent most of the time wishing they could be practicing and dreaming of how to become skilled in the art of improvisation instead of just sitting down on the organ bench and start practicing. If you are serious about improvisation, never let a day pass without some practicing.
Even if the full practice time is unavailable to you, you can spend some 20 minutes just repeating what has been learned the day before. Remember, there is a saying, if you miss one day of practice, only you will notice it. If you miss two days, your teacher and your friends will notice it. If you spend three days without practice, everyone will notice it.
Actually, there is another great saying that a practice is like a boiling water – without constant heat it returns to its primal state.
Mistake 3. Lack of prioritizing. The reason many organists do not practice improvisation regularly is due to their poor ability to prioritize. If they have other responsibilities besides learning to improvise, they need to set firm priorities that are most important to accomplish each and every day. I suggest doing the tasks which are urgent first, then the important tasks, and only then the tasks that can wait.
If you don't have or don't follow your priorities during the daily tasks and do only the things that you love first, then the urgent tasks still need to be done. Spending the day this way can mean that you will not have enough time to practice improvisation.
Mistake 4. Letting your fingers play before your mind orders them to play. Some people sit on the organ bench and just go through the motions. They may try improvising something but in reality they don’t know which direction or course to take, they don’t know how they will finish the piece, they don’t know what keys they will modulate to and so forth.
In improvisation, the mind must go ahead of the fingers. Not for a moment should the mind allow the fingers to lead the way. If this should happen, the impression will be that the performer is merely stumbling along without having anything to say. The mind has to become disciplined to be completely focused until the end of improvisation. This requires slow and patient practice. Only constant repetition of short fragments will yield mastery and fluency.
Mistake 5. Not having attention to detail. A lot of people in improvisation as well as in organ playing have little interest in keeping the right posture, playing with the right fingering, pedaling, rhythms, articulation and other technical elements that constitute a good performance.
Ask yourself the following questions regularly. Was the posture, hand and foot position correct? Did I play the notes in this episode correctly? Were the fingering and pedaling without mistakes? Did I play the rhythm correctly? Was the articulation precise?
If the answer to any of these questions was "NO", then go back and do it correctly a few times. If you are aware of these goals constantly while practicing, your performance and improvisation level will improve dramatically over time.
Mistake 6. Not having an experienced mentor. Having a mentor, a teacher or a coach is crucial to your advancement. Although there are manuals, textbooks, and tutorials from which you can learn many things about organ improvisation, having a person whom you can trust is even more important.
There is one specific issue that I want to point out here: a good mentor will hold you accountable for your actions. He or she will not listen to any excuses. The mentor will push a little further each time you say "I can't". This is because the mentor truly wants to see you succeed, he or she was in your shoes before, mastered something, and can share this skill with others.
Also whenever you get stuck in some situation and want some answers, you can just ask your mentor for help. Getting help is much more difficult if you are studying from the books only.
Mistake 7. Not listening to the mentor you trust. What happens if you have a good mentor but you don't follow his or her advice? Of course, your progress in improvisation will be much slower. What happens if your mentor tells you to practice for an hour a day, and you only practice for 10 minutes twice a week? What if your mentor asks you to memorize and transpose the various compositional elements into various keys and you only can do them in the key of C major? I think you get the picture.
Mentors are supposed to be strict. Only then the real progress can be seen. But remember, only you are responsible whether or not you accomplish the task that your mentor asked you to do. So trust your mentor, forget about the excuses, and take action doing the steps that need to be done.
Mistake 8. Habit of not finishing tasks. Some people choose a model, practice improvising according to that model a few times but never really master it. Long before they internalized the compositional procedures of this model, they take another one. This approach will not get them very far. I say this way people can eventually quit practicing improvisation altogether.
We have to finish what we start unless the model piece is really too difficult for us for the moment. If this is the case, ask your mentor for advice.
Mistake 9. Not having a proven system that works. If you practice improvisation without a systematic approach, your practice tends to be accidental and confused in nature and won‘t lead you very far in improvisation. Having a system that already has worked for others, greatly facilitates the progress of an improviser because you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead you just follow practical daily steps somebody else has also taken successfully which eventually will lead to the mastery of this art.
Realizing these common mistakes, that beginner improvisers often do and consciously avoiding them will help you to become a better improviser. Be serious about your progress and you will reap great results.
I hope this information was valuable to you and in the next article I’ll show you my personal system that worked so well for me in mastering the art of prelude improvisation. Look out for the second article in a few days and the course opening for a limited time later this week.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.