When you fall into the trap of practicing without the discipline and you see that your organ playing skills move to nowhere, there are a few preliminary things that have to happen before actually practicing correctly.
Necessity. Ask yourself, do I absolutely must practice organ playing? Would I miss organ playing, if I wasn't allowed to practice? If the answer is yes, go on to the next point.
Choice. Understand that changing your attitude towards organ is a choice. You can keep playing the way you are used to and get the same results or you can make change happen.
Goals. If you really want to change and get out of the circle, you need to set short-term and long term goals. Where exactly you want to be as an organist in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years from now?
Obstacles. What are the challenges you must overcome on your way of achieving these goals? Pick at least 3 for starters.
Action. Stop wishing, dreaming and take action. Today. And tomorrow. And the day after that.
All of the above happens in your mind. Change your mind and you win.
Imagine a situation when you had a fairly good organ technique in the past, you could sight-read rather well, learned new pieces quite quickly to the best of your satisfaction and hymn-playing was a relatively easy task.
However, the years went by and for some reason you had fallen into bad habits of practicing and as a result you started to play organ music quite poorly - with lots of mistakes, with accidental fingerings and pedalings. Also you seem to have forgotten everything about articulation.
Does this sound familiar? If so, I have a few tips which might get you on track right away:
1. Pay attention do every detail. Things to keep in mind obviously are the correct notes, rhythms, articulation, fingering, pedaling, ornaments and posture.
2. Because the above point is easier said than done, work in small fragments of about 4 measures repeatedly. Playing the entire piece too often does no good.
3. Reduce the texture for practice purpose to a single voice. If you can play a soprano line of that fragment effortlessly, practice the alto in the same way and so on. In this manner you can later do all combinations of two and tree voices before putting everything together.
4. Resist the tempation to speed up. Play at 50 % the concert speed at first. Only when you can effortlessly play at this tempo your entire piece, you can start playing a little faster.
I know the above points sound like a lot of focused work. But it does make a difference and it is well worth the effort. The joy of playing organ music beautifully will transform your life and the life of those around you for the better.
Have you redeveloped your bad practice habits into the efficient ones? If so, please share your experience of how you did it in the comments below.
Today I would like you to transpose Bach's Aria, BWV 515 from the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach to various minor keys.
Here is the PDF score for this exercise.
In this score you will only see the rhythms and the scale degrees of the melodies for the right hand and the left hand parts.
If the note goes down, there is a sign V next to the scale degree. If the note goes up, there is an inverted V sign next to the scale degree. If the scale degree is repeated, there is a sign = next to the scale degree.
If the scale degree is raised or lowered, there are + and - next to the number respectively.
Here is the order of keys I recommend you practice this piece in:
1. A minor
2. E minor
3. D minor
4. B minor
5. G minor
6. F# minor
7. C minor
8. C# minor
9. F minor
10. G# minor
11. Bb minor
12. D# minor
13. Eb minor
14. A# minor
15. Ab minor
If this exercise seems too complex for you, start with A minor and choose only a few simple keys for practice.
Take a really slow tempo and practice single parts first before playing with both hands together.
Don't worry, if the process is really slow - transposition extremely beneficial for your brain and your fingers alike.
Please let me know how this exercise worked for you.
If you know what the half-step is, you can easily master an interval of the minor second (m2). It's a very harsh interval because the two notes are put very closely together. Today I'm going to teach you how you can build them in any major key. As an example we will work with the key of C major because it has no accidentals. Watch this video and everything will become quite clear.
Some people think that the art of improvisation is available only for organists with advanced music theory skills. They may be right in that people with good theoretical background are more likely to think about written down organ music analytically which leads to a better understanding of how the piece is put together which leads to better skills in improvisation.
But what they might not realize is that the joy of improvisation is available to all of us regardless of how far an organist is progressed in music theory if only he/she is curious enough to try.
Here is an example of how you can create an improvisation based on major chords only. It sounds colorful because I avoid intervalic relationship between the chords that are characteristic for tonic-dominant and tonic-subdominant (perfect fourths and fifths). Instead I use major and minor thirds, seconds and a tritone.
All you have to do is to choose a meter (in this case 4/4), a prevailing unit value (in this case an eighth note), a few rhythmical figures (here I use the rhythms suitable for march - dotted, long-short-short etc.), a texture (in this case a single layer chordal texture without the pedals), a form (in this case ABABA), a registration (in this case 16' and 8' reeds on two manuals) and off you go.
Yes, you will do better if you learn the foundations that teaches about various scales, modes, intervals, chords, polyphonic devices etc. in the long run but no, you don't have to have a PhD in music theory to start.
Try it tonight and share your experience here.
Since a few of my students asked me to explain in detail the concept of modulation, today I'm going to share with you a plan for modulating from C major to D minor. Because the note D is the 2nd scale degree in C major, the D minor key could be called the key of the 2nd scale degree in relationship with C major.
In order for this modulation to be easy to understand, I will use the chords in the treble clef only. This modulation will have 4 steps:
1. Establishment of the 1st key
2. A common chord
3. A modulating chord
4. Establishment of the 2nd key with the cadence.
As you can see in the above picture, we can establish C major with a few basic chords (T, S and D). Here I chose the tonic chord, subdominant 2nd inversion chord which resolves to the tonic and the dominant 1st inversion chord which resolves to the tonic.
This tonic chord is a common chord for both C major and D minor - in D minor it's called the chord of the 7th scale degree or the Subdominant of the Subdominant (SS).
Then comes the modulating chord. This usually should be the chord which has a new accidental of the D minor key (either Bb or C# - 7th raised scale degree). It is best to use a dissonant four-note chord for this purpose. I chose II34 chord (that's a 2nd inversion of the seventh-chord of the 2nd scale degree.
The last step is to form a cadence in the new key - that's why you can see tonic 2nd inversion and D7 which resolves to the new tonic.
Try to play this exercise on your instrument. If you know how to do it, you can use four-part texture (SATB) with or without the pedals for the bass line placing the tenor part in the left hand. After this modulation becomes easy, transpose it to G major, F major, D major and Bb major.
The one who only takes the best students and they produce the best results or the one who takes less fortunate ones and motivates them to become greater than they originally thought they could be?
Here is another question: who is a better football coach?
The one who only lets to play his best players and only occasionally lets the weaker ones enter the field or the one who trains the ones who don't have many chances to win and create a strategy that lets them win against all odds?
Sure it's easy (and tempting) to get along only with people who think like ourselves but the true art is connecting with the ones who have a different worldview.
In this day and age it cannot be achieved with punishment or false reward or increase of fear.
The only way to change someone for the better is to tell stories that resonate with that person.
If you focus on passion, both of you win.
One of my subscribers asked me to create a MIDI file out of yesterdays musical experiment with the period form so that he could listen to it (thanks, John). But then I thought it would be an interesting idea to create a longer piece based on this theme. So in the above pictures you can see a Mini-Waltz. Here is the MIDI file and a PDF for printing. I even added recommended pedaling to make it easier to play. Enjoy!
Today I would like to share with you a creative experiment which we did with my students during the Analysis of Musical Compositions class. Our subject was externally expanded period form.. Everything was created in 8 simple steps.
1. We started by writing down treble and bass clefs and 3/4 meter and prepare 12 empty measures:
2. After that we decided that our period will begin and end in the key of C major. The opening two measures should be an introduction (external expansion) which would be followed by the theme from two sentences of 4 measures each. Everything should be ended with a short Codetta of two measures - another external expansion (total of 12 measures).
3. Next comes the decisive step. We had to agree on which chords we will use in this period. I wanted that this piece should be rather colorful but not too difficult. Therefore we decided to write major chords only. They were created in the following order: C-Eb-A-F#-Bb-G-E-F#.
We have repeated the opening chords (C-Eb) during the introduction, in Codetta - the last two (E-F#) and everything closed with the C major chord and the 13th measure.
4. After that we agreed to begin the left hand part with the 5th scale degree (G). In the following measures we only had to create the notes of the new chords in dotted half note rhythms which would be closest to the opening G (this is because we had to keep a smooth voice leading without large leaps).
5. After we had planned the harmonic structure of the piece, there came the work on the left hand texture. Because 3/4 meter often implies waltz, we used a typical rhythm of this dance.
6. After that we created a rhythm for the right hand part. Because the opening two measures were external extension of the period (Introduction) we left the rests in them.
7. After the rhythm of the theme was clear we only had to create the melody out these chords (or the notes that belong to these keys). We tried to avoid any repetitions as much as possible and aimed for the nice melodic contour.
8. In the last step there was a need to create the bass part (although this could have been one of the first steps). Here we wrote the root of each chord with the dotted half note rhythms.
9. We also could have made the bass part more interesting by creating a canon with the theme. In this case the canon would have gone with the same rhythm as in the right hand at the distance of one measure. But we ran out of time.
I think that what we came up with is interesting enough. If you are of the curious type, you too can try creating something like that.
PS The same 8 or 9 steps would have to be applied in learning to improvise such a piece (the bass part could be played with pedals).
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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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