Vidas: Let’s start Episode 132 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by David, and he writes:
“Thank you so much for producing the sight reading course (and for having a cyber Monday sale on your course---I waited a year to get this discount so that I could afford the total organist course).
I feel like this is such a basic question.... but on week 1, day 2 of the sight reading course, how does one subdivide, counting out loud, beyond the 8th note in 2:2 time signature?
It would be the same as 32nd not in 4:4 time signature, which I have never learned to count aloud....
I have thus far used the 1 e & a 2 e & a method of counting out loud, but that really only works as far as 16th notes in common time or 8th notes in 2:2. How does one vocally subdivide farther than that?
If you have already answered this elsewhere, I would be happy to be pointed in that direction. I don't want to ask you to repeat yourself if you have already addressed it.”
I don’t think we have talked about it, yes Ausra?
Ausra: Well, we talked maybe a little bit about subdivision, but not as complete, like for example how to count 32nd notes. So we might give some tips.
Vidas: First of all, we want to say that this course, Organ Sight-Reading Master Course, is based on Bach’s Art of the Fugue.
Vidas: And in this particular case, the contrapunctus from the Art of the Fugue--it might be too fast if you count in alla breve time, in 2/2 time. Right? So...do you think that David and others who are taking this course need to play in 2/2 time right away?
Ausra: Well, not necessarily; you can do it twice as slow as it is written, and it would still be okay.
Vidas: So, 4/4?
Ausra: Yes. I would suggest that they would do this in 4/4, at least for starters.
Vidas: Because Bach wrote a lot of fugues this way, in his cycle, in which there are only 2 or even 1 beat per measure, right?
Vidas: One, and three--yes, 2 beats, in 2/2 time. And when you practice slowly, you need to have more--four, for example.
Ausra: Yes. And what I notice about Bach’s pieces and other Baroque composers is that 32nd notes often appear in slow movement pieces--like you know, slow movements of the trio sonatas, or other sonatas, and chorale preludes that have this really slow tempo and ornamented cantus firmus. That’s how he uses it most of the time, in 32nd notes. And like in fast tempo pieces, he uses basically 16th and 8th notes; but 32nds very often appears in the slow movements. So there is no way you need to rush that, that contrapunctus.
Vidas: Do you think that people could write in the parts of the measure themselves, in pencil?
Ausra: Yes, that would help, I think, especially for beginners.
Ausra: And you know, how to subdivide, you actually have to do it, the best way to do it, I think, is to do it with your tongue--that you would do it mechanically, and that you would really feel that you are doing it. You can do it on any syllable which is comfortable for you.
Vidas: But, to do it out loud?
Ausra: Yes, yes! At least for starters.
Vidas: Have you seen students playing rhythmically incorrectly, but saying to you that they’re counting inside their minds?
Ausra: That’s very often the case, but it means that they don’t count. They deceive themselves. Because if they’re only doing it loudly at first...then you can maybe do it quietly inside.
Vidas: What happens when you do it quietly is that you might THINK you are counting equally…
Ausra: But you will not do it!
Vidas: Yes. Because there is so much to do with your hands and your feet, that sometimes your mind wanders, and your counting rhythm and pulse also fluctuate.
Ausra: Yes. And you know, I remember learning a piece called Icarus by Jean Guillou, that I had to prepare. That’s a challenging piece to learn, rhythmically and technically, because this was actually his original improvisation which was written out later by somebody else, I believe. And it has lots of fast passages. And what I did then when I learned the piece was, actually, I subdivided out loud first, and I subdivided 32nd notes. Because usually you look at the piece of music, and you choose the smallest note values, and you subdivide in them first. And that will help you. So, if you know, the smallest note value is 32nd, you subdivide 32nd. If it’s 16th, then you subdivide 16ths.
Vidas: This is especially true in modern music, in rhythmically advanced music, right? Like the music of Messiaen.
Vidas: Like in his pieces, he uses, I think, additive rhythmic value technique…
Ausra: Yes, he adds a little bit with each figure.
Vidas: Like for example, you might have a normal 4/4 measure, but with an added 32nd note.
Vidas: Or plus 1/16. And this is additive. So you need to keep counting based on that lowest or smallest note value: 32nd or 16th.
Ausra: Yes. Yes, and especially when you are learning the text. Maybe after a while, when you know the music very well, you can stop doing that in that particular piece; but for starters, you definitely have to do it.
Vidas: So the same as David says in his Contrapunctus from the Art of the Fugue, we recommend subdividing and playing with 4 beats, not 2 beats per measure.
Vidas: What would happen if he played right away in 2/2 time, counting just 2 beats?
Ausra: Well, probably he would not be rhythmically correct on those...
Vidas: Not precise.
Ausra: Yes, not precise. And rhythmic precision is very important, especially while playing organ.
Vidas: Do you think that people can play not precisely, and think that they’re playing pretty well?
Ausra: Hah! That’s often the case, I think.
Vidas: They don’t even notice how sloppy their rhythm is.
Ausra: Sure, yes, yes. And rhythm is so important; because you know, we all have a heartbeat, so each person who does not even have musical pitch, still has that sense of rhythm. And let’s say if something happens during a performance, if you will keep a steady rhythm, it’s possible that some people even will not notice that you made a mistake and hit the wrong note of a wrong chord. But you know, if your rhythm goes out of the way, then everybody will notice it.
Vidas: How interesting! Are you saying that rhythm is more important than melody?
Ausra: Well, yes; in some cases I believe it’s more important.
Ausra: Well, you know, because everybody can count. Everybody can count.
Vidas: Do you think that dogs can count, too?
Ausra: I don’t know! I mean human beings, all people can count.
Vidas: One, two, and three…
Vidas: Four. But the melody is sometimes complex, and they don’t necessarily grasp the fluctuations in melody or mistakes in melody--
Vidas: You’re saying that the rhythm is always noticeable?
Ausra: Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Especially in the music of common periods, you know...in Messiaen, I think nobody would notice if you are playing something rhythmically incorrectly.
Vidas: Or melodically incorrectly.
Ausra: Yes, definitely. But I’m talking about music written in the common period.
Vidas: With Messiaen’s modes, people might have a feeling that something’s wrong with the notes, if you play the wrong note, because then it’s a foreign color.
Ausra: Well yes, but you have to be advanced, I think, in music, generally. Or you know, to have very good musical intuition.
Vidas: Thank you guys, this is getting really fun! And send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
PS Kae who transcribes these podcasts for us, wrote that her professors at SPU taught her to say "One-ta-e-ta-and-ta-e-ta" (for 8 32nd notes, or 1/4 of a measure). Hope this helps.
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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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