Vidas: Let’s start Episode 53 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Morton, and he writes that he’s struggling with playing pieces which have many sharps. He writes, “My struggle is with playing pieces in many sharps. I don't have trouble with playing pieces written in many flats - don't ask me why... For example, David German's Trumpet Tune changes keys in the latter portion... If he had written that portion in flats I would be able to manage, but I haven't been able to manage that portion which he wrote in sharps... I have put that aside for now...
I'm also working on polishing up an arrangement of Brahms' How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place - I was elated when I came across this arrangement in Choral Classics Arranged for the Organ published by Morning Star. To me this would be a very suitable selection to play either before, during, or after a funeral… Thank you very much for being willing to include transcripts of your future podcasts.”
So this is an interesting question, Ausra, that Morton has trouble with sharps, not with flats.
Ausra: Well, that’s a strange thing, actually, to hear, because usually people struggle the more accidentals the piece has. But here, my best guess would be that probably back in time, he had practiced more pieces written in flats, not in sharps, and that might cause the problem.
Vidas: I don’t know if this is the case, but sometimes, players of wind instruments feel more comfortable with the pieces in flats, because trumpet is in flats, and clarinet is in flats, and saxophone is tuned in flats...So maybe, Morton has experience with some wind instruments.
Ausra: Could be. Definitely not with the violin and other string instruments, because I know that string instruments prefer sharps.
Vidas: Exactly. So, as you say, whatever the case might be, probably Morton has played more pieces written in flats than in sharps, right?
Ausra: That’s my guess. And in general, I would suggest him to practice more of keyboard harmony. To play more sequences. That might help, too--to be able to play very easily and to feel comfortable in any key, in any given key, never mind it’s flats or sharps.
Vidas: I think it’s self-explanatory why he’s struggling with sharps, because if he’s challenged by sharps, he obviously tends to lean more on flats, and practices what is easier for him, most of the time, I would guess. So after a while, the skills of playing sharps will deteriorate, and flats will become easier and easier for him.
Ausra: Yes, I think so.
Vidas: So he has to overcompensate now, and go back to sharps.
Ausra: I think yes, he has to try to play at the beginning easy keys, like one or two or three sharps, and then later just make it harder. Start with G Major and D Major; later go to A Major, and so on and so forth; until you will finish up maybe playing in C-Sharp Major!
Vidas: A good exercise is to transpose, right?
Vidas: For example, take a piece or excerpt of a piece in C Major or a minor (either way, it has zero accidentals). And then, as Ausra says, go through the circle of fifths. First it will be through the sharp side of the circle of fifths, and then going back to the flat side of the circle of fifths. That may help, right?
Vidas: Or, another system is like, transposing to the key which has one sharp, and then one flat; and then again, two sharps--two flats. Three sharps--three flats. And so on, until you reach six or seven flats or sharps.
Ausra: Definitely that will help, I think. Anyway, I believe it’s just a matter of time and practice. Then he will get more experience, then he will stop avoiding sharps, and everything will be just fine.
Vidas: Another suggestion would be for him to sight-read.
Vidas: Because when he sight-reads pieces that he doesn’t know, probably he will encounter a lot of pieces with flats and a lot of pieces with sharps, too.
Ausra: Well, you can take, also, a hymnal, for example, and let’s say, practice all the hymns written in the sharp keys. That’s a possibility, too.
Vidas: Exactly. So I hope this advice has been useful to you--to Morton and to others as well, because this is a rather common problem, right? For people to be challenged by accidentals in general, right?
Vidas: Other people might feel uncomfortable with flats, too.
Vidas: D-flat Major, or b-flat minor, or even G-flat Major--it’s a tricky key.
Ausra: Or C-flat Major!
Vidas: Oh, yes, C-flat Major!
Ausra: That’s a horrible key!
Vidas: Don’t even start here!
Okay guys. Practice, sight-read, transpose: these are the best solutions you have. Wonderful. And send us more of your questions, and you can do that by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt, if you haven’t done so already, and then simply by replying to any of our messages that you will get, as a subscriber. We will be very glad to help you out to grow as an organist. Thanks, guys! This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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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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