#AskVidasAndAusra 67: I'm not tone deaf, but at times the mistake totally eludes me
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 67 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Vince. He writes:
“Dear Vidas and Ausra:
When I am playing hymns or a classical piece with 4 parts, sometimes a mistake happens where I can not tell which voice has the mistake. If performing, and not able to stop and figure out where the mistake is, the error may carry over to subsequent notes in that part because I don't know WHERE to make the correction.
I'm not tone deaf, but at times the mistake totally eludes me, even so far as, the mistake is in the pedal but it sounds like it is in the soprano!
Any advice on how to deal with this? Please don't say "just play perfectly!" :-) Perhaps ear training, but what method?
Thank you very much. I enjoyed the interview with Kae Hannah Matsuda.”
So, it’s wonderful question, right? I’m very glad he liked this interview with Kae, who helps us to transcribe those podcasts and make text versions available to you. Without her help, this would not be possible, so thank you so much, Kae. And Ausra, Vince is having a problem with detecting mistakes, right?
Ausra: Yes. So, as he told himself, I think that ear training is the best solution to solve his problem. Because you have to learn to hear each voice that you’re playing, and it doesn’t matter how many voices you are playing at a time--you have to hear them all. And I would have a couple suggestions for him how to do it. First of all, he has to learn to sing each line of his hymn. If it’s four voices, he has to learn to sing them all, and to know them all by heart.
Vidas: That’s very great advice, Ausra. All the main professors we’ve worked with recommend this technique, too. And obviously, this helps. Every time you discover a polyphonic piece with independent voice lines, you have to simply listen to inner voices especially; and there is no other way to do that at first, than to actually sing it.
Ausra: Yes, and when I teach solfége we sing four-part exercises; and the main technique is, you know, that the student comes to the piano; and for example, I’m telling him or her, “Sing me tenor”--it means that he or she will sing the tenor line, and will play the other three parts together.
Vidas: Aha, so tenor will be silent.
Ausra: Yes, tenor will be silent--from the keyboard; but he or she will sing it. That’s an excellent technique, it develops your ear very well.
Vidas: How do your students react to this at first? Is it frustrating for them?
Ausra: Yes, it is frustrating for them. Not so much for choir conductors; but for other majors, yes. And everybody wants to sing the soprano line, but I never ask to sing the soprano line, because that’s the easiest part! And basses, not so bad; but alto and tenor are the hardest voices to sing. But they are very useful for your ear training.
Vidas: But they don’t start with four-part textures, do they?
Ausra: Yes, if it’s hard for you to do that, you have probably to just take a bicinium. I mean, two voices--a two-voice piece. Play one, and sing another one.
Vidas: I would even think that Vince should start with a single part, a single voice. Just imagine it’s a counterpoint exercise, just like organ playing; so ear training is sort of also an art, and a skill you should develop equally well over time. And with organ, you could start with one single line. So why don’t you start with one single line when you sing those melodies?
Vidas: From your own piece. Or a hymn. You don’t need to actually get a special ear training book for that.
Ausra: Well, a hymnal is an excellent source of things--you can do exercises from any of the hymns.
Vidas: Yeah, absolutely. The voices are sort of independent, but not too independent.
Ausra: You can take, for example, a four-part hymn, and just omit the middle voice, tenor or alto, and do soprano and bass. If it’s very hard for you, just play bass and try to sing soprano (melody), which is well-known to you; and then, you know, play soprano and sing bass. And then maybe,you know, later, when you feel comfortable with those two voices, you will add two more voices. But it will take time; these things take time, but it’s worth doing it.
Vidas: I have just had an idea now, like lightning struck into my mind, that a similar course designed specifically for organists who play hymns to develop their ear training, would be excellent and very, very helpful, right? If we could devise such a training program, then over time, people could really develop a much better sense of pitch, discovering their mistakes, expanding their abilities to understand the pieces that they’re playing, right?
Ausra: Yes. Because if you can sing correctly, I don’t think it will be a problem for you to hear if you are playing it correctly or not.
Vidas: Mhmm. Right now, as we’re recording this, I only had prepared a melodic dictation course, basically for one melodic line. And that’s not enough, right? You have to actively sing, learn to sing those melodies--and in combination of melodies up to four parts, over time. Right?
Vidas: So guys, maybe we will try to figure something out and systematically develop such a training, so that you could simply jump in and get started with the materials; and over time, develop your sense of pitch--just like we would teach our students at school, National Čiurlionis Arts School in Vilnius, which is extremely well-equipped with theory, with music, harmony training...and things like that, for musicians. Please let us know if such a course would be helpful to you or not.
Wonderful! 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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