AVA186: I get stuck when playing organ which I think is due to lack of finger movements/accuracy and speed
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 186 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. Today's question was sent by Patrick. He writes:
I hope you're doing fine. Please, I am requesting to be helped with the PDF files for the "fingering substitution" and "sequences" exercises. Because, sometimes I get stuck when playing organ. And I think it is due to lack of finger movements/accuracy and speed.
V: Do you think Ausra that finger accuracy and speed is important when you play the organ?
A: I think that accuracy is more important than speed because you know if you are playing accurately then speed will come.
V: Right. Because when you are playing fast and not ready for that fast movement you are making mistakes and being inaccurate.
A: That's right and I think this might perhaps you know when Patrick practices. At least that’s the impression I got after reading his question.
V: Exactly. I think it’s so important to play the organ slowly enough for long enough. Right? Lots of people don’t have the patience to play, you know, very very slow for a long period of time. For example right now we are playing in a few days Bach’s birthday recital. I’ll be practicing this week Bach’s Passacaglia and three of his organ preludes from the Clavierubung Part III. Kyrie, Christe, and Kyrie. And last week when we practiced with Ausra at the church I played everything at a concert tempo with some mistakes. And now since I know all the spots where I make mistakes my goal for this week is to play extremely slow. Is this a right strategy Ausra?
A: Yes, I think so, yes.
V: You said yourself that you will not be playing fast this week.
A: That’s right.
V: So Patrick is kind of getting stuck with accuracy and speed. But it’s not necessarily because of fingering substitution and sequence exercises, right? You can play literally anything you want on the organ as long as you are hitting the right notes.
A: That’s right and that technique such as fingering substitution requires especially good technique and it means that you know you need to learn that piece slowly first. But you know all those fingering substitutions which come up naturally.
V: By sequences do think that he means those four-part chordal progressions which go upwards in ascending motion or descending motion.
A: I’m not sure about this part of the question because he you know talks about PDF files and I think my sequences are on YouTube and not on the PDF.
V: So maybe he means something else. But playing sequences is part of the curriculum at school right? Where we teach.
V: For harmony. And this is not only good for understanding chordal harmony but probably good for keyboard technique as well.
A: Yes and for improvisation and in general for you know for playing repertoire. Because I notice that sometimes you know when my concentration you know disappears during recital for example and I’m at a place of cadence I can just play it.
V: A cadence.
A: Yes, a cadence.
V: Or a sequence.
A: A cadence, a sequence and all those you know theoretical things.
V: You know I think a few years ago I was substituting for a few weeks in a row for our friend Paulius at his church, he was still playing at the Holy Cross Church here in Vilnius and he was away for vacation and he asked me to substitute I think in Lent. And since I agreed I thought how I could best use the situation to my advantage and what I did I played Prelude, Offertory, Communion, and Postlude as improvisation but in the form of versets and those versets basically were just longer forms of modulations and sequences and cadences that were playing at school. Does this sound like beneficial Ausra?
A: Yes, it sounds beneficial. And another thing you know that I laugh at some beginners you know don’t have good muscle technique in fingers.
V: Finger independence.
A: Yes. So and that’s because the muscles are just too weak.
V: I know how to fix this.
A: And I think this might be a problem why you know you can not do sequences and playing the fast tempo accurate.
V: I know what to do. Patrick and other people could benefit from this too.
A: Because so many people come to the organ after playing piano first. And you know piano it’s much easier for fingers to play on the piano because sort of the touch is softer and you have that nice sostenuto pedal which can you know sort of cover up all your you know mistakes and makes things easier.
V: And organ doesn’t forget this.
A: Yes, organ doesn’t forget it.
V: And doesn’t forgive.
A: That’s right. Because on the organ if you have to play legato you have to use you know your fingers. If you need to articulate you have to use your fingers. You have no sostenuto pedal whatsoever. So you have to have you know finger independence and you know good good muscles.
V: As I said, I know how to fix this. Would you like to hear the solution?
A: Sure, of course. And I know you are eager to tell it.
V: Like you know the famous answer from “Pride and Prejudice.”
V: Tell us.
A: (laughs.) “You want to tell me and I have no objections to hearing it.” That’s what Mr. Bennett told to his wife when she was gossipping.
V: OK. Then you will be Mr. Bennett and I will be your wife.
A: Yes. Excellent.
V: So, solution, according to Mr. Bennet’s wife or Mr. Bennet who I am now. So everybody knows the benefit of playing Bach’s inventions right? They are pedagogical little gems but not only pedagogical they are beautiful little miniatures for two voices. One for the right hand, another for the left hand. And you know in our youth you know we have played maybe a few of them, 1,2,3, until our teacher said “That’s OK, were going on to the next collection, maybe three part sinfonias now.” Right? Because in our classroom curriculum there is no time to play everything. But believe me when Bach wrote this collection for his son Wilhelm Friedemann I can guarantee that Wilhelm Friedemann played all fifteen of them. Do you believe this Ausra?
A: Yes, I believe it.
V: So, if you want to be at least as good as Wilhelm Friedemann and maybe even better, play those fifteen two-part inventions by Bach diligently at least for a few months and then decide if your technique is improving or not because each hand has its own beautiful melody. It’s like a two-part fugue basically, but not quite. Less complicated. But you will thank yourself for this later. Right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: All of them. But not in the order that you know in the modern collections but in the order that they were written first. And the order was different. It was written in a different setting of keys; C Major, D Minor, E Minor, F Major, G Major, A Minor, B Minor, B-flat Major, A Major, G Minor, F Minor, E Major, E-flat Major, D Major, and C Minor. Imagine that. The second invention that we now have in the modern editions is C Minor but it is the most difficult invention from all collections. So people who learn C Major first and then jump to C Minor get frustrated right away. It’s almost like a canon - very advanced melodic line and I recommend leaving it for the last.
A: Yes and if you want to see original there is a facsimile edition of you know Bach’s inventions and you can find the original order in that collection.
V: What you do Ausra if you have mastered, even memorized all those fifteen inventions. What would you play next?
A: Then I would play three-part sinfonias.
V: I knew that. We are very similar.
A: And, you know at school we called them inventions as well. I don’t know why. That was the case at least at my school.
V: Because they are from the similar collections, right? Fifteen, fifteen. And the order of original ordering of keys is the same. Not C Major, C Minor, but C Major, D Minor. Right? That was original ordering that Bach wrote for his son, Wilhelm Friedemann. So then afterwards, after those two-part inventions, study three-part sinfonias. And afterwards check your technique. You will not believe what you have achieved at that time. So maybe it will take you I don’t know a year or two to do this but since you have a lifetime of education and improvement there is no rush.
A: And actually this collection is equally good for piano and for organ. Because for example Well Tempered Clavier, I would not suggest to play it on the organ. But but inventions sounds well on the organ.
V: Yeah, because each voice is so obligato and cantabile manner so you could even sing. Oh, you could improve your perfect pitch also, you could sing each line as we sometimes suggest and play the rest. That would be extremely beneficial. Of course, this is not for the weak of will.
V: But we teach the best. Thanks guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember when you practice…
A: 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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