Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 227 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by David, and before that, I asked him what challenges is he facing when preparing for a wedding. And he wrote:
Fortunately, I have 5 years to practice for this. My biggest hurdle was actually covered in one of your recent podcasts where Jan was mentioning she might be practicing to quickly the speed of the piece. I have the same problem as I want to capture the artistic interpretation immediately, but am starting to realize it's more important to get the correct fingering and pedaling down first and perfect that and then focus on interpretation.
V: So Ausra, practicing the piece too fast—is this a common problem for organists?
A: Yes, it’s a very common problem, especially for beginners.
V: And even not for beginners. I think a lot of people sort of want to get the general feeling of the piece too fast and too quickly.
A: But you know what I mean when I’m telling that about beginners, because people who practice organ for more years, we know the trouble that causes that fast practice at the beginning. And simply, we don’t want to experience it again. Don’t you think so?
V: It makes sense. What you mean, probably, is when you slow down considerably, you have to postpone the sense of gratification.
A: That’s true.
V: Because you have to be extremely patient.
A: True, and you know, I think all experienced organists have had this thing when we learn a piece very fast and we learn something not correct. Maybe a fingering wasn’t right or something, or text wasn’t correct.
V: What about you, Ausra, are you a patient person?
A: Well, not really.
V: So, do you practice your pieces too fast?
A: Well, I think this is the only one case in life when I try to be patient and to learn in the slow tempo first, because the pain of undergoing, undertaking the piece and relearning it is much worse than practicing the piece in a slow tempo first.
V: You know what I think is that I think you have experienced the moment of perfection when playing a nicely prepared piece without mistakes in front of the public, and you feel good about this feeling. So then you remember this feeling, how you felt in front of other people when playing at the high level. So, if you want to rush and play too fast right at the beginning, then you remind yourself, too, that if you do this now, you will not be able to prepare that piece at the high level.
A: Yes, that’s one of the reasons. Another, if you play in the fast tempo right at the beginning, you will not notice many wonderful things in that piece. You will not notice compositional techniques, all those subtleties that the learned musician has to understand and to notice.
V: It’s like if you play the piece too fast when practicing, then you’re constantly on the edge—your nerves are tensed, you’re stressed actually, right?
V: You never know if you make a mistake or not. You’re basically shaking. It’s like driving a car at too fast a speed.
A: That’s right. Because you know, it’s really a very good comparison with this, about the car.
V: Thank you.
A: Because you know, if you will drive a car too fast, maybe everything will be fine. Yes. If you are lucky. But, think about some unexpected things that might happen. Your tire might explode, you know, or somebody might run in the way right in front of your car, and then you will be toast.
V: Like a hedgehog, right?
A: Yes or a person, too, or a bicycle or something.
V: A piglet.
A: Yes. I doubt a pig would cross my road, but hedgehogs, yes! And in the evening we have those a lot.
V: Plus, if you drive too fast, you will never experience the beauty of the scenery.
A: True. And I think the same with learning a new piece of music. So, and then you will be able, you can play it fast, but not in the beginning.
V: What would you say to people who are criticizing a little bit this kind of approach and say, “Ok, if I play too slow all the time, considerably slower than I just want, and practice at the tempo which I could control, how on earth could I play fast in the concert tempo later on?”
A: Well, for me it was never a problem to play fast. The problem was to play slow, actually. Because, when you are learning a new piece, you know if you are doing everything step by step in sort of a correct way, or you know put your mind in what you are doing, too, not only your fingers,
A: Mindfully, yes, that’s right, that’s a very good word. Mindfully. Then, you know, that speed will come up. You will not even notice that you finally will be playing at the concert tempo.
V: Because you will be ready.
A: Sure. But if you will play at too fast a tempo when you are not ready yet, you will constantly make mistakes and you will play sloppy, probably.
V: I think it depends a lot on muscle memory, too. When you play very slowly, your muscles get developed better. Do you remember working out at the gym in our classes? They always do slow exercises, not fast moving exercises, because to move slower is much harder.
A: That’s true, yes.
V: Right? So if you do this with organ, you play it at the slow speed, and little by little your finger and your mind starts to think that this is the normal speed—it’s not too fast for you, so they will gradually pick up the tempo actually. You’ll want to play a little bit faster then, and still be in control and still can understand and appreciate the beauty of the details, right? In a few weeks you will speed up the tempo even a little bit more, when you’re ready. Right?
V: And that’s how you pick up the tempo up to the concert speed. By practicing at your tempo which is under your control.
A: That’s right.
V: Very naturally. Ausra, are there any exceptions for this, where you have to do some extra work to get up to speed?
A: Well, yes. There might be some spots where you have to exercise more, to practice more.
V: And isolate those, right?
A: Isolate those
V: Isolate those spots and first play them extremely slowly!
V: Maybe even not all voices together—in combinations and solo parts. What else? Maybe you could make it like an exercise. Transpose half steps or whole steps upwards and downwards through the entire range of the keyboard, right? And once you do that up and down, up and down, you will learn this fragment—this maybe measure or two. What do you think about it?
A: Yes. Yes, I think this might be helpful. Although, I’m not sure about the fingering. Because you might not be able to apply the same fingering while surfing through differing keys.
V: You’re right. But also, think about Hanon exercise; It’s written all in C major. But, in the preface, Charles-Louis Hanon writes that he recommends transposing, for example, to C# major, and playing it with the same fingering.
A: Well, it makes some sense, because if you practice always only in C major, then you will become very good only in C major. And all the accidentals will definitely kill you.
V: Yeah, but you will keep the same fingering in C# major as well.
A: But that’s a very bizarre way, you know, I see his point, but it does not always work in real pieces.
V: It’s like forcing your fingers to do what they are not meant to do. It’s very good for maybe very chromatic music and modern music to do this from time to time, just to see if it’s possible.
A: Yes, but you know if you have a very thick texture, oh my gosh, what kind of bizarre things with your fingering you’d do!
V: Mhm. I think people who cannot play up to speed are not ready for it, right? They’d have to choose easier pieces!
A: Could be, and I think the Hanon exercises would be very beneficial for those performers to improve these skills, to strengthen their finger muscles.
V: You’re right. And also, people who criticize slow speed practice I think have never mastered this piece in this way before. I think they think they would wish to try it, but they find some reason not to do it. And before they even try it, or before they mastered it, maybe the did it for a page or two, and it felt really hard, and then they complained… but if they persevere and do it from the beginning until the end for several weeks or even months, they will start noticing benefits.
A: Yes. I’m positive about it.
V: Excellent. Thank you guys for these wonderful questions. We love helping you grow and we need more of them, actually. Please send them today. And your questions can be about what you’re currently struggling with organ playing. Just think about what you are playing right now, and what would you like to achieve in three to six months with that piece or with organ playing in general, and what specifically stops you from achieving that—why are you not at this level yet? So write to us, and we will be glad to answer your questions on the podcast.
A: Yes. We are waiting for it… looking forward to it.
V: So, do it now, we are still waiting. Have you done it yet? Not yet? Maybe now! Ok...Thank you 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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