AVA242: I love playing the organ but I never learned how to finger a piece so as to learn it well
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 242 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by David. He writes:
Hello Dr Vidas
I love playing the organ but I never learned how to finger a piece so as to learn it well. I lack confidence in fingering and get frustrated. Will your online course help me?
I am learning Bach’s Jesus Joy of Man’s Desiring which I received from your website.
The other piece is by Alexander Guilmant---Offertoire from 18 Pieces Nouvelles op 90.
So Ausra, how can a person learn to make fingerings efficient in their organ pieces? Is there a shortcut to this?
A: Well...yes and no, because there are some rules that you need to apply when playing early music and fingering early music; and you know, it’s different if you are playing modern music, or Romantic music. So what do you think about it?
V: I think studying other people playing helps a lot--for example, whenever I record a video in slow tempo practicing any organ piece that I want to later create fingering and pedaling for and then send it to our team. I remember somebody commented that it helps not only for them to copy what I’m doing, but they also get a general idea about the principles, especially if that piece is familiar to them; and they also sort of grow in understanding how to create their own fingering, when they transcribe my video.
A: Yeah, it’s true. Because I would say that you have to get a few pieces that are fingered by a master; and then, while playing/learning/studying those pieces, you will see--you will adjust to those patterns; and you can take them and use them in another piece.
A: Because after a while, you will see that some of the motives, some of the passages repeat themselves. And you will develop a sort of right habit of fingering correctly.
V: Were you always good at fingering organ pieces?
A: No! Definitely not! Because when I started to play organ, I had no idea what early fingering is.
V: I remember when Professor Leopoldas Digrys at the Lithuanian Academy of Music asked me to create fingering for my own piece that I was playing--it might’ve been some Bach prelude and fugue. But I didn’t know how to do it, and I actually didn’t bother to learn. And I thought, “Why do I need this, if I can pretend that I’m playing with the right fingering, and then sooner or later my fingers will pick up the right combinations?” What’re you thinking about that?
A: Well, I just think that our muscles have memory, too.
A: And it’s very harmful to play the same page, let’s say, of music, in a different fingering each time, because it will slow down your progress. But if you will play it a few times in the same fingering, it will make things easier, because your muscle memory will work. And while talking about the beginning of my organ studies--I remember I took one of the pieces (I think it was Fanfare) to America, and I remember when Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra looked at that score, and she asked, “Who wrote that fingering and pedaling?” and I told her that, “Oh, it’s my professor from Lithuania” (I won’t mention his name!), she just told me that it’s “better to just throw that score away! It’s really bad!”
V: Why? Because Fanfare was a Baroque piece, right?
A: True, but all the fingering was like in Romantic time
V: And pedaling too.
A: And pedaling, too. Lots of heels--that’s not suited to Baroque music, and you know, lots of using thumb on the black keys.
V: I think it’s a good time now to mention a few principles that David could use in fingering and pedaling his own pieces. For example, if he is trying to create fingering and pedaling for an Alexandre Guilmant piece--Offertoire, right? What are the things that he could use?
A: Well, you could use--of course, you need to play legato, pieces like this, unless there are indications not to do it. So you can use the heel in the pedal, in order to make the pedal lines move; and also you can use finger substitution…
V: Finger glissandos?
A: Finger glissandos, and you know, you can put your thumb…
A: Under, and things like this.
V: But finger substitutions--just like feet substitutions, like toe-heel substitutions--are never to be used in all places, right? They probably have their own instances and rules. Do you need finger substitutions when you have just one voice?
A: I don’t think so.
V: I don’t think so, either. Everything could be played legato by using 5 fingers, if you have just 1 voice.
A: But generally when I’m talking about finger substitution, I keep in mind a thicker texture.
A: That’s when you really need to use it.
V: Do you really need to play all parts legato?
A: Well...sometimes it’s impossible. Then it’s very important that your upper voice would be played legato.
V: And the bass voice, too.
A: True. But that’s the pedal. So now I’m talking about the manual part; because if you keep your soprano playing legato, you can create the illusion that you’re playing everything legato. That’s how things work on the organ.
V: Right. So, what about early music? What are some things that he could use?
A: Well you know, when you play early music, you need to think about your hand position, and about, you know...position fingering.
V: What does this mean?
A: Well, it means that for example, if you need to reach wider--if you have a wider leap, you will not be able to play it legato; you just have to move your entire arm to that new note.
V: Slide from one note to another.
A: Yes. And of course, you need to use articulate legato, so you need to use fingering that will help you to achieve it. Because if you will use modern fingering while playing Baroque music, you could still do that, I guess, but it would be much harder to achieve the right touch.
V: Because you have to think about it.
V: With early fingering, you don’t have to think about it.
A: True. And paired fingering is especially good. It works well. And of course, no [heel] in the pedal part.
V: And try to avoid using the thumb and the little finger in hands. Play with the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fingers as much as possible, unless there are some thicker passages and keys with more than 1 accidental.
A: That’s right.
V: Okay guys. We hope this was useful to you. Go ahead and write some fingerings in your organ pieces, and don’t worry if you make a mistake or two you can always correct it later--adjust, right? Because we don’t always get it right at the first try.
A: That’s right.
V: Or the tenth try.
V: Okay. And please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. 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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