For some people Articulate Legato touch (the articulation we generally use for music composed before the 1800s) is a little difficult to understand and even more difficult to apply (I fall into this category of people when I first started playing the organ).
In order to facilitate the appreciation and application of this concept, I recorded a short video with actual demonstration of this type of articulation on my organ. I hope you will find it useful.
Organists who are conscious of historically informed performance practice know that the early music composed before about 1800 should generally be performed using the touch called articulate legato or Ordinary Touch as it was often called back in those days. Of course, some compositions have special legato signs and we must pay attention to them if they are original.
However, if you are following this articulate legato principle honestly in every voice (even in the middle parts), then there is an inherent danger to go with articulation too far. One of the possible pitfalls is to play everything too detached which can make you pieces sound too choppy or even comical.
Another danger is playing with some good articulation but articulating too much at the end of musical figure (a triplet or a group of sixteenths etc). This kind of playing prevents your music from natural flow. It seems like you are hesitating because of lack of practice when, in fact you might know the piece fairly well to play it fluently.
But this very pronounced articulation makes your musical line stop and the general feeling non musician listener would have is a sense of boredom. So what you can do about it?
I believe this is not so difficult to fix because all you need to do it pretend you are playing legato but using one finger only. In fact, you can even check a specific spot in your music while playing with one finger but aim the musical line to sound as legato as possible. Then attempt to recreate the same articulation using your normal fingering.
Bach would call it cantabile manner of playing. Cantabile means singing or singable style. Actually try to really sing along when you are practicing your piece. "Sing each line", my professor Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra used to say.
Of course, don't play some of the notes legato and some with articulation. Be very systematic. Also don't make the last note of the group of notes too short because it will create a larger break which in turn prevent your playing to have a natural sense of flow and direction.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
One of the most important aspects of stylistically correct performance of Prelude and Fugue in B flat Major, BWV 560 is articulation. It is precisely articulation which makes the playing of this piece sound in style as it was intended in Bach's times. In order to achieve that you should use a special kind of touch plus many other nuances of the right articulation. In this article, I will give you 7 tips in playing this prelude and fugue with the correct articulation.
1) Articulate legato. Since it is a piece written in the Baroque period, the basic articulation is articulate legato. The original term for this type of articulation used in the 17th and 18th centuries was the Ordinary Touch.
2) Small spaces. This touch means that you should leave small spaces between each note unless indicated otherwise by the composer. Since there are no special articulation indications in the original score, the notes should be detached.
3) Cantabile manner. Try to achieve the singing or the cantabile manner of playing. This term was used by Bach himself. For the best results try to play some passages from this piece using one finger only but as connected as possible. Then try to re-create the same articulation using the normal fingering.
4) Not too detached. Do not make the music sound too choppy. The best articulation will be if the listeners can't perceive the articulation but all the notes are clearly audible.
5) Strong beats. Try to emphasize the strong beats in each measure. This is possible to achieve in one of the 3 ways: 1) by making the weak beats a little shorter, 2) by making the downbeats longer, and 3) by coming in later on some more important downbeats, such as in cadences.
6) Inner voices. Articulate the inner voices in the fugue. While it is relatively easy to achieve the desired articulation for the outer voices (soprano and bass), the middle voices (alto and tenor) require your special attention. Therefore, it is very useful to practice the inner voices alone and in combinations with other voices.
7) Acoustics. The correct articulation also depends on the acoustics of the space. For example, if you are practicing at home, the spaces between the notes should be much less audible than in a vast acoustics of the cathedral or a church. The articulation in the concert hall should be somewhere in between the other two extremes. As you can see, the organist has to be prepared to adjust the articulation to the acoustics.
Use these tips in your practice of this piece today. If you are precise in executing every detail, you will be surprised how natural and stylistically correct your organ playing will become.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my FREE Organ Practice Guide.
Or if you really want to learn to play any organ composition at sight fluently and without mistakes while working only 15 minutes a day, check out my systematic master course in Organ Sight-Reading.
Although there are many technical elements in organ playing, one of the most important and noticeable is articulation. It is precisely articulation which might be the decisive factor about the overall level of the organist. It is such a vital aspect of organ playing because it can help to achieve precision and clarity in your performance. Therefore knowing what kind of articulation to use in any specific organ piece is indispensable skill any organist must strive to achieve. One particular type of articulation, the Ordinary Touch, is commonly used in certain organ music. Today I would like to explain what it is and when you should use it.
Articulate Legato in Early Music
If you play music which was composed before 1800s, the general traditional touch is articulated legato. Writers of the Baroque period used a term “Ordinary Touch” to describe such an articulation. As a general rule of thumb you might think of articulated legato as having small distances between the notes. It is not non legato because the spaces between the notes are very delicate which does not make the music sound choppy. Actually, this playing manner is quite vocal and Bach refers to it as “Cantabile”.
The authors of the Baroque period called this touch “Ordinary” because it was widely accepted and there was no need to indicate it in the music score. For this very reason you will rarely see any articulation markings in early music. But you should not assume that although the score is clean, you should play everything legato, which some organist still do even nowadays. The habit of playing legato comes from our background of piano playing. Actually, people who have experience with articulated legato touch use it for playing early music even on the piano.
This touch has many similarities to the tonguing of wind instruments and bowing of the strings. For example, when a violinist uses up and down strokes of the bow we barely hear the articulation. Nevertheless, we can clearly hear that the notes are not slurred. The same is with articulate legato on the organ. Although there are small distances between the notes, we may not even be aware of them unless we pay attention. The ordinary touch can easily be tested by playing a scale with only one finger but as connected as possible. Then try to copy the same sound with the usual fingering.
Emphasize the Meter
Although the ordinary touch is very important for early music, you need something more to make the music come alive. You need to emphasize the meter and the strong and week beats of the measure. Because the organ pipes cannot sound louder or softer depending on the level of strength that you are using with your hands, there are three primary ways to make accents in organ playing. First, you can make the strong beat longer which will have the impression of accent on the listener. Second, you can make the weak beat shorter which will have the opposite effect. Finally, you can come in a little late on the strong beat which will make it even more accented.
As you can see, not all the notes have the same length in early music. Some notes are longer or shorter than the others depending on the beat of the measure. In syncopation, the weak beat becomes accented. Therefore, make the weak beat longer and the downbeat shorter.
If you are interested in articulation and other issues of performance practice, an invaluable resource is "Performing Baroque Music" by Mary Cyr which I highly recommend.
By the way, do you want to learn to play the King of Instruments - the pipe organ? If so, download my FREE video guide: "How to Master Any Organ Composition" in which I will show you my EXACT steps, techniques, and methods that I use to practice, learn and master any piece of organ music.
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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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