Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 610 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Joanna, and she writes:
“Dear Vidas, can finger substitutions be used in slow baroque music, such as Kyrie by Cabezon? Or is it best to stick to articulated fingering even in relatively slow passages?”
V: What do you think, Ausra?
A: I don’t think you need finger substitutions when playing the music mentioned before. You know, either it’s slow or it’s fast, it doesn’t matter. Baroque is Baroque.
V: Well, sometimes Baroque music is really advanced, right, and very thick texture. And then you might end up needing finger substitutions in advanced keys with more than three sharps or flats. Right?
A: But still, as I understand finger substitution is mostly used for laying legato, which is needed to play Romantic and Modern music. And because in Baroque music you very rarely play legato, in exceptional cases, therefore there is no need for finger substitutions. That’s my opinion.
V: I agree. The composer has to explicitly state that the piece has to be performed, or parts of the piece have to be performed, legato, and not the editor, but the composer. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, because if you would look at 19th century or beginning of 20th century editions of Baroque music, you would find legato everywhere. But it doesn’t mean that you need to use those editions.
V: Yes. So Joanna mentions a piece by Cabezón, Antonio Cabezón, a Renaissance Spanish composer, and his music is quite polyphonic in nature, a little bit similar to Sweelinck’s, I believe. Right?
A: Yes, but still, I don’t believe his music should be played legato.
V: Yeah, definitely, because he doesn’t use... any advanced piece in those days, the temperament was obviously mean tone, and mean tone temperament accommodated only simple keys with no more than two accidentals, probably. Three would be a stretch. But two sharps and flats might be appropriate. Two flats are more commonly seen than two sharps. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: So, yeah. I would also avoid finger substitution here as well. If this Kyrie, for example, has four parts, right, for example, what’s the best way, Ausra, to discover the ideal articulation? How do you know that you are articulating correctly?
A: Well, first of all I look at the meter, because, well, in order to understand early music, you need to look at the meter and then to decide how many strong beats per measure there are, and then that also helps me to articulate.
V: And obviously this articulation helps you in choosing fingering as well!
A: Yes, that’s right! Because usually, you try to use good fingers on the strong beats and not-good fingers on the weak beats.
V: What do you mean “good fingers?” Are there any bad fingers? Can you cut them off then if they are bad?
A: No, but look at all those angels playing Portatives, or Saint Cicilia playing the organ. Have you noticed how unnatural their fingers look? Because they use paired fingering very often.
V: Meaning that they played with the longest fingers only. Right? 2 and 3 and 4 but not 1 and 5.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: That’s absolutely correct, Ausra. I’m glad that Joanna mentioned this, because we can now take a look a little bit deeply at the issue of fingering, because it’s related to finger substitutions, and it’s related to articulation. Right? You said that this legato touch requires sometimes finger substitutions if the texture is very thick. Right?
A: Yes, very often, actually, it requires finger substitutions, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do that. And you even have to slide with one finger to play legato.
V: Exactly. From a white key to another white key, or from a black key to another white key.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Finger glissandos, it’s called.
A: Yes, finger glissandos.
V: But this is for later music. And for earlier music, we use detached articulation, which doesn’t require finger substitution, even in thick passages.
A: That’s right! You know, people often forget that they are playing early music, and they still paint the shape with the wrists, which is also not the correct way, probably, while doing that. They forget to shift the entire hand!
V: To move one hand from one position to another.
A: Yes! Yes, that’s right.
V: It’s the same with pedaling, too! We don’t use that feet crossing. We shift both feet together.
A: Yes, if we can, we do. If not, then not!
V: Ausra is not so convinced about this principle, I see from her expression.
A: Well, I don’t know where you have found that holding feet together. I think holding feet together works for later music; for modern music. In Baroque music, you don’t pedal like that, keeping both feet together and ankles together as you like, because when you are pedaling the Baroque music, this is very important to feel the weight of your leg and to put the weight actually on your hip.
V: I’m not referring to Baroque music in general. I’m probably thinking about specific passages where the pedal line forms a scale like passage step-wise motion, and you inevitably have to play with alternate toe pedaling: left-right-left-right or right-left-right-left. And what you see happens, I see people sometimes cross one foot behind another. That’s what I’m trying to avoid in these passages. Not in general, but if you then shift both feet together, then you don’t cross them. Does it make sense, Ausra?
A: Well, I’m not thinking about that, but I have never crossed my legs while playing Bach’s music.
V: I will have to look at the pedal camera when you record videos on YouTube!
A: Okay, do that!
V: Shall we look together with you on the big screen?
A: Maybe not!
A: You are not my teacher, you know?
V: No, I am not?
V: Then who’s your teacher?
A: I don’t have any right now! I am teaching myself.
A: Yes, that’s right!
V: Me, too! Can you be my teacher then?
V: Why not?
A: I think you’re already clever enough to manage on your own.
V: It’s good to have a teacher and listen to your teacher, and your teacher tells you what to do. You just follow directions and you continue progressing. Right?
A: Yes, but sometime you still finish your studies and you have to move on your own.
V: I don’t want to finish my studies. I want to be a student all…
A: It would cost you a lot. Tuitions are expensive!
V: Tuition. Yeah. I will take a second mortgage.
V: So yeah. Joanna, it’s the first question that someone asked about Cabezón. Somehow, people don’t play Cabezón’s that often.
A: Yes, that’s right. He’s not so popular comparing to, let’s say, Bach. But I think his music is worth playing because it’s so polyphonic and so complex.
V: And Cabezón was one of the first Spanish composers that came to prominence. The first really well known organ composers, probably the earliest one. And nowadays, his edition is readily available online, and people could start playing his variations. It’s called “Diferencias.”
A: Yes, that’s right. Although I don’t think I would play Cabezón on a modern instrument. Don’t you think so, too?
V: Yes, it doesn’t make sense, because if the tuning is modern, like equal temperament, it doesn’t make sense. The colors are not there. But we have a Hauptwerk sample from Spain, I think a “de Palma” model, which we might download sometime and start using it. Would you like to try Cabezón on that?
A: Yes, I think it would be interesting to try it.
V: And later Spanish music, 17th century as well. Francisco Correa de Arauxo, Aguilera de Heredia (I don’t think I’m pronouncing their names correctly, but…) Pablo Bruno was my favorite. They created Tientos, Versets, things like that. And there are a lot of little gems to be found in those relatively little-played masterworks.
A: That’s right.
V: Okay guys, thank you Joanna for this question. Thank you everyone who is submitting questions, please do that more often. We like helping you grow! And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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Vidas: Let’s start Episode 133 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And this question was sent by Bruce. He has a challenge with finger substitution to improve line. He writes:
As a pianist, I'm rather used to the sostenuto pedal, to the extent that I probably overuse it and it can be a bit of a crutch. Nothing like this pedal on the organ, of course, so I expect it's all about finger substitution, learning how to do this in a natural way. I expect there are exercises for me to pursue, and could use recommendations and support on this.
On my own, for starters, I have been looking at BWV 639, as you and Ausra suggested in podcast #85. I am looking forward to looking at Ausra's analysis of this piece.
I am also working on BWV 578 (g minor fugue) and BWV 659 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland). And I have fooled around with Contrapunctus 1 from the Art of the Fugue a bit. And sight-reading some of the easier pieces from the Orgelbuchlein, without being too hard on myself over my current pathetic pedal ability.
In the short term, it would be nice to see your first week of pedal work (from your pedal virtuoso master course) - or something you think would be more appropriate for a novice - and to download your fingerings for 578 and 659, and to look at Ausra's analysis of 639.
Thanks again, and I'm eager to get started, in earnest, after the beginning of the new year. And look at the above items while I am able during December. Thanks!
So basically, Ausra, he struggles to play legato lines, right? And he feels that he needs to learn to apply finger substitution, because unlike on the piano, organ doesn’t have sostenuto pedals. You have to do legato simply by applying fingers. Is it right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s what I understood from his question. But actually, also, there is another side of this question; because the pieces, actual pieces that he mentioned in his question were all Bach pieces--all pieces written by Bach. So I don’t see how the first half of the question is related to his repertoire. Because I don’t know about you, but I never substitute fingers while playing Bach, because the technique when you use finger substitution is required for later music.
Vidas: You don’t play legato--Bach?
Ausra: No, you don’t play Bach legato. So you don’t have to use fingers substitution, because you play articulate legato, or quasi-legato, or non-legato. And you have to detach each note--not to play staccato, of course, but to detach each note, so you don’t have to substitute it.
Vidas: I don’t know if Marcel Dupré would agree with you.
Ausra: Well, it’s how things are nowadays. And it’s based on playing on historical instruments. So basically, what I would suggest for Bruce is to improve his finger technique in general; because I have seen many piano majors who cannot play well on the organ because they don’t have fingers muscles developed enough. And that’s because of overusing the sostenuto pedal. So even while playing piano, I would suggest for him to take some Scarlatti sonatas, and to play them without any pedal.
Vidas: It would sound like harpsichord.
Ausra: Yes, yes. Then it would improve his muscles. Then it would be easier for him to play on the organ. But definitely, when playing Bach or any other early music, don’t play legato; don’t use finger substitution.
Vidas: I agree, too. I kind of tend to articulate perhaps even too much, and whenever I write down fingerings in my pieces, or for other people in early music, I tend to use the system which allows them to play with correct fingerings and correct articulation without even thinking about it. Let’s say, in one hand, you have a line of ascending parallel intervals, like parallel thirds or parallel sixths--that would be often the case, right Ausra?
Vidas: So, a lot of people try to play one three two four, one three two four, one three two four, or one four two five, for the six. It’s very inconvenient, and sometimes even use fingers substitution. But it’s not necessary, because parallel intervals--the rule is that they normally are played with the same fingering. And then you don’t have to think about articulate legato.
Ausra: Well, unless there is like a special sigh motif, that is often used in Baroque music: then you have slurs where you have two notes attached--
Ausra: Then you would play with that kind of fingering; but not so many cases, you know...
Vidas: There are always exceptions, right? Composers sometimes notate their own articulation, like legato, because it’s an exception to the rule of ordinary touch--that’s what they called it back in the day. And if a composer wanted smooth legato, they would notate a slur.
Ausra: Yes. And you never should forget that organ is actually a wind instrument first of all. And while playing polyphonic music--and all music by J. S. Bach is basically polyphonic music--it just sounds bad when you’re playing it legato. Pipes don’t speak in that way. So, and even if you practiced on the piano in that way or on the electric organ, you still should keep in mind that your final goal is to play a pipe organ.
Ausra: To perform it on a pipe organ.
Ausra: And to articulate as if you would be playing it on the pipe organ.
Vidas: And don’t use dynamics on the piano, as if in a normal piano composition. Piano, forte, mezzo forte, crescendo and diminuendo--it doesn’t work on the organ, right?
Vidas: The touch should be always kind of a soft mezzo piano, I would think--
Vidas: Without any accents, or too much force.
Ausra: Yes. But of course, if Bruce will pick up some compositions by Romantic composers or later composers, then yes, definitely he will have to learn how to do finger substitutions. And that might be tricky, too, at the beginning, especially when you have thick texture.
Vidas: I agree. And for closing advice, I would think that playing like string instruments--imagining how a violin would play this line--is also helpful.
Vidas: Not only flute, not only oboe, but also string instruments. Imagine there is a single melodic line in the Baroque style; and violins, would they play it like 4 notes legato, with the bow downward, right, or 8th notes downward? Of course not. They would do down, up, down, up, down, up--especially in a faster tempo, if it’s an allegro character--a fast-moving piece. Then, what that means is that at the moment of the bow switching direction, there is an almost imperceptible rest. Right? And that means there is articulation. For us organists, we can also leave a very small, insignificant amount of silence in between the notes, then. That’s how they played it on the wind instruments--by tonguing, and also with string instruments. So keyboard is no different, actually.
Ausra: Yes. You have to listen to some good recordings of for example, Bach cantatas, where you can hear string player playing, or woodwinds playing. That might give you some idea what this style is.
Vidas: Mhm. And for later music, as Ausra says, of course apply finger substitutions, but not too much. I don’t think you ever need to use fingers with finger substitution on a single melodic line.
Ausra: Definitely not, but if you have thick texture, then yes you have…
Vidas: Thick chords, maybe intervals, then maybe yes. We mentioned earlier the thirds would be easier to do: 1-3, 2-4, and here substitute 1-3 again, and then 2-4 to the next interval.
Ausra: And then you can do 3-5, too.
Vidas: 3-5, if it’s convenient, right? The same is for 6ths: 1-4, 2-5, substitute to 1-4 again, and back to 2-5. And vice versa.
Ausra: Yes; and then substituting in later music, you have to learn everything in a slow tempo. That will help you.
Vidas: I think one of the best exercises for Bruce, if he really needs to learn finger substitution, let’s say for later music, is to play scales with double thirds and sixths. Slowly at first, of course, in many keys, in all major and minor keys. This is part of the Hanon pianist virtuoso routine. It’s already in Part III, I believe, so it’s quite advanced technique; but it’s indispensable for later Romantic and 20th century and modern organ music, too. Right?
Vidas: So, do you think that people will find this podcast conversation helpful?
Ausra: I hope so!
Vidas: Excellent. Please, guys, send us your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Watching stork hunting
Is as fun as practicing
Today's question was sent by Ugochukwu. He wants to know about how to practice finger substitution and glissandos.
Listen to our full answer at #AskVidasAndAusra
Please send us your questions. We love helping you grow.
Vidas: Let's start Episode 22 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today's question was sent by Ugochukwu, and he wants to know how to master finger substitution and finger glissando and other nuances of problems in finger technique. This is a very technical question, right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, it is.
Vidas: Is it simple to demonstrate it in words, this type of technicalities?
Ausra: I don't think so. It would be much easier to show it how to do it. It would be much easier to talk about it, if you would have the concrete piece of music.
Vidas: Would you recommend people playing exercises with finger substitution, glissandos, and other technical things, or would you isolate measures in a real musical piece and master them as separate exercises?
Ausra: Actually, you could do both ways, I would say.
Vidas: Do both ways. Because some people really hate exercises, right? Never practice and they simply jump straight to the original organ music compositions, or hymns, or improvisations. Because dry exercises are sometimes not for them. But other people love them.
Vidas: They like those eight measures of repeated fragments going up and down sequentially, and isolated technique, like finger substitution. You go from C to D, from one to two finger, you substitute again to one; and from D to E, you substitute again from two to one; from E to F, substitute two to one, and so forth. They love this. What about you, Ausra? Imagine, if you started from the beginning today, which method would you choose?
Ausra: Well, probably it all depends on concrete technique and exercises, because when I grew up as an organist, we didn't have such books in Lithuania, and nobody taught me that way. So I just had to learn everything from the repertoire. And I remember, my first lesson with George Ritchie when he asked on which technique I was educated in organ practice.
Vidas: Which method, right?
Ausra: Yes, and I told none of it, you know. He just was amazed.
Vidas: You didn't know which methods were available.
Ausra: Yes, at that time, yes. I know already about now, because I had to learn to study it with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra, so I knew already a lot about early technique while playing on the historical instruments and so on. But yes, modern technique was actually a new thing for me. So what about you, Vidas?
Vidas: Like yourself, I started practicing pieces. From the beginning, my first organ piece was chorale prelude from Bach’s Orgelbuchlein. I think it might have been “Jesu, meine Freude”, I think. But that was a very long time ago. And the first exercise I encountered was in America from Ritchie/Stauffer technique book. Or was it Soderlund?
Ausra: Yes, with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra we studied from Sandra Sunderland's book.
Ausra: But that includes, I think, included early technique only. And then in Ritchie/Stauffer's book we found the modern technique.
Vidas: So yeah, if I personally started today, I think, it's helpful to have this controlled environment when you have those exercises alone. Let's say, finger substitution involving many fingers. Not only one to two, but two to three, three to four, four to five.
Vidas: And thumb glissandos, going from black key to the white key or from white key to white key, right? Both hands and separate hands. That is helpful for the beginning, but when you see it done very regularly throughout months, probably it's going to be a little bit boring if you not mix it with real musical pieces.
Ausra: Sure. I think it's best, in a way, to mix it with real music.
Vidas: That's why George Ritchie and George Stauffer always include real musical examples at the end of each chapter.
Ausra: That's a very good book.
Vidas: So that's why, I think, we also recommend, whenever people start to study our Total Organist program, they could take some of the trainings where we offer exercises. But in addition to that, they could supplement them with real music and our scores with complete fingering and pedaling.
Vidas: For manuals and pedals, as well.
Okay guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: We hope this was helpful to you, and please send us your questions. The best way to send your question is probably through email. And the best way to connect with us is, of course, by subscribing to our newsletter by going to www.organduo.lt (if you haven’t done so already) and then entering your email there and you will get our posts as they appear to your inbox. Then you can reply and send us your questions. This would be probably the easiest way for us to find them.
And remember, when you practice ...
Ausra: ... miracles happen.
For many church organists, service playing involves not only performing hymns but also accompanying choir in anthems. One of the main difficulties in playing choral accompaniments on the organ is the legato touch. Although many different kinds of articulation are used in accompanying the choir on the organ, the legato is the most common. Without the proper legato the music might sound too choppy. In this article, I would like to give you some advice on how to achieve legato in playing anthems and choral accompaniments on the organ.
Write in Fingering
Very often people do not play with a good legato because they do not know the best fingering. Because it is harder to use the proper fingering if it is not written in the score, I suggest that you write in your fingering. It is especially important that places which are the most difficult in achieving legato would be fully fingered. Do not hesitate to change the fingering if you find a better solution. However, erase the old markings and write in the new ones as you practice for best results. The same applies for the pedal part, of course.
Finger substitution is generally accepted as the most common means to achieve a perfect legato on the organ. However, it should be used wisely. For example, most often there is no need to apply finger substitution in a one voice passage because the legato can be achieved by using position, scale and arpeggio fingering in such a case. However, for episodes which require playing more than one voice in one hand, you can use finger substitution technique. Basically how it works is like this. While holding the same key with one finger, you substitute it with another finger. In chromatic music, this technique can work on chords where you substitute more than one finger at a time (double or even triple substitution).
If finger substitution cannot be achieved and all your fingers are busy, another option would be to use finger glissando. With this technique, you slide from one key to another using only one finger. In some cases, double glissando is also a possibility (sliding from two sharp keys to two natural keys). However, make sure that there is no other way to achieve the legato besides glissando. Quite often you can take the burden of one hand by playing a few notes with another hand. Whatever you choose, always write in your solution in the score.
Like finger glissando, finger crossing is not a very popular technique but sometimes it is necessary to use it. In finger crossing, you place the longer finger over the shorter one and vice versa. This technique is useful in playing wider intervals, like sixths, sevenths, and octaves legato. Usually finger crossing works best with fingers 3, 4, and 5.
If you take my advice, write in fingering and use finger substitution, glissando, or crossing in your choral accompaniments, you can achieve a perfect legato even with small hands. More often than not the legato playing depends not on the size of the hands but on the choice of the fingering.
The practical techniques of accompanying the choir with or without a conductor are discussed in Organ Technique: Modern and Early by George Ritchie and George Stauffer 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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