Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 316, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Regina. And she writes:
I enjoy reading your blog and find your responses to be absolutely spot on.
I am a retired music teacher and choral director. Piano was my primary instrument (began lessons at 4). Upon retirement, I decided to pursue a life-long dream (the number one item on my “ bucket list” lol) to learn to play the organ. I have been studying for almost eight years and have tackled some of JS Bach’s most challenging masterworks. As a pianist, I found that the most difficult aspect of learning to play the organ was not the pedals but, rather, the left hand. If I made mistakes, it was usually in my left hand!
I’ve recently gotten the St Anne’s into performance- level shape. I will probably use the Prelude as exit music for my next wedding gig (I work as a substitute organist for two Lutheran Churches here on Long Island, NY) .
Again, I enjoy your blog tremendously and always find some piece of advice I can utilize in my studies.
V: So it seems that Regina is struggling with playing left hand parts, more than pedals. Why is that Ausra?
A: Well, I think everybody who hasn’t played organ but is going to do it, fears playing the pedals.
A: I remember myself before starting to play pedals, I was afraid of how I will do it. And actually I felt just like Regina; I felt that it’s really not the hardest part to play pedals. And actually left hand was less really a problem at the beginning, until I was able to master it and to coordinate between left and pedals.
V: It seems to me that the most difficult combination when you play two parts, is not the hands alone, the right hand and pedals, but rather left hand and pedals, for most people.
A: Yes. And even now, for example, when I’m playing hymns, let’s say, I still have to think about tenor voice. Not about alto and soprano and the bass. I need to follow carefully the tenor line, because I’m playing it with my left hand.
V: And I’ve heard that people who are playing hymns, and starting to play them with pedals, they easily omit the tenor line and play the right hand and pedals more often. And only later brave enough to add the left hand part. For those same reasons, I think, that you were mentioning before.
A: And I wonder, I think these problems are for right-handed people. I’m wondering what, how things work if you have left hand as a main arm, hand.
V: Mmm-hmm. If you are left-handed.
A: Yes. Maybe then the hard thing is to play the right hand.
V: I think then it becomes sort of easy enough to play both of them because the melody is usually in the right hand part, in most pieces. So that’s why this right hand is rather well developed for many people. And if you’re naturally left-handed, then left hand is easy for you too. So it compensates.
A: Yes. And another thing when I thought about Regina’s case, that she was a pianist, yes? Piano was her primary instrument. And if you think about most of piano repoirtore, I would say that left hand is accompany hand. But in organ music, especially if you are talking about J.S. Bach music, they have polyphonic music where both hands are equally important and both hands are equally complex and difficult. So that might be a problem too by it’s harder for her to play with left hand.
V: I find myself too struggling with left-hand part in advanced modern music. The one which I’m practicing right now for Teisutis Makacinas organ music recital is pedal part could be difficult. But if i’m playing it alone it’s okay. Right hand is okay. Left hand, if I’m playing it alone, is also sort of okay. But when I’m playing everything together, I think left hand is the first one to see mistakes, I think. Yes. So I need to work on left hand. Just like Regina, I think, does. And that’s so natural. I think people could practice etude’s for the left hand, don’t you think?
A: But still, at first, you will not get the same texture as you would get, let’s say, in Bach’s fugue. So my suggestion would be when you are picking up a new piece and starting to learn it, learn the left hand first. And then left hand and pedals.
V: Or if you’re playing in separate parts, practice them twice as many times.
A: That’s right.
V: Let’s say if you are playing ten times, right hand, and ten times the pedals, maybe twenty times for the left hand then.
V: But for other people pedals is also problem so maybe not ten times for the pedal but fifteen times for the pedals. Or as many times as needed until you can play three times in a row without mistakes.
A: That’s a good suggestion.
V: That might be much more than twenty times.
A: But anyway, I think it’s normal that everybody has sort of a weak spot in their playing. For somebody pedals are harder for somebody [with] the left hand. So I think it’s normal.
V: I think it’s also sometimes different when you go from organ to organ. Right now for example, I’m playing on two instruments; at home and in our church. In both places we have mechanical action organs. But at home it’s a small practice organ and in the church it’s 64 stop, three manual instrument with really difficult mechanical action. Difficult to depress keys. So, naturally, at home it’s easier, I think to play, to depress keys. But I think at church, it’s more convenient for me, don’t you think?
V: Because this resistance gives you sort of—foundation. You’re sort of grounded in those keys, when the keys are resistant.
A: But you know, with this, I find it harder and harder to play in our church. I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting weaker with age. But sometimes I, even saying all kind of bad words in my mind.
V: You’re cursing!
A: That’s right!
V: What kind of curses?
A: Oh! This is the last time that I’m performing on this organ. I won’t do it anymore. I’m just getting really, [really, really] tired of doing all that hard mechanical work. Because, and it’s not that tracker action is so hard. Yes it’s hard, but we have trouble with a few keys that are harder than everybody else. And it’s too hard because you cannot separate when you are playing complex music and in fast tempo, you cannot think, ‘oh, okay, I will depress this F and this E harder’, and put more power. You cannot do that. And after a while you simply starting to play everything with such a heavy touch, that after practicing for an hour, you are feeling like you will just fall and die.
V: I think this instrument really needs to have some sort of ‘barker’ machine.
A: True. Because I’m sort of used to mechanical instruments and I love them. I like heavy action, but not in this organ, not any more. I’m getting too old to struggle with it.
V: The keys the second manual and the first one also, would really benefit from some kind of ‘barker’ system. Maybe with variation that would make playing on those manuals much easier. It really is a pain for virtuoso music, I think, to play this instrument. And maybe that’s the reason why not too many Lithuanian organists love to play there.
A: I know. I remember when last I was playing that huge chorale fantasia by Johann Adam Reincken, ‘An Wasserflüssen Babylon’ and it’s in the key of F Major. And I played a lot on the first and on the third manual because they are sort of baroque-based manuals, baroque-like based manuals. And imagine I had to hit those two, the heaviest keys on the first manuals, E and F. They were repeating themselves, over and over again, because the key is in F Major, and I had to play so many trills, that would be start on the G, and I would trill this F, then go to E, and to resolve it on the F. I thought I will really die, or break my fingers.
A: I was feeling while playing those trills, that I’m sort of chopping a meat, with a hammer or something like this, or with an axe.
V: And as always, I have a solution to you, my dear.
V: You could always transpose to F# Major.
A: Could you do that? With Reincken?. I doubt it. I highly doubt it.
V: Guys, on this optimistic note, I think we’d rather finish this conversation.
A: Yes, just before I just would start telling nasty things to Vidas about his solution and transposing Reincken to F# Major.
V: Okay. Please go ahead and practice. Because when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Vidas: Let's start the episode 39 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. Today's question was sent by Parvoe, and he writes that movement of his left hand fingers always become a problem. Basically, he wants to improve his left hand technique, right, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think so. Yes.
Vidas: I think for people who are right-handed, left hand technique is always a problem.
Ausra: Yes, it was, especially when you have to add to the pedals.
Vidas: Are you right-handed or left-handed?
Ausra: Yes, I am right-handed.
Vidas: Me too, so basically for both of us, this left hand thing is tricky, and needs extra attention.
Vidas: All right. How do we improve this? How do you personally improve left hand technique, Ausra?
Ausra: Actually, no. If I'm learning a tricky piece, a new piece, I not starting to play all the voice together. First of all I work on my left hand and pedals. This helps a lot, because right hand and pedal never give so much trouble as left hand and pedal.
Vidas: Exactly. For example, let's take it apart. When you practice an episode of music and you have a tricky left hand part, you want to repeat this fragment with the left hand maybe twice as many times, right?
Vidas: To speed up this progress of left hand.
Ausra: First of all, if you will play all this both hands together, so your left hand will still be weak, or weaker than the right hand.
Vidas: That makes sense because let's say you practice 10 times right hand, 10 times left hand, and 10 times pedals, right? Everything really becomes better and better every time you practice, but since left hand is your weakness, it's still a little bit weaker, right? It's not as strong as right hand.
What about, Ausra, right hand and pedal combination and left hand combination with the pedals? Do you need to practice left hand and pedals more?
Ausra: Yes, sure. Definitely.
Vidas: Also twice as many times?
Ausra: Actually more times than the right hand. I never count and know exactly how many times I practice with it, but definitely more.
Vidas: How do you know when to stop to practice this combination?
Ausra: Well, when it all goes smoothly.
Vidas: Until it goes smoothly?
Ausra: Yeah, sure.
Vidas: There is a difference between being able to play without mistakes, this combination, and getting it right every time.
Vidas: Which one would you prefer?
Ausra: Of course, getting right every time.
Vidas: Right. That's actually what professionals do. They practice until they cannot make mistakes in a given episode, and amateurs tend to stop when they play correctly.
Ausra: Sure. You know, of course, you can play exercise, a special exercise for a left hand. It helps also.
Vidas: What's your favorite type of left hand exercise?
Ausra: I would have to say that it's Hanon, but actually, personally, I like to play more like etudes on the left hand, something like Czerny etudes. Not always that technique which is suitable for piano technique is working for organ as well, but some of them actually work.
Vidas: Exactly, because Hanon is usually constructed in octaves, right? Parallel octaves moving fingers the same direction, you playing the same things. At the same time, right hand improves with the left hand together. You can play Hanon exercise five times or 10 times, or even once, both hands improve equally, but you need to improve your left hand more than right hand.
Ausra: Sure. Definitely.
Vidas: Yes, extra attention is really needed. In specific pieces, as you mentioned, Czerny etudes and other etudes.
Ausra: Of course, you have to play them on the piano, and in general for people who play electrionic organ, or electro-pneumatic organ work more on the piano, because it will improve your technique on regular piano if you have an access to it.
Vidas: Just recently, we met our friend and colleague, Paulius Grigonis, and he practiced on the mechanical organ at Vilnius Cathedral preparing for his upcoming recital, and one of his first comments was how different and difficult it is to practice on a mechanical organ because he was used to playing this electronic organ in his church without pipes. Right?
Vidas: People sometimes forget the sense of real resistance when it comes to the mechanical action organ. Ausra, do you think that sometimes builders of electronic organs make a special keyboard which is similar to mechanical action?
Ausra: Yes. Now everything happens. Yes.
Vidas: They improve with time, right?
Ausra: Yes, technology improves. Still, if you have another chance, choose a mechanical instrument.
Vidas: Play with piano.
Vidas: So guys, we hope that this advice was useful to you, and please apply this in your practice, and to please send us more questions. Subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt, and when you send us your questions, also please indicate your feedback about what is number one things you will apply from this or any other podcasts that you listen in your practice this week, right? This number one advice, which is the most crucial to you? Take action and apply it in your practice and let us know. We'll appreciate it a lot.
Okay, this was Vidas ...
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Remember when you practice ...
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Gaining the true left hand and pedal independence is very important for organists. This is because the majority of organ of repertoire involves playing different melodic lines for your left hand or tenor voice and pedals.
For most people playing with their right hand is much easier than with their left hand so this combination requires much more diligence and practice. So whenever you take a new organ piece, try to spend at least twice as much time on playing the tenor than other voices. Obviously the same applies for your pedal part.
When you can play the tenor and pedal parts separately, practice them together and play this combination over and over. The best way to play this combination is not to attempt to play the entire piece from the beginning to the end but subdivide the piece into shorter fragments of about four measures. This will help you to avoid mistakes and if you do make mistakes you will be able to correct them right away easily.
The next thing to remember about gaining tenor and pedal independence applies for church organists. Many organists who play the hymns are used to play the bass line with their pedals but at the same time play their bass line with their left hand as well. It means they double the bass line with their left hand.
In other words, they simply are playing the hymns with manuals only and adding the pedal part on top of them. This is not correct and it will slow down your left hand and pedal independence. You see, your left hand has to play different music than the pedals. My best recommendation for playing hymns is to play just the tenor part with your left hand and the bass line with your feet.
This way you will be able to achieve much better tenor and pedal independence. Obviously this independence will not happen right away - this will take many weeks and months to achieve the total freedom and flexibility. Therefore, you have to stay focused and think of your long term goal and to never give up practicing this combination.
This will help you to progress much further one step at a time every day. Most importantly, before playing tenor and pedal combination make sure you can play these parts separately without mistakes at least three times in a row.
Every organist knows the importance of left hand technique when playing organ. However, perfecting your left hand usually is much more difficult than the right hand. This is partly because many organ compositions have more developed and melodically more advanced right hand part. Therefore, we must find and create various exercises specifically designed to develop the left hand technique on the organ. Today I will share with you the exact system of using the notorious six trio sonatas by Bach for this purpose.
First of all, let me remind you that Bach created these sonatas as a final touch in perfecting his eldest son‘s (W.F.Bach) organ technique. This simply means that these pieces can be used as a way to develop perfect hand and feet coordination because of three completely independent melodic lines. Obviously these charming compositions can be used to perfect just one part, for example, the left hand.
The way we will construct our system is this. Since every sonata has three movements, there are total of 18 movements in this collection. Because every movement has three parts, there are total of 54 parts which gives us 54 different exercises. If we would practice just one exercise each day then the entire collection would be completed in about eight weeks (10 weeks would be needed if you practice 6 times a week).
However, this course should be arranged very systematically progressing in a step by step fashion. This means that exercises have to have increasing numbers of accidentals. For example, the first exercise would be with no accidentals, that is in C major, the second – with 1 sharp, that is in G major, the third – with 1 flat, that is in F major and etc. The same would be valid for the movements in minor keys.
Increase the number accidentals as you are going through these exercises to reach 7 sharps and flats. Once you come to C flat major or A flat minor with 7 flats, you can go back and start from C major or A minor again.
I recommend first practicing the pedal part with your left hand because it is usually easier both melodically and rhythmically than the hand parts. It is best to choose the tempo in which you can avoid making mistakes and play flutently. This usually means playing very slowly. You don‘t have to play these exercises many times repeatedly. Sight-reading them one time through is sufficient. Normally it will not take more than 15 minutes of your time a day.
If you don‘t want to spend hours and hours constructing such a course, I have created a program called Left Hand Training which is designed to help you perfect your left hand technique. It is an eight week course which is based on the system outlined above.
By the way, congratulations to people who already signed up for this course directly or through Total Organist membership program. You will have an awesome time, I'm sure.
A Final Note: before starting practicing such exercises, remember to take the initial test and play a left hand part of a very difficult composition of your choice which is technically currently out of reach for you. After these 8 or 10 weeks when you complete this course, you can come back to this challenging piece and test your progress. If you honestly complete each and every exercise in my course, I can guarantee that you will be amazed by your results.
However, reading about it won‘t produce the results you want. Taking action daily and implementing my tips and exercise system will. So I only recommend this course for people who seriously want to use it and can commit to at least 15 minutes a day (max 30 minutes) of practice for the next 8-10 weeks.
Have you noticed that playing left hand part on the organ in many cases is much more difficult than the right hand part? Or when you try to play a two-part combination of left hand and pedals, usually you make many more mistakes than in playing right-hand and pedals?
There are a couple of reasons why you find these problems:
1) Many people are right-handed and naturally they use their right hand more frequently than the left which in turn just makes the left hand under-developed.
2) A lot of people start playing the organ after having some experience with the piano. On the piano, the left hand takes the bottom stave while on the organ you have to train your left hand (and the brain) to play the middle stave.
So how do you strengthen your left hand technique? There are a couple of useful things to remember here:
1) You can practice special left hand exercises, scales, and arpeggios regularly. Over time this will help to make your left hand technique more developed. The goal here is to reach the same level of dexterity and independence with the left hand as with your right.
2) As you practice your organ compositions, remember to play the left hand part (and left hand and pedals combination) many more times than with the right hand. For example, if you normally play an episode with right hand 10 times, than play it 20 times with the left hand. The same is for left and pedals combination.
3) I have noticed that some organists play hymns this way: soprano and alto is played by the right hand, tenor and bass is played by the left hand. At the same time, the pedals double the bass.
I hope you are not playing this way because it greatly slows down the development of left hand and pedal independence - left hand has to learn to play different melodic lines than the feet.
Do you want to make your left hand as strong as the right hand? Then start applying these tips in your practice today. It will not be long before you start seeing some tremendous changes in your technique.
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.
A couple of weeks ago when I asked my readers what it is they struggle the most in achieving their goals in organ playing, I was surprised how many of them answered "Organ Technique".
I wasn't expecting this answer to show up so frequently in their emails because I constantly write about these technical issues of organ playing, among other things.
When I think about it now, of course it makes sense - lots of people find their left hand technique too weak in comparison with the right hand. Techniques like pedal preparation are so powerful in making ones pedal playing automatic, yet so few people really take advantage of it in their daily practice.
In particular, I found that left hand and pedal coordination is a real pain for the majority of organists. This is so true because when people come to the organ after having studied piano for some time, one of the first things they need to overcome is this notion of reading music from 3 staves (and the bottom stave is not suited for the left hand part, as in the piano, but for the pedals).
So in order to help overcome the struggles many people are having with their technique, today I have finally completed my new audio Organ Technique Training. If technical aspects of organ playing are holding you back from achieving your dreams, I suggest you check it out.
When it comes to building your organ technique, very often you will notice how weak your left hand is. Moreover, when you continue playing the organ, your right hand might improve but your left hand still might be underdeveloped. This realization causes a lot of frustration among organists. In this article, I will explain why it is much more difficult to develop the left hand technique than that of a right hand and how to overcome this problem.
You see, for all of us who are right-handed, playing with the left hand precisely is much more difficult than with the right hand. This is because not only we do everything with our right hand much more often but also because in the music you can find many more places when the melody is in the right hand.
That's why we like to practice the right hand first and more often that the other hand. It is like a closed circle: we have a weak left hand, practice more the right hand, and consequently, our right hand develops faster but the left hand not. To break this circle you need to work on the left hand more. That's why you realize that playing with your weak hand is more difficult and you may have to practice this part more times in your organ pieces.
Obviously, if you do like every good organ instructor would teach (practicing parts alone, combinations of 2 voices, combinations of 3 voices, and finally, all parts together) all of this will come naturally to you. You will start developing your left hand technique the same way as the right hand.
Another great help in overcoming this problem is to practice piano exercises either on the piano or on the organ. Good piano exercises will develop both of your hands equally well.
In addition to exercises, you can practice scales, chords, and arpeggios in various keys. Especially valuable are scales in double thirds and double sixths. This type of practice is of course a little more advanced so it is best to master simple scales in parallel and contrary motion first.
If you don't like the dry nature of exercises and scales, you can practice piano etudes on the organ. Great piano composers like Czerny, Berens, Lemoine, many others have left invaluable collections of etudes you can use for your daily practice. If you are an advanced player, try etudes by Chopin and Liszt.
Whatever you choose, play slowly, practice repeatedly, and don't worry about the concert tempo. You will reach this tempo when you are ready. Remember that this kind of playing will help you develop your left hand technique at the same level as the right hand.
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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