Margaret writes that her dream for playing organ is to play faster and without mistakes. For her the main obstacles which prevent her reaching this dream are the difficulty in reaching a faster tempo, eliminating mistakes and memorization of the score.
The dream that Margaret has is common to many organists. But it's not so easy to make it a reality. So often people can only play rather slow music and when they try to play faster, lots of mistakes appear. This is frustrating.
If you experience such challenges as Margaret, you have to understand that it's better to play slower than with many mistakes. Therefore, choose the tempo according to your level of ability.
By repeatedly practicing very slowly and reducing the texture to single voice and various voice combinations, you will be able to eliminate mistakes and reach the level when you can play rather slowly but fluently.
If you want to play faster, perhaps you need a) to work on your technique and b) to practice your pieces at the concert tempo but stopping and waiting at the smallest fragment imaginable - a quarter note.
Once you can play this way until the end of the piece at least 3 times without mistakes, stop every two beats, then one measure, two measures and so on always expanding your fragments and playing the music inside the fragment at the concert tempo but stopping, waiting and preparing for the next fragment.
If you want to memorize music easier, you have to develop a systematic procedure of practicing short fragments 5 times while looking at the score and 5 times from memory. Usually the longest fragment you can remember this way is one measure. As you might have already guessed, after memorizing one measure fragments, start expanding them little by little from memory.
If you haven't done so, try to learn something about keys, chords, chord progressions, cadences, and modulations. This will help you understand how your piece is put together and consequently facilitate the process of memorization.
3. Begib mich nit myn höchster hort (p. 26) from Buxheimer Orgelbuch (ca. 1450), a German Renaissance collection of organ music.
Hark, the Voice of Jesus Calling
Before you select your favorite method of memorizing organ music, you have to know the value of doing it in the first place. I recorded a few of my ideas in this video which hopefully will inspire you to give memorization a try.
In the introduction of his 79 Chorales, Op. 28, one of the master organists of the 20th century, the Frenchman Marcel Dupre writes about his system of memorization. Here's my video about it. I hope you can apply this method to some of your organ pieces.
My organ professor, George Ritchie at UNL told me a story of how his professor, the great blind German organist and composer Helmut Walcha memorized organ pieces (especially polyphonic compositions). I made a video recounting this story. Feel free to make an experiment of Walcha's method with one of your favorite organ compositions. Dr. Ritchie also talks about Walcha's memorization method in the section of the documentary "Desert Fugue".
Try this simple and easy method of memorizing any organ piece in a slow tempo:
Step 1: Play it in 1 beat fragments.
Step 2: Play it in 2 beat fragments.
Step 3: Play it in 1 measure fragments.
Step 4: Play it in 2 measure fragments.
Step 5: Play it in 4 measure fragments.
Step 6: Play it in fragments of 1 line.
Step 7: Play it in fragments of 2 lines.
Step 8: Play it in fragments of 1 page.
Step 9: Play it in fragments of 2 pages.
Step 10: Play it in fragments of 4 pages etc.
NOTE: In every step practice every fragment 10 times (5 times while looking at the score and 5 times from memory).
Enjoy your practice and share your feedback in the comments.
When you take an organ piece that you love and would like to master it, the last step in mastering this composition is to memorize it or play by heart. Many people find it really difficult to memorize and play by heart because they simply don't know how to do it or they have been conditioned to think that it's really difficult and only geniuses can successfully do it.
However, there is a relatively simple yet powerful procedure in memorizing the piece. So here are my recommendations on how to learn organ pieces by heart.
Practice your piece in fragments. Take a fragment of four measures and master each individual measure. Play this measure five times when looking at the score and five times without looking at the score. Do this for each of the four measures in your fragment.
Then go back to the beginning of the measure and practice two measures at a time - measures 1 and 2, measures 2 and 3 and measures 3 and 4. After that play three measures without stopping - measures 1, 2, and 3 and measures 2, 3, and 4. After that, memorize measures 1 through 4.
If you do this for every fragment in your piece then you will have no trouble in memorizing it. You have to spend each day perhaps 15 minutes with each fragment and remember to repeat previously mastered fragments at the beginning of your practice session.
So little by little, fragment by fragment you will memorize the entire piece. Then you go back and practice two fragments or eight measures without stopping. When you reach the end of the piece, then you practice four fragments without stopping and so on.
You always have to double the length of the fragments. So finally you will reach the level when you can play the piece by heart from memory without looking at the score and without stopping fluently.
So you see how it is simple to memorize organ pieces in this step by step manner - learning fragment by fragment and then adding one fragment to another. Apply my tips in your organ practice and then you will be able to play organ pieces by heart easily.
If you have an upcoming public performance such as a church service or an organ recital and would like to play your organ piece from memory, you have to understand the importance of proper preparation. In this article, I will share with you my recommendations how to best prepare to play your piece from memory in public.
The easiest way to memorize a piece is to subdivide it in fragments of four measures long. In each individual fragment you first will master every single measure. This means playing about five times while looking at the score and five times without looking at the score.
Once you can do your measures separately, memorize combinations of two measures The next step is the memorisation of three measures in that fragment. Finally, you will be ready to play from memory the entire four measure fragment without stopping.
Do this for every fragment in your piece and remember to repeat a few times all previously mastered fragments at the beginning of each practice session.
The next step is to combine two fragments into 8 measures, 16 measures, 32 measures, 64 measures and so on. You simply will be making your fragments twice as long. So little by little with every step you will be able to memorize this piece.
Now the question remains whether you will be ready for public performance after that or not? You see although you have already memorized your piece, it takes much deeper practice to be able to perform it in public from memory.
You will need about 100 repetitions of this piece on your own. Remember, at first you memorized a piece but now you have to aim to perfect your piece and progress with it to a whole new level of fluency and play it 100 times from memory.
So unless you can play your piece 100 times from memory without mistakes fluently, you will not be feeling secure during the public performance and performance anxiety will be quite strong in you.
Therefore you have to give yourself an extra time to prepare for public performance. This means you have to be ready at least 30 days before the date of the recital or church service.
This takes careful planning and preparation and keeping track of your goals in your everyday practice but if you want to succeed in memorizing your piece and be ready for public performance and actually perform it fluently in public, then my tips will help you to achieve that.
Imagine a situation when you have learned and practiced your difficult piece at a decent level. However, this was some time ago. Right now you are feeling that you have lost the mastery of this work. The question is this - how long will it take for you to practice it until you can play it at a decent level again?
My experience shows that whenever I leave an organ piece to rest for a while (at least a few months), my knowledge of this composition decreases. I'm not saying that I would forget this piece entirely, though. It's not like I would need to learn it from scratch.
It's just I feel that I couldn't play this piece in public right away. If I did, I would probably make quite a few mistakes and feel unsecure. The pleasure of making music will not be there. I would have to really struggle to play the correct notes and rhythms with my hands and feet.
So whenever I start practicing this piece again after having left it to rest for some months, my first repetition is quite shaky. It's best to do it really slowly at first. This way my muscle memory will begin to come back.
The second repetition of this piece will still be very shaky but now in some places I would feel my skills coming back. The improvement wouldn't be easily noticeable for the listener, though.
With my third repetition, I would feel a lot better. Although I would still play at a relatively slow tempo, there would be much fewer mistakes. However, this is not enough for public performance.
Do this experiment for yourself. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for you to repeat your piece.
The subsequent few repetitions will make your playing even more secure. At about 10th run of the piece, you will start to feel your skills renewed.
Note that all of this valid only if you really knew this piece in the past. You did all the hard work of perfecting it. Perhaps you even memorized it. Only then my above explanations will work for you.
If you learned this piece a very long time ago, like decades ago, then obviously 10 repetitions will not be enough to remember it. We are talking about the period of several months up to a year at the most.
Apply my tips in your organ practice today. If you want to refresh the memory of the piece you once knew well, start out slowly, build up your technique by playing scales, arpeggios and other exercises regularly. Remember, you don't have to be ready to perform it in public within a day. Give yourself plenty of time in advance.
How do you go about refreshing your memory of the piece you mastered a long time ago? Share your thoughts in the comments.
In this article, I will share with you some of the most common difficulties people face when they start playing the organ without the help of scores. The reason they face these problems is because often they don't know the most easiest and efficient way to memorize music and hold it in their long-term memory. It's important to be aware of these difficulties and overcome them if you want to become a successful organist.
1) Organists feel a tremendous amount of fear when playing without scores. This is especially so true when they play in a public setting, such as an organ recital or a church service. A person can feel very insecure and frustrated because he/she may experience a real memory loss at any given moment during the performance.
2) When learning to play from memory this process can be very frustrating because no matter how hard you are trying to memorize, no matter how long you play, you still can't play your piece without score fluently, if you are not doing it systematically step by step.
3) Very often people try to memorize a piece of organ music playing it over and over again. This practice is too complex because the piece itself can be quite long and no matter how many times you repeat this material, you may be forgetting many important details.
4) Incorrect practicing tempo can be a deciding factor whether or not your memorization efforts will be successful. You see, if you play the piece too fast, then you will not be able to use your mind at the same speed as your fingers or feet. On the contrary - when memorizing, your mind always goes ahead of fingers and feet.
5) Playing the entire polyphonic texture at once and trying to commit it all to memory is also too challenging. In pieces, such as fugues, chorale preludes or fantasias of the Baroque period every voice is quite independent. Therefore, sometimes it helps to memorize separate voices and their combinations first.
6) Trying to memorize a piece of organ music before actually learning to play it is not a good idea, either. Memorization is one of the last steps you should take towards a complete mastery, not the first.
7) Forgetting previously memorized fragments is often a huge difficulty some organists have to overcome. Let's say you are learning some new fragment every day which of course is a very good idea. However, you should also systematically repeat the episodes and fragments that you memorized the day before and earlier.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to memorize any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
My recent posts about how to control performance anxiety while playing organ in a public setting sparked a nice discussion. So today I will give you my personal favorite technique which helps me to get rid of stage fright.
First let me say this - the reason for performance anxiety might seem like a lack of focus, therefore I recommend breathing and focusing on the current measure which helps to stay focused. But in reality, lack of focus is only a part of this. If think the most important reason why people are afraid, shaking, and having stage fright when it comes time to play in public is because they are not sure of their abilities.
If they are not sure they can do this, then a simple thought like "Oh my God, it's this tricky part coming up next" will mess everything up. So how do you achieve this confidence in your abilities? How do you remain calm when there is so much going on in your piece?
It is memorization. But it's not only knowing which notes to play when without looking at the music. It's much more than that. You have to know the reason why these notes stand in this specific spot of the score.
In other words, you should know how the piece is put together. It's like you should be thinking like a composer who created it. It's the process of deconstruction and deciphering the piece. I find that one of the simplest means to achieve this level is to mark scale degree numbers above each note (if you can't quickly say it aloud when playing). The difficulty is that you should also notice any modulations (change of keys) within the piece and think in scale degrees of that particular key.
Once you do that, memorize your piece in fragments of one, two, four, eight, sixteen measures and so on until you can play it fluently without stopping from the beginning until the end.
Then do transposition exercises playing the piece in various keys starting with no accidentals and progressing through the circle of fifths (also in fragments). Advance to the next key only when you can play in the current one at least three times in a row correctly.
Of course, ability to transpose requires a knowledge of music theory so make sure you brush up on the basics of that field, too.
Memorize your piece and transpose it to 12 different keys (from memory). Then no matter what happens during your public performance you will never be in peril.
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.
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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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