SOPP614: The organ world needs more videos like this - however experienced and skilled you are, practice is sometimes slow, difficult and/or frustrating.
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 614 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Ian, and he writes:
“The organ world needs more videos like this - however experienced and skilled you are, practice is sometimes slow, difficult and/or frustrating. It helps everyone if we're open about it. Thanks for sharing!”
V: Ausra, do you have a feeling of what he is writing about?
A: Yes, I guess that’s about my video where I tried to practice Alain’s Litanies.
V: Yes, this is the correct video. I will include the video in the description of this conversation so that people can see for themselves what happened. So was it normal for you to record such a video?
A: No, it really wasn’t.
A: Well, because I usually just record normal videos—make normal videos—live performance when it’s polished and nicely done.
V: Can you tell us what have you done in this video?
A: Well, it’s hard to describe. I think it’s better to watch it.
V: But you remember something, right?
A: Yes, I remember it. Yes.
V: You’re not in the trance.
A: Actually, at the end of it, I think I was.
V: Is it scary for you to watch a rerun of this video?
A: Yes, actually I watch this once, only, and I’m not going to do it again.
V: So, why do you think Ian is thanking you for sharing this video?
A: Well, because I think no one is perfect, basically, and this video, of course, shows it. I’m not claiming that I was perfect at any part of my playing, but I just mean that if you are a professional or non-professional, you still have sort of struggles on each level of your performance.
V: For people who haven’t watched this video and are wondering what is happening, Ausra practiced Litanies by Jehan Alain, and I think in the second page, there is this nasty line, three measures or so….
A: No, basically it’s less… there’s one measure that’s...
V: One measure, maybe two. Let’s say it’s two.
A: Well, no, that one is still okay.
V: Uh-huh! So one measure that she couldn’t get it right. Right? And what did you do to get it right?
A: Well, I practiced it over and over and over again, and I still could not get it, and in a slow tempo, it’s just fine, but when I want to speed it up and I still cannot do it that well. And, I started to hit the keyboard after I lost my temper.
V: Too bad the microphone was muted. People could not really hear what you were saying! At the time she was saying something.
A: Well, but I wasn’t cursing actually, so…
V: You might have been screaming, too.
A: Yes, I was screaming.
V: Screaming at the keyboard, or at the music, or at me or what?
A: At you all! All together.
V: Yeah. As embarrassing as it might seem to share this video with the world, actually, on YouTube, this video resonated with many people. The ratio of likes vs. views is unusually high—well over 10% I think. So, it means that a lot of people felt what you did, also!
A: Yes, I think it was the right decision to share a video like this. It doesn’t mean that in the future I will make more videos like this—it would be too embarrassing, but at least once to show what you have to struggle with, I think it’s good.
V: If Bach lived in a time where technology were available, would you give something…. What would you give to watch him fail at the keyboard, strive, struggle, fail at the keyboard, strive, struggle, get frustrated, curse, hit the keyboard, etc.?
A: I would give a lot! Maybe my all year salary!
V: All year salary! Hmm… too bad I cannot have a time machine. But for example, a person whom I very much respect improviser, Sietze De Vries, he posts very professionally done videos on his channel about his organ improvisations, either chorale improvisations or solemn improvisations, so I would give really many many things to see him practice just to get how he is achieving what he is achieving in the end result. You know?
A: Well, it wouldn’t be so interesting to watch him now practicing, but I would wish to see how he practiced ten or twenty years ago.
V: Yeah, maybe twenty. Year, I think, one is the famous improvisation contest in Harlem in 2002, so around that time, it would have been very interesting to see, although the requirements of the Harlem contest isn’t what he is doing now. They’re mostly contemporary improvisations, and he is focused on historically informed way of improvising on the organ. So, but yeah, it would be very very interesting to see how he got where he is today.
A: Yes, it would be really well worth looking.
V: What advice, Ausra, would you have for people who are frustrated at the organ and embarrassed that they cannot get one measure right?
A: Be patient! Of course, that’s the easy thing to say, but it’s a hard thing to do. And please don’t hit the keyboard! It’s not the right way. I’m ashamed of myself. So don’t hurt your instrument, and basically I hit it because it’s a virtual organ. If that would be my other tracker organ, I wouldn’t do that, because I know that if I will break this keyboard, I can order another one and replace that one.
V: Yeah, it costs only around 100€, so we keep extras!
A: Yes! So we have four of them, so we almost don’t use the fourth one, that’s just a fancy of Vidas! So we could easily put that fourth on the bottom and replace the broken one.
V: And still have four! The lowest broken one would go to the top!
V: I see. Yes, it would be… it’s hard to reach that top manual, right?
A: It is, and it’s hard to see music because it’s so far away.
V: Okay, so please guys, keep your patience up, practice slowly as Ausra did, but if you don’t get it right, don’t feel ashamed of yourself. You know that after a day or two, you will get it right eventually.
V: Ausra, have you already mastered this Litanies yet?
A: Well, yes, but let’s face it, I will never be playing it as fast as Marie Claire Alain, and already somebody commented in the Facebook on my other practice on Litanies, well… anyway… me is me, and she is she, so… Be yourself!
V: Good advice! So guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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#AskVidasAndAusra 81: I seem to be somewhat dyslexic between my feet and my left hand
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 81 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Alan. He writes:
“Hello Vidas and Ausra, this is a very interesting problem that Vince describes, and one I can empathise with.”
By the way, Vince had a problem: that when he makes a mistake, he really cannot hear it. Basically, he might play a piece of music, but mistakes elude him, especially in the inner voices. So Alan writes further:
“In my case, I seem to be somewhat dyslexic between my feet and my left hand. Which is to say, when I make a mistake, I often find that I have confused the left hand (tenor) and pedal (bass) lines. Somehow I am reading the bass line but the instructions are being carried out by my left hand instead of my feet (and visa versa)! I have to stop, recognise what is happening, and mentally reassociate parts with hands and feet in order to continue. It is frustrating, but I do believe that the right sort of exercises/training could improve independence of motion, and strengthen the linkage between parts and hands/feet. I have tried to develop a few such exercises myself, but I haven't had very much success in eradicating the problem yet.
I continue to enjoy and benefit from your daily postings. Thanks and keep up the good work! Regards, Alan from Australia.”
So, what do you think, Ausra? In my opinion, this problem that Alan experiences has to do with hand and feet coordination.
Ausra: That’s right. And this problem, I think, most of the organists at the early stage of their practice - beginner organists encounters this problem. Very few can escape it.
Vidas: Especially right-handed ones.
Ausra: Yes, especially right-handed ones.
Vidas: So, when we were beginners, remember, 30 years ago or more, we had a fairly good background in piano playing; and then pedals came along with the organ. And now our teachers gave us pieces to play on the organ...How did you feel with the LH and feet combinations--reading three staves?
Ausra: Actually, very bad, at the beginning. I just remember that my LH always wanted to play the same line as the feet - my LH wanted to double the pedals.
Vidas: Yeah...for me, too.
Ausra: And I remember one piece I had to play a passage up with my LH, and at the same time my feet had to move down. And I could not do that. It just seemed like my brain was divided into two parts.
Vidas: Mhm. That’s very natural, right? Because we have to understand what’s happening in our brains, then. When we pick up a new instrument, like the organ, which has an extra part--solo part, pedal part, which is like a third hand, by the way--our brain has to develop new neural pathways, basically, which are not there. It’s like riding a bicycle for the first time. You stumble, you fall, you trip...and then you get better, a little bit...and then you STILL fall and trip many times. But less, with practice.
Ausra: Yes. And of course, in this case, I think every person is different. For somebody it might come very easy; and somebody may not even encounter such problems; but for others it might be a real, big problem, and it might take a lot of time to make it work.
Vidas: Well exactly, because as you say, some people can manage coordination and doing several tasks at once in their brain, right? Like talking and driving. But others cannot really concentrate on talking or on driving; they have to do one thing at a time. Unless they are naturally very good at this.
Ausra: And it might even be a gender thing, at some point, because I think that women can multitask better than men.
Vidas: Why is that?
Ausra: I don’t know, it’s because of our brain.
Ausra: I don’t think it’s because of evolution, but…
Vidas: I’ve heard it’s because of evolution, because women had to take care of many things at the same time.
Ausra: Yes, but also, women just have more neural connections in their brains.
Vidas: Ahh, that’s right, perhaps. But because of that kind of evolution maybe, they have more neural pathways, right?
Ausra: Yes, it could be, but I also encountered this combination problem at the beginning, as a beginner organist, and I struggled with it for a while. But you just have to be patient, and you have to practice in slow tempo, and you have to work in different combinations. There is no easy way to overcome this problem. There is no magic stick that will solve all your problems right away.
Vidas: You’ll maybe feel better when we say that we also had to overcome this challenge in our beginner days, right? When we were just starting to play the organ, we also played lines with our feet, but in our minds, it got mixed up with the LH, and vice versa.
Vidas: It’s normal.
Ausra: And I wonder how do left-handed people feel? Do they have the same problem with RH and pedal? I never heard about it.
Vidas: Oh, guys! If any of you listening to this discussion is or are left-handed, please write to us: what’s your beginning experience with pedals and LH combination? Maybe it’s easier for you than for right-handed people; I don’t know. We are both right-handed.
Ausra: Yes. But it’s good, because after a while, while practicing organ, most of the domestic things you have to do, you can do with both your hands; because you sort of have both your hands well-developed.
Vidas: Not only hands; you can also pick up things with your feet.
Ausra: No. I am not doing that.
Vidas: I do! I do pick up eraser and pencils all the time with my feet. Yes. I cannot really write with my feet yet, but I’m trying. So guys, this was fun. We hope this was useful to you. Please don’t feel discouraged and frustrated, because everybody is suffering from this at the beginning. You just have to go over that dip of frustration and continue to the other side.
Ausra: It will get easier in time.
Vidas: Exactly. And of course, if you want other exercises which are good facilitators, then of course, regular organ music definitely works, right? Because LH and pedal part are definitely different and varied; in many cases they don’t usually double each other. And if you want extra exercises, you can take a look at our Organ Playing Master Course, Level 1, where we have exercises for RH, and LH alone, and pedals alone. That’s the beginning stage. Once you can do this correctly, you can easily go to the Left Hand Training, I would say, Ausra.
Vidas: Remember, this training has all 6 trio sonatas by Bach, transposed in all keys, and you can practice for LH and feet, LH combination alone, and RH alone, and pedals alone. That’s the next stage after the Organ Playing Master Course, Level 1. Once you get through this, then the next stage would be Two Part Training, which also deals with trio sonatas in different keys; but then you have those 2-part combinations which Alan is struggling with, and obviously these exercises from trio sonatas could help you improve your hand and feet coordination enormously.
Ok, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow as an organist. This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
People often get discouraged when they make mistakes. They feel that there is something wrong with their practice. While it may be truth sometimes, very often it is a natural part of how we learn.
For example, it can often happen that you play correctly the 1st time, the 2nd time and you make a mistake on the 3rd time. Is that what happened to you in your organ practice?
That's OK. Failing and making mistakes is an integral part of our learning process. So please don't get frustrated when you make mistakes. In fact, if you don't make a mistake at the beginning stages of your organist training, then something is likely wrong with your organ practice.
If you don't fail enough times, you will not know what success is. If you feel you are not making any mistake at all, it probably means you are not looking hard enough and not concentrating on details (such as notes, rhythms, fingering, pedaling, articulation, ornaments, hand and feet position etc.). It probably means your mistakes get unnoticed.
If this is the case, record yourself and listen to your recording. Ask yourself, "would I pay money to get to this concert if someone played like that?".
Practice until the answer is yes. As they say, Practice Makes Perfect. Let's add to it Wise Practice Makes Perfect. Make sure you take a really slow controlled tempo in which you can think of the next note before you play it.
Practice in fragments of 4 measures as I always recommend (do 10 times each fragment) in separate voices and all combinations of 2 and 3 voices before putting everything together.
If you struggled with making mistakes up until now, apply these tips and in just 7 days, you will feel the breakthrough. If not, then it may mean that the piece is too difficult for you at the moment and that you need to work on your organ technique.
Force yourself not to look at your fingers and feet while you are playing. Look at the music. If you play from memory, just close your eyes. This is tough, I know. But trust me on this, it will get easier with time and the benefits of doing so are enormous.
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.
Is your organ playing overdramatic? It is important keep it natural because often overdramatic performance sounds simply too distracting and comical to the listener. In addition, such playing style is not good for the player. Because of this, the instrument may also suffer some serious damage. In this article, you will discover 5 most common signs of organ playing offenses.
1) Tension in the body. When your body is all rigid, shoulders raised, fingers and upper thighs tensed, you cannot play in a natural way. You music becomes also tense and rigid. If you feel some tension in your body, it even gets difficult to breath. We can't relax without breathing and we can't breath without relaxing. So naturally deep breathing is the key for relaxing the entire body.
2) Hitting the keyboard with excess force. I often see organists make this mistake which comes from their pianistic background. They imagine that the louder they want the organ to sound, the harder they have to hit those keys which is absolutely incorrect and may even result in some serious damage to the organ key action. The ideal way would be to play with a gentle mezzo piano touch. The technique which helps to achieve that is keeping the fingers in contact with the keys at all times.
3) Playing the pedals too loud. Organists who hit the keys too hard, often make this mistake as well. They bounce and kick the pedals with excess force which also makes it difficult to control the releases and articulation and may damage the pedal action.
4) Doing unnecessary movements with your body. From time to time many musicians make this mistake - they lean forward or backwards too much. I am not suggesting that the body should be stiff. A little of body movements is fine but too much swinging back and forth may throw your playing off balance.
5) Making agogical accents in the piece too often. This mistake is especially obvious if one plays a short composition imagining that it is a grand symphony. If the piece is short, it is illogical to make those ritardandos and accelerandos very often. Besides, certain type of musical style (early music) does not allow unnatural alterations of tempo.
Remember these signs of overdramatic playing when you practice or perform your organ pieces today. Be careful to use your body in a natural way without tension and without unnecessary movements. Do not use excess force when hitting the keys or the pedals. Instead keep your fingers and feet in contact with the keys at all times. This technique will allow to minimize your efforts and your performance will become natural.
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.
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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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