Here's what Andreas, one of my subscribers wrote to me yesterday:
"Would you know a piece of literature about what I'd call the theory of
arpeggios? Or more arpeggio sheet music for practice? I'd like to
compose my own organ music, and I'm desperately in love with arpeggios
(Bach, but also later composers), and I'd also like to dig a bit deeper
into what I think is the theory behind it. Arpeggios are based on
certain harmonic patterns, but a nice arpeggio is more than just a chord
split up into separate notes. Any theoretical text or music score
greatly appreciated (and doesn't have to be for organ ... there is a lot
of arpeggios music for piano, and others)."
After reading this request, I thought about how arpeggios can be constructed and it turns out that in any 4 note chord, there are 24 different permutations in the order of pitches:
Once you know this, you can do all kinds of interesting things with this information: you can create an entire variation based on one specific permutation only, you can mix them together in any order, you can play them in different major and minor keys, you can assign different meters and rhythmical figures to them etc.
If you want to find out the limits of your arpeggio playing skills, play these 3 Arpeggio Variations with optional pedal part I wrote yesterday. They are based on the harmony of the opening 8 measures of the famous Aria by J.S. Bach from his Goldberg Variations. There are total of 24 measures in this piece (actually 25, if you count the final chord) and each measure features one specific permutation of the four-note chord in the above order.
Don't feel compelled to practice them in a fast tempo as there are certain stretches for the hand that need to be played carefully and slowly at least at first. I hope you will find these variations useful.
People new to the organ sometimes treat it as a version of the piano - all they have to do is to depress the notes correctly. This is not nearly enough.
Whereas on the piano the sound fades very quickly, organ pipes can sound as long as you hold the keys. This makes not only the depression of the keys but also the releases a crucial part of the overall performance (great pianist do this on the piano as well, by the way).
Also articulation is one of the most difficult things to achieve properly for people who are just starting out their organ studies. Knowing when to apply legato, non legato, staccato, articulate legato etc. will actually elevate your organ playing to a whole new level.
What's difficult, is to understand and to achieve the high degree to differentiation of articulation between various parts (especially in the middle parts). In order for this to happen, you have to be always asking yourself, "is this the best I can do?"
Here's the difference between a good performance and an excellent performance:
Attention to detail.
Do organists have to practice playing scales in double octaves? Isn't this the training that pianists do? Isn't the texture with parallel octaves generally suitable more for the piano than the organ?
The thing is that although training in parallel double octaves certainly comes from the piano background, we have to remember the origins of the modern legato school of playing the organ. That would be piano.
Often organists who didn't have systematic training on the piano before they take up organ studies, when they see pieces like Prelude and Fugue on BACH by Franz Liszt or chorale fantasias by Max Reger (among many other works composed after 1850s), they recoil in fear - these octaves seem pretty scary.
Today's sight-reading piece is an excellent example of this technique. This is the March, Op. 7, No. 1 (p. 1) by Augustin Barié (1883-1915), a blind French composer and organist. Barié was a student of Vierne and Guilmant who sadly died at the young age of 31 of a brain hemorrhage.
Even if you are not a virtuoso on the organ or piano, I encourage you not to fear this piece (or any other piece for that matter). So often we shun ourselves from great works because we think we are not ready to play them.
Yes, we may not be ready to perform them yet. But there's a huge benefit in sight-reading difficult music, too. Of course, you have to be conscious that the result will be extremely slow tempo and thinner texture, perhaps separate parts. Remember that we don't change the exercise, we change the scaling.
One more thing: have you noticed that the best modern organ method books feature special exercises taken from the real organ compositions? Incidentally, pedal part will serve for this purpose, too because of double octaves and passages in the high range of the pedalboard.
When you have a three-voice composition for manuals only, such as a chorale prelude or a fugue, the middle part sometimes is written closer to the soprano and sometimes - closer to the bass. Therefore, this voice migrates from one hand to another and sometimes it needs to be played either by the left hand or the right hand.
In the legato style piece, this is not easy to do - you have to apply smooth fingering and see that the middle part remains fluent and melodically as well as rhythmically intact.
Such a piece is for today's sight-reading: the famous Schmucke dich, o liebe Seele, Op. 122, No. 5 (1896) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), a 19th century late Romantic master German composer. Interestingly, such a sweet piece (p. 18), along with other 10 beautiful chorale preludes have been composed just one year before composer's death.
The unit value (the most frequently seen rhythmical value) in this piece is a sixteenth note. Therefore, shorten the repeated notes in the upper voice with the chorale tune by the sixteenth note making them dotted eighth notes and sixteenth note rests.
If three highly independent lines are too complex for you to play them together right away, play separate voices only in a slow tempo (especially this middle part). Watch out that all the parts would be played in a smooth legato. For this to happen, apply finger substitution.
How to play repeated notes in Romantic and modern organ music? Many people don't pay attention to that and simply play them as they want. It turns out that in organ playing, repeated notes require careful calculation because in larger acoustics and in music with many voices in general, the sound tend to loose clarity and mix with other voices very easily.
The standard system that is being used today was largely promoted by the Frenchman Marcel Dupre's organ playing method. It says you have to shorten the notes by the unit value. A unit value he called the most commonly seen rhythmical value in the piece.
Today's sight-reading piece is Prelude in D Minor by Fortunat Pintarić (1798-1867), a Croatian organist and composer. Right from the start (system 1) you can see the repeated notes in the left and in the right hand parts.
In order to find out the exact length of the repeated notes, we have to seek out the unit value. It seems like it is an eighth note. So when you shorten the quarter notes in the first system, play an eighth note and make an eighth note rest. When the repeated note is the same as the unit value, shorten it by a half.
Here's the score for playing. Although the tempo is Maestoso (solemnly), for practice purposes, play rather slow - as slow as it is comfortable. If you can't sight-read all parts together accurately, play separate parts. Since this is a piece in Romantic style, every note should be played legato (except when notated otherwise and except for repeated notes, obviously).
PS A common objection to these sight-reading exercises from organists is this: for some people they are too difficult, for some - too easy. That's not a problem - it's a scale issue. We don't need to change exercises, we can change the scaling:
For beginners: play separate parts
For intermediates: play two part combinations
For advanced: play everything together
For experts: transpose the piece to one or more keys
For everybody: increase or decrease the tempo to match your skill level
Post your time to comments.
How difficult it is to play works that include frequent leaps, syncopations, and hand divisions?
Today I've been sight-reading No. 6 of 8 Fugues Without Pedals, F. 31 by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784), the eldest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. This fugue has 3 voices and is written in E minor (6/8 meter).
The subject of this fugue is rather long (6 measures). The rhythmical unit is eighth-note and the melody consists of several arpeggio figures.
There are total of 6 subject entrances in this fugue:
1. E minor, tonic, the middle voice (1-1-1). Note: since the measures are not numbered in this edition, the first number refers to the page of this fugue, the second - to the system in this page, and the third - to the measure number within this system.
2. B minor, dominant, the top voice (1-2-1).
3. E minor, tonic, the bottom voice (1-3-5).
4. B minor, dominant, the middle voice (1-5-5).
5. A minor, subdominant, the top voice (2-2-3).
6. E minor, tonic, the bottom voice (2-6-5).
For me, the main difficulties were:
1. Remembering to prepare for the 3rd subject entrance in the bottom voice in advance.
2. Deciding which hand has to play the middle voice in certain passages.
3. Playing rhythmically the grace note - it should become a sixteenth-note played on the beat (1-2-6, and also in other places).
4. Making sure that syncopations and tied notes in various voices are rhythmically precise.
5. Playing without hesitations the outer voices in places where there are larger leaps at times.
If you want to play this fugue, click here (pages 10-11). Before playing, make sure you first locate all 6 subject entrances and understand the keys used (tonal plan).
Take a really slow tempo because it will make it easier for you to sight-read fluently and pay attention to the above 5 points because I suspect they might present difficulties to other people as well. Use articulate legato touch except where you see the legato sign. If three-part texture is too difficult for you, play separate voices or two-voice combinations.
Share your playing experience of this colorful fugue in the comments.
If you knew that applying hand and feet preparation in your practice would eliminate all kinds of sloppiness in your performance, would it be worth it?
Basically this is the first step to professional attitude because it requires great attention to detail and meticulous repeated work in fragments.
Regardless whether you consider yourself an amateur or a professional I believe applying preparation is what will make a difference in the long run.
When you watch great organ virtuosos play from behind, you can notice how effortlessly their feet move. This is because as soon as their feet release any specific note, they slide instantly into position for the next note and wait there. This waiting period can be as short as half of a second or as long as one minute depending on the situation in the score.
Try this trick not only with your feet but also with your hands. This will not be easy, though. A part of you will scream to stop and play the piece without stopping. In fact, the longer you practice this way, the harder it will get.
But if you persist, your feeling of accomplishment will be so much greater, even if you only mastered this way 4 measures today.
One of the signs showing that a person playing an organ is indeed an organist as opposed to a pianist is this: most of the time, unless there is a legitimate need for it, an organist doesn't lift the fingers and the feet off the keyboard and feet.
How critical is to keep this contact for an organist?
I think it's important for at least two reasons:
1. It's vital for the control of releases of notes which is the key to achieving the desired and precise articulation.
2. The pipes can speak to the best of their ability.
The first point is extremly evident when you play polyphonically complex music, such as the Baroque pieces. Because of the intensity of independent melodies, each voice requires its own articulation which is best controlled by keeping the contact with the keyboards and pedalboard. It's also important even in the Romantic and modern organ music when some notes have to be shortened to the exact point.
The second point is most applicable when the tempo of the composition is fast and when there is a need to play staccato. Lifting off the fingers and the feet into the air often makes the staccato sound too short - the pipes simply don't have enough time to speak.
If you have an extensive training in piano playing, keeping contact on the organ is not easy. It's a new habit and as always, forming a new habit requires time, patience and some perseverance but it''s definitely makes the playing much more idiomatic on the organ.
It happens very often that organists were quite accomplished in their youth. For one reason or another they stop practicing playing the organ and gradually their playing skills decrease. Little by little their finger technique is not as good, their pedal technique is not as advanced and their hand and feet coordination doesn't work that well anymore. But later in life they discover that they want to come back to organ playing and start practicing the right way. So they wonder what the best way to get back to solid organ playing skills is. If you are interested in gaining your technique, coordination and fluency, then this article is for you.
Very first thing to remember is that you have to come back to organ playing very gradually. You see, even if you were quite accomplished in your early career, many years perhaps have passed without you practicing the organ so naturally you have much less ability right now. So what I recommend for you when you practice organ is to take easier pieces than you played in the past. Spend some time with them and you gradually will be getting in a better shape.
Another thing to remember is that your practice time also has to be quite modest at the beginning. Even though you might have practiced for many hours during the day in your early years, it doesn't mean that today you have the same kind of stamina. So start practicing for small periods of time of about 30 minutes long, take frequent breaks and rest a little. This will help you not to overexert yourself and keep motivated for years to come.
Additionally, you can start working on your finger and pedal technique and hand and feet coordination exercises. I recommend playing manual and pedal scales, arpeggios and other special exercises. These technical exercises will help you to get in a better shape and regain your former organ playing skills.
Finally, remember that you have to have some fun so choose your organ pieces wisely. Play organ compositions that you love and enjoy and never forget that organ practice is a privilege. Whenever you practice these organ compositions, make sure you fix your mistakes, work in small fragments, choose a slow tempo, and practice in separate voices and voice combinations. With time this will help you to advance in organ playing and get back to your solid technical skills.
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.
DON'T MISS A THING! FREE UPDATES BY EMAIL.
You have successfully joined our subscriber list.
Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
Our Hauptwerk Setup: