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 700 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Pedro, and he writes
I have just started watching your channel. I am 50 years old, but still a baby organist. Thank you for your score on the meditation "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland.". I bought it as soon as I watched you play it. I will probably play it several times this Advent.
1. My dream is to improve my improvisation techniques. I think this goes through more music analysis, and trying to write down small pieces. I would also like to be more confident when choosing the appropriate registration. And finally I would like to change my finger touch, that is still one of a trained pianist.
2. Things that hold me to reach that goal is : Time to play more often and access to an organ.
Thank you, Pedro
So Ausra, this is our 700th episode. Congratulations to everyone!
A: Oh yes, congratulations to everybody, and to us, that we have so much patience to do so many podcasts. But actually, it was a fun, fun ride.
V: Yeah. And now Pedro wants to know how to improve his improvisation techniques. Let’s talk about that for starters.
A: Yes, you know, if I would be Pedro, I wouldn’t waste my time by writing down any type of compositions, because it takes very much of your time, a lot of the time, actually, and that doesn’t give you much confidence in improvisation. Actually what you could really do to spend more time at the keyboard and to do some harmony exercises, to play some cadences, to do some transpositions, or to play sequences.
V: You’re right, Ausra. I think harmony is the foundation of improvisation and Pedro would do really well to practice it first. Not to spend entire time on harmony of course. He needs to create those pieces and improvise them. But harmony will give him a good start, obviously. The starting point, step one for me, would be to figure out what he wants to do with improvisation because there are many other, many goals in improvisation, many styles, many genres, and practical applications, right? So you first have to figure out what would you like to learn, right, practically, how to apply it. And then once you know that, you take the baby steps towards your goal.
A: Yes, very well said, Vidas.
V: For example, some people don’t like chorale-based improvisation and they start with free types of melodies. But a lot of organists enjoy church melodies and hymns and chorales, and that’s where they should start, obviously.
A: I think it’s much easier to start to improvise on a given melody, as you take a hymn tune and work on it, and around
it. At least that you don’t have to worry about creating your own melody. So I think it’s easier to start with improvising on the hymn tunes.
V: Agreed. And to keep things simple, I would just probably stick to two voices at first. Soprano would be the melody from the hymn tune, and the bass in the left hand could be the foundation notes of the harmony. Note against note, right? We have a course like this. It's called Hymn Improvisation Level 1.
A: Yes that’s a possibility.
V: I-IV-V - tonic, subdominant, dominant - things like that. And then once you get used to I-IV- V, you can add other scale degrees, always creating sweet sounding intervals of major and minor thirds and major and minor sixths. Sometimes fifths and octaves, but only in opposite direction with the soprano. Okay, Pedro would like to know about choosing appropriate registration. This is a broad topic, obviously. But again, it would depend on what kind of music he is practicing right now. Is it a chorale based work or a free composition, yes, Ausra?
A: Yes, true. But usually if you could help yourself for making just a few combination of organ stops, I think it would be enough for a beginner organist. So one type of registration would be like full organ, organo pleno, for loud preludes and postludes playing on one manual. And then, like softer registration either on one manual or on two manuals if you want to solo out a melody. So for that type of registration, if it’s a soft registration on one manual you could just add two flutes or maybe two flutes and some strings, or maybe just strings to play something really soft. And then if you want to solo out the melody, you would play on the other manual like a solo voice, you would add let’s say oboe for solo voice, or cornet for solo voice, and accompany on another manual. If cornet is loud, maybe you could use 8’ principal for accompany, or if it’s soft reed, maybe you would accompany with one flute or a couple flutes. And you would play pedals accordingly. Probably with Sub Bass 16’ and 8’ flute. If it’s not enough, maybe you could add light principal 16’ or Octave 8’ and see how it works in the balance with your hands.
V: And for pieces which have to be played on one manual, you don’t only have to play only with principal chorus with mixtures. You could play with one principal or two principals or three principals, expanding the sound, or even mixing flutes with principals if it’s more of a romantic work. But even in some cases in later Baroque music, you could double principals with flutes, right Ausra?
A: Oh yes.
V: Mm hm. This is a very broad topic but we hope you get the starting idea for yourself. Okay. And changing his finger touch from pianist to an organist - what would you like to suggest, Ausra?
A: Well, when I’m thinking about touch, about articulation, I am always thinking about how the instrument on which I’m playing is constructed in itself, and that helps me to grasp the idea. And basically piano, it’s really a percussion instrument. Because the hammer hits the string, so you use more strength in your fingers when you are playing the piano, and to hit from the top. And when playing organ, you always need to keep in mind that it’s basically a wind instrument. And so pipes are operating through the wind system. And you don’t need to hit the key from above, you need to keep in touch with keyboard at all the time.
V: And also release your notes while holding the key also. Don’t lift the hand into the air like we see sometimes people do, but just release the note but keep the contact with the keys. That will help with control.
A: Yes, and also keep in mind that when we are playing on the piano, the pressing key is more important than releasing of the key. But on the organ, both are equally important, the pressing down the key and releasing it.
V: Correct. And things that hold him back: of course time, he doesn’t have enough time, and access to an organ. Well time, you have to make time obviously. You don’t have to practice for hours and hours, but if organ playing is your goal, you want to achieve something, you have to make time. Some time, right Ausra?
V: Regular practice.
A: Sure. Well, you have to squeeze it into your daily routine and find time - make time - for it. Maybe you could sleep less for like half an hour, or to spend less time surfing on the internet or whatever you do, you know.
V: Where that time goes, right? You have to do some analysis, where does your time go, the most time. And maybe it’s not all productive. Maybe it’s sometimes draining your energy. Because organ playing is still creative activity, and we suggest you do it before some management activity. If you have to answer emails, you do creative activity first. And then you’re tired, you answer emails then. Things like that. Not necessarily about answering emails, but there are two types of activities, two types of brain modes - creative and management. And it’s best to do creative part first. Some people want to do it early in the morning. Some people later, at night even. It depends on your personality. And access to an organ, Ausra. Can we solve that problem?
A: Well, I don’t know what is his situation and how many churches his neighborhood has, but obviously if I couldn’t access an instrument at home, I would reach for the local churches and try my luck there. Maybe in return for access to the instrument, for playing their instrument, I could offer to do something nice for the church. Maybe to do some volunteer work, like ushering or playing the organ during the service. Doing something nice for the community. And in return, I might access the instrument.
V: That’s right. And nowadays, you can actually build your own organ set-up at home. It’s quite affordable in many cases. You can have just one keyboard for starters.
A: But well, you will have to add the computer to it, and your computer will have to be good.
V: Maybe Pedro has that.
A: Well yes. But I remember the frustration when we started to play Hauptwerk with just a regular computer, and we would get like sound delay, and it made me so angry and frustrated.
V: In this case, what we should have done, but we didn’t know at the time, we should have had an external audio card. That’s it.
A: So yes, and then look what starts when you need an audio card. And later you need that and this and that, and a new wire and new equipment, and it just never ends basically.
V: But it’s fun to build your own organ.
A: Well, if you can access the local church organ for your practice, then do it.
V: That’s true. But you know, sometimes we also access our church organ, but we go there and we cannot practice there because there has to be silence because of some funeral or something. Always it’s good to have a back-up instrument. I’m not against pipe organs, not at all. I’m all for it, and obviously it’s much better than electronic or virtual organs. But to have an instrument at home just in case - worth the time and trouble, I think. Okay guys. If you enjoyed this conversation, please leave us a comment and maybe send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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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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