Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 426, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
I have struggled to get much quality organ practice in the last 2 weeks, but family has to come first. Prior to that I have been diligently practicing the first 10 Hanon exercises with a metronome, starting at 60 bpm and working my way up to 80. I started noticing a few small issues where I was drifting off beat. I have also tried practicing pieces to a metronome as I am subconsciously changing the tempo without realizing.
I have learnt the first 2 pages of Wachet Auf from Schubler chorales, and playing it ok, it took quite a while to get the chorale tune, it certainly tests my coordination and independence of RH, LH and pedals. Page 3 with the modulation to minor mode is taking even more work, but slow practice is working.
I am playing for our church service on Sunday, I am really excited as I haven't played at church for since January due to Isaac arriving. One of the hymns is a new one, and when I practiced it, I had a special moment of realizing how much my skills have improved. After 3 days of very slow practice, I was able to play all four parts together with hardly a mistake! I reckon even 2 years ago it would have taken 7-10 days to achieve this. In fact 2 years ago I remember emailing you saying I was struggling with playing all four parts of hymns when I had only 1 weeks notice. I think I have finally reached a point where I am committed to trusting the learning process, whereas sometimes I would skip some combinations, or try and play at performance tempo. Now I really focus on slowing the tempo right down, and sometimes practice each fragment 10 times instead of 3 times.
I wanted to thank you and Ausra for being the reason for my first DVD sale in the USA from one of your subscribers Paul Anderson!
I had a go at organizing the payment and shipping through PayPal, and so far so good.
Also could you and Ausra give your advice on a podcast on some practical strategies to improve my phrasing, this could apply to hymns but particularly Bach pieces and music in general. How do you incorporate pauses/breaths while still keeping a steady tempo.
It is getting close to 1 year since my Vilnius trip, the memories are still fresh, and I would love to come and visit you guys again one day! I hope the weather will soon warm up and bring you more energy!
V: So, Ausra, it’s very nice to receive a letter like that from John from Australia, who exactly one year ago played a concert in our church.
A: Yes, I think I saw it on Facebook today that it’s exactly one year...
A: since he performed at St. Johns, in Vilnius.
V: By the time our listeners will hear this conversation it might be more than one year. But still, the memories are fresh, and we were really amazed at the, John’s improvement over seven years of training. And, now, he writes that he was able to master a hymn in four parts with hardly a mistake, after three days. And this is achievement in itself, because two years ago, he remembers that he had to do this in maybe, seven to ten days.
A: Anyway, hard work always gives its results, at the end.
V: Mmm-hmm. I, you know, it’s so nice that he made his first sale of his DVD to one of our subscribers—Paul Anderson. And I guess it’s not easy to sell something online, right! And I’m very happy that from our discussion when we mentioned John’s DVD, people picked up. If anyone wants to get a copy, the best way would be to contact John by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: True. And I think it might be interesting for somebody to see what the organs look [like] in Australia. Because for many of us, it’s still such an exotic and far away country.
V: Right. So, John is wondering about advice on improving phrasing, maybe incorporating pauses and breaths. In Bach’s pieces, not only in Bach’s but also in other stylistic influences. Do you think that phrasing is important, Ausra, first of all?
A: Yes, of course! It’s very important.
V: What would happen if we didn’t include phrasing in our playing?
A: Well, all the pieces of music would sound very dry and mechanical, and lifeless.
V: Have you ever listened to that 18th Century mechanical organ? Remember, I think in Nebraska, somebody gave us a recording of Handel’s Concerto, as recorded on that particular mechanical organ.
A: I don’t recall it right now, but you do.
V: Yes, I do.
A: Evidently you do, so maybe you could explain what you mean.
V: And it was very virtuosic. Absolutely stunning passages, and ornaments. But I found it quite unmusical, actually. Because to program a piece on a mechanical device like that, in 18th Century, would have been really difficult. Now you can play back, play something on a media equipped organ or keyboard, and it would playback exactly as you were performing.
A: You know, in some sense, it seems that it’s harder to learn all the technical stuff, to develop your technique, in order to be able to play in the right tempo and without mistakes, with the right articulation. But, on the other hand, I think phrasing and playing musically things, is probably the hardest thing to do, especially if you don’t have it from your birth. And by telling this I can tell one example. I had recently, have had a student, with whom we were working on several pieces, and basically I was arranging each measure for her—what to do and how to play it and where to slow down and which chord to listen to more carefully than another one, and explain that all. Basically, I arranged it sort of like a, I don’t know…
A: Like a, well, not exactly like a show, like a theater…
A: And still at the end, it all sounded just like chopping the wood sticks with an ax. She couldn’t pick it up.
V: Hmm-hmm. She needs musical intuition. But that comes I think, with experience also.
A: So, what would help in case like this? I think you need to listen to a lot of music in general.
A: All kind of music. Not only organ music, but organ too—by various performers.
A: And you will find out that after comparing, let’s say, some of different people playing, let’s say the same piece, you would feel that you like one recording more than another.
A: And you will develop a musical taste and musical intuition. And later on it will be easier for you to adapt it in your pieces that you are playing.
V: I would say the more you notice something happening in the music, the more you can show it to your listeners. And that includes phrasing, breaths and pauses, all those things, in certain places. Not in all episodes, but where something important is happening in music. So you have to dig deeper into the composition itself, analyze it, and notice it.
A: Yes. I think that this musical logical background is also very important—in knowing structure, in knowing style.
V: One last think I want to say, is, that I remember when I was a student, my professors would tell me sometimes that I’m playing statically. Especially if it’s a slow tempo piece, that, the music doesn’t flow. Did you ever have this experience?
A: Yes. I have had it.
V: Mmm-mmm. Earlier.
A: Yes, it was a way back.
A: Now, it’s hard for me even to remember it, already.
V: And exactly. And I was thinking about your performances, my own performances, but probably I’m a little bit, less objective about myself. But you could tell me about me. I never once noticed static performance from you. What about you?
A: I also haven’t noticed a static performance of you. I think you have just changed a lot...
A: over past what, 25 years.
V: We never think about it—playing statically or not statically, right? We make music.
A: Yes. It comes naturally.
V: We make music. It’s like telling musical story. If you don’t know where the story ends, then you might tell your story statically, right?
A: True. I think it’s very important to sing your pieces.
A: Because very often we might play unmusically, and dull, and statically, but people rarely sing unmusically—unless we don’t have musical pitch.
A: Sort of it’s hard to put an accent, let’s say, at the end of the face if you’re singing it. It comes naturally because it’s all related with the breathing, and somehow, I think, it’s in everybody’s insight.
A: This gives you that right feeling of right phrasing. So just sing what you are playing.
V: Good advice. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember; when you practice...
A: Miracles happen!
Vidas: And we’re starting Episode 59 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Minori, and he has a challenge with articulation and phrasing in the pedal part. He writes, “while playing the organ, I just can manage to coordinate my hands and feet but it is not easy for me to care about articulation and phrasing in the pedal part.”
That’s a very common problem with beginners, right?
Ausra: Yes, definitely.
Vidas: Not beginners in general playing the instrument, but beginners at the organ. Because organ articulation is very different from other types of instruments, I would say; that when people first try to articulate on the piano, they manage to play everything legato, I would say, rather easy. But then, when they transfer to the organ, somehow they forget that you can do all kinds of articulation with the organ.
Vidas: What’s your experience with this, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, the same, actually. Organ is quite a tricky instrument to play well, to articulate well. Because the principles of its mechanics are so different from the piano, because it’s a wind instrument, you must not forget it. And also you have such a different way articulating notes when you are playing early music and when you are playing later music. And also when you play piano, you just have to think about how you press the key down, but not so much how you release it; but in organ, playing organ and articulating organ, it’s very important, both the beginning of the sound, and the end of it. So you have to be very careful about it.
Vidas: Good idea, Ausra. Beginners tend to forget the ending of the chord a lot, and sometimes even the beginning. They tend to depress three or four notes not necessarily together, at the same time. Precisely. But I would say there’s another issue with Minori here, I can read between the lines, because he is having difficulty with coordinating hands and feet, and then articulation and phrasing becomes a challenge, right? It’s sort of like he first thinks about the notes, and about articulation afterwards only.
Ausra: Well, when you are learning a new piece, you have to start with the right articulation right away. Maybe the process will be a little bit slower at the beginning, but it will give you a much better result at the end. So just work slowly, think about articulation right away, work in combinations. Play just a single pedal line first; then do right hand and pedals, then left hand and pedals; and only when you are comfortable by playing all these combinations, only then put everything together.
Vidas: Hey Ausra, what was your first piece that you played on the organ?
Ausra: Well, that was G minor Prelude and Fugue from the Eight Little Preludes and Fugues.
Vidas: So you had like, twelve years of experience of playing piano, before that? And now, you’re starting to play the organ, right, and your teacher assigned you this g minor Prelude and Fugue from the Eight Little-cycle...And did you try to coordinate your hands and feet, or you thought about articulations right away?
Ausra: Well, I had so many challenges at that time: everything was so new, with all the articulation business, and pedaling business, but I don’t think I learned in a good manner right away. Nobody talked with me what I had to do first and what I had to do later. So I just tried to play all together and do everything at the same time--and it wasn’t easy, and I think I wasn’t successful. The biggest challenge for me in this piece was to go in the pedal from a low G to C, to connect those two beginning notes of the prelude. It seemed like an impossible thing!
Vidas: And for me, my first piece--it was a little bit earlier than yours--I started playing a couple of years earlier in my school in Klaipėda, and it was “Jesu, meine Freude” by Bach from the Orgelbüchlein. And my teacher, gave me to choose any chorale prelude from this collection that I wanted. I wasn’t a very good sightreader, and I didn’t have recordings then, there was no YouTube to listen to. So I just flipped the pages through and maybe chose the most understandable one that I could comprehend at the time. And as yourself, I tried to play everything at once, and everything legato! So when September came, I think I had a couple of weeks of practice at home; and then in my first lesson, I came to my teacher, and she was so angry with me! She said it’s better not to practice this prelude at all, than to practice it incorrectly, with legato touch. Now I had to redo it, and relearn it the right way.
Ausra: Well, how could you know about articulations at that time?
Vidas: Yeah, she wasn’t very specific about how to make spaces between each and every note (and I wasn't as motivated to learn and think back then as later). Plus, of course, as yourself, I also didn’t know that the best way to manage four-part texture is actually to practice each line separately, and then two-part combinations only after I can do each line separately, you know, without mistakes.
Ausra: Yes, that’s the best way to do it.
Vidas: And three-part combinations comes only after two-part combinations. And so on. So, Ausra, do you think that Minori should despair, or is it an easy problem for him to overcome?
Ausra: I think he will overcome it in time. It might be hard at the beginning, but I think he will make progress in time. Just don’t give up.
Vidas: When you learn new music today, Ausra--Baroque music, let’s say, which has all kinds of articulation, and even Romantic music, which also has legato nuances and you have to coordinate legatos in various voices which are not necessarily together at the same time--remember in modern music, in legato, we have to shorten certain notes exactly, and make them exactly half as short.
Ausra: Yes, repeated notes. That’s the most challenging thing.
Vidas: Or staccato.
Ausra: Yes, in Romantic music, when you have a few voices, and let’s say two voices in one hand or even three voices in one hand, but you have to play like two voices legato and one voice has repeated notes that you have to shorten by half, so that’s a challenge.
Vidas: So today, when you practice new music or when you sight-read new music--is it difficult for you to articulate?
Ausra: Well, not anymore, but now I know what to do.
Vidas: When did you first discover that it’s not a challenge anymore--that you have different challenges now?
Ausra: Well, it was maybe thirteen years ago.
Vidas: Also in America?
Vidas: So how many years by that time you were playing? In Lithuania, you played maybe six years?
Vidas: In Michigan, you played two years with Pamela Ruiter-Feenstra?
Ausra: Two, yes.
Vidas: But then, in Lithuania we had one more year.
Ausra: So, about ten years.
Vidas: About ten years, guys. After ten years it becomes easy.
Vidas: So, Minori and others who are listening to this, please be patient. Please be patient at least for ten years.
Vidas: If you can do this, then everything becomes easier after that.
Ausra: Well, but of course, you have to practice hard during those ten years.
Vidas: Exactly. And enjoy the process, because each day you will notice some improvement. And that is the most important thing: to be better today than yesterday. Not to compare yourself with the masters; but compare yourself to yourself, of yesterday. Okay guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And you can do this by subscribing to our blog at www.organduo.lt and replying to any of our messages.
And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
Ronald Sumner: I know you said avoid seated at the organ photos but what else can you do with a digital organ? This is a Majestic 3-39 organ built by Makin's of Oldham, UK and this is me playing at the end of Sunday morning's service at Bamber, Bridge Methodist Church near Preston in Lancashire, UK.
Much of French 19th century and early 20th century organ music was written using symmetrical 4 or 8 measure units taken from the classical school. Here I mean that very often you can count on finding a cadence at the end of 4 or 8 measures of music.
Middle sections of the pieces, such as Development, might be an exception to that because obviously composers wanted to avoid too much predictability. This is evident in much of the music by Vierne, Dupre, Franck and others.
But what if a composer wanted to create something really unpredictable, something which the listener and the performer would find interesting, flexible, and alive? What would happen if instead of 4 or 8 measure units, you could have 3, 5, 6, 7 or even 9? Moreover, one sentence in a period might have 5 measures and another - 4 etc.
Today's sight-reading piece is Andantino (p. 1-2) by Louis Marie François Andlauer (1876-1915), little known French organist and composer who worked at Notre-Dames-des-Champs and Eglise Saint-Eloi in Paris. This composition is taken from Two Short Pieces for Organ or Harmonium (1912). If you look closely to the score, you will notice asymmetrical phrases right away.
You can play this piece with or without the pedals. As you sight-read it, pay attention to the stops or cadences at the end of asymmetrical units. Here's how the piece is divided in measures: 6-6-7-5-2-2-2-5-7-6-6-2.
In order to achieve a fluent legato touch, you will need to use finger substitution and glissando techniques. The composer suggests soft registration so choose perhaps 8' flutes with or without 4' reinforcement.
Phrasing and breathing in organ playing have much in common. Without applying breathing you can't really understand the concept of phrasing. Basically when we talk about phrasing, we refer to the places we can take a breath. In order to help you understand this concept, I made a video which you might find useful to watch.
Do you know what is the difference between a good performance and an exceptionally outstanding performance? Furthermore, do you know how to achieve the level of an exceptionally outstanding performance? In this article, I will give you 8 tips on how to strengthen the quality of your organ playing so you can advance to the next level.
1) Fingering. When you open your new organ score and want to start practicing a new composition, don't play it right away from the beginning until the end. I mean, you could play it through once just to get familiar with it but then the real practice begins.
Write in your fingering in every difficult spot of the piece. How to find out if the passage is difficult and needs fingering? You could play it once and see if you made a mistake. If you did, stop playing, go back, figure out and write in the most efficient fingering for it.
2) Pedaling. I suggest you write in pedaling on every note in the pedal line. This is very important because unlike manual playing, pedal playing usually is a completely new skill that organists must learn.
3) Notes. When you have fingering and pedaling in place, you can now start practicing it. Observe that every single note is correct. Sometimes you can hit the wrong note accidentally but in most cases, it is better to go back and play this spot with correct notes at least 3 times in a row.
4) Rhythms. In every measure, make sure that your rhythmical values are also correct. This is usually not so difficult in places with straightforward rhythms. But when you see any complications, such as syncopations, dotted notes, duplets, triplets, irregular rhythms, meter changes and so on, you have to be very careful about playing with correct rhythms. It is best that you subdivide the beats of each measure and count out loud while playing.
5) Articulation. Do not play every note legato. For people who come to the organ from piano playing, this is especially difficult to understand at first. You see, you have to look at the historical period that this piece was created in. If you are playing a piece by a composer from Renaissance, Baroque or Classical period, play with gently detached articulation (articulate legato) unless it is indicated otherwise by the composer.
If the piece is from the Romantic or modern period, usually composers indicate articulation very precisely. So pay close attention to each slur, dot or dash under or above the notes and try to execute them in the exact way.
6) Phrasing. If you want your organ performance to become natural, try to incorporate phrasing in your playing. This helps to achieve a feeling that you breathe together with music. In fact, you should breathe slowly, deeply and consciously while playing. Look for cadences in your music which reveal perfect places for phrasing.
7) Tempo. While performing, choose a concert tempo very carefully. Evaluate the mechanics and the size of the organ. In addition, assess the room in which you play and the reverberation of the space. While practicing, usually take a much slower tempo which will allow you to avoid mistakes in your playing.
8) Practice. When you practice your piece, be very systematic about how you learn new music. It is best to practice in short fragments of about 4 measures each and later combine them together. Also for polyphonic music try to master each voice separately, then combinations of 2 voices, 3 voices and only then - the entire 4 part texture.
Strengthen the quality of your organ playing by concentrating on the above details and making the details concentrated. This approach will help you to achieve the level of exceptionally outstanding performance.
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.
Just like the correct articulation helps to achieve clarity and precision in the performance, the right phrasing can help emphasize structurally important points in the piece. It is precisely phrasing which can give much desired natural flow and life to the organ composition. Moreover, phrasing will help the listener to understand the form of the piece. In this article, I will give you the advice on how to choose the best phrasing in organ playing.
Phrasing involves certain rhythmic fluctuation which takes place at structurally important elements of the piece. This fluctuation helps to emphasize the places which make up the form of the composition. While the usual playing and articulation help to achieve the hierarchy of the strong and weak beats in the measure, the phrasing is used to make subtle rhythmic inequalities. In other words, with the help of the phrasing the organist is able to achieve gentle riterdandos and accelerandos which are governed by certain compositional elements. Sometimes phrasing has much to do with articulation and taking a breath in a musical line.
Cadence is a certain harmonic or melodic curve which helps to complete the musical idea. Whenever you see a cadence, you can gently slow down to make it more prominent. Gradually resume the normal speed afterwards.
Rests are important for the phrasing as well. Quite often the composer will put a rest in a place where one particular voice or part has to take a breath. This is the sign for the subtle phrasing technique.
Very often caesuras are placed at the end of the phrase in order to show the necessity of taking a breath. Although the organ can play without breathing, if you emphasize those musically important places and articulate them, your musical lines will become much clearer.
After the long note there is a tendency to take a breath in a vocal composition. The same applies in organ music as well. Make a short rest after long notes to show the contour of the melody.
Repetition of Rhythmical Figures
If you see some repeated rhythmical figures in your organ piece, feel free to make more pronounced articulation at the end of each figure. This will be a natural way to make phrasing.
Beginnings and Endings of Melodic Line
Very often it is appropriate to make gentle rhythmical inequalities at the beginning and the end of the melodic line. Start slowly, speed up a little and finish slower. This is especially useful in Romantic organ music. It is helpful to imagine analogy with driving a car here. Similarly to the shape and performance of the melodic line, the car will start to move slowly, speed up and slow down at the stop.
If you apply subtle rhythmical phrasing and make articulation at structurally important points of the piece, your performance will become very natural. However, do not over do it, especially in the Baroque music. Although the Romantic compositions often require these rhythmical alterations, the early music must be played much more rhythmically and should emphasize meter, pulse, and alternation of strong and weak beats.
If you want more information on phrasing and other aspects of performance practice, I recommend Making Music on the Organ by Peter Hurford.
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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