Many beginner organists struggle with reading 3 staves of organ score. They have the obvious question - is it possible to look at all 3 of them simultaneously or is it better to pick one part and focus on it exclusively while playing the others from memory? Or perhaps is there another solution to this intricate problem? In this article, you will find some tips for your organ practice which will help you to read organ scores easier.
First of all, let me explain how people who struggle with sight-reading play from the organ score. Usually they look at the left hand part most of the time and play other parts almost from memory.
This is especially true when they play pedals. Since pedals are the most difficult part to master, many have a tendency to look at the pedal board. This is not so great. Unless playing from memory, we should force ourselves to look at the organ score exclusively.
So is it really possible to play the organ while looking at the 3 parts at the same time? In order to understand the complexity of this question, we need to know how our brain works.
I have to say, that it is impossible for a human brain to process several different things simultaneously. We can pay real attention to only one thing at a time. We may think we can watch TV and eat at the same time, or drive a car and talk on the cell phone but in reality, our focus is always shifting from one task to another.
The same rule is valid in organ playing, too. When we play from a 3-stave score, we have to constantly shift our attention from the right hand to the left hand to the pedals. So it's OK for you to play and look at the left hand stave. It is only natural to look at it while playing because normally it is more difficult than the right hand part (at least for right-handed organists).
Perhaps even better is to shift our attention constantly from one part to another. For example, depending on the difficulty level of each part, you can focus on the left hand part in one measure and on the pedal part - in another. If there is a manual change in this piece, perhaps look at the part which has this change and so on.
Remember that you will most likely behave differently when sight-reading and playing a composition which you know very well. The thing is the work you are sight-reading is completely unfamiliar to you and you will need to pay attention to many details and constantly shift your focus from one part to another.
A little different story is with composition you know well. The deeper is your knowledge of this piece, the less you have to look at the score. Obviously, the piece you have already memorized does not require any looking or following the score at all.
Since every person is different, you can discover by yourself where you look while playing by selecting two pieces of your choice. One composition has to be completely new and another - already mastered (memorization is not required). Compare your behavior and eye movements while playing each work. Finally, the more you play from the scores (both new and familiar), the better you will become at reading them.
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.
How to Focus on Learning New Organ Pieces for Church Services Rather Than Sight-Reading?
Many church organists have a dream in giving their best on Sunday services and learning new pieces to enhance their worship playing. However, sometimes they might lack motivation to practice new music because their might have good sight-reading skills. If you find yourself in this situation, I will give you some ideas which will help you to solve this problem and to advance in organ playing.
The goal to learn new music as opposed to sight-read them is wonderful. In fact, the two are strongly connected.
You see, if your primary goal is to play in church, then this might well be your motivation behind learning new music for services. You don't need to play everything new every Sunday since this will be a very great burden. You want to enjoy music and not to feel like you have to prepare something new in a short amount of time.
Usually there are 4 places for organ music in the worship service of various denominations today (prelude, offertory, communion, and postlude). One possibility for you would be to learn one new short work each week or every two weeks and repeat others from your current repertoire. This piece does not have to be long nor too complicated. In fact, a chorale prelude of 1-2 pages is an optimum duration for liturgical organ playing.
If you like sight-reading, this does not necessarily mean you should stop practicing it. In fact, this is a tremendous tool in any organist's arsenal of skills. Many people would like to get better at sight-reading, so if you already have reasonable skills, you have an advantage. An ability to play unfamiliar music at sight makes a process of learning new pieces much easier.
If you really want to develop unbeatable sight-reading skills, check out my systematic Organ Sight-Reading Master Course. To complete the practice material of this course will only take 15 minutes a day of practice but you will learn to sight-read any piece of organ music effortlessly.
I often suggest organists two practice both sight-reading and learning new material regularly. This ensures that both skills are being developed at the same time.
The ultimate goal would be to be able to play the music that you love at sight fluently, without interruptions, and mistakes. However, you are probably thinking that nobody can achieve this level.
There is a story about Bach, who was a great sight-reader and usually could play anything written on the music sheet. But one day during his visit with his friend he made a mistake on the harpsichord by trying to play the same spot three times in a row and said: "No, it is not possible to sight-read everything".
So the take-away message for you would be to take a piece of your choice and practice it on a deeper level for church service. For best results work in separate voices and voice combinations. Practice in short fragments to avoid mistakes.
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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