SOPP299: Could please talk about how to improve finger accuracy, especially with fast passages
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 299 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John and he writes:
“Hi Vidas and Ausra,
Thank you for your amazing blogs lately, there's been some great discussions and I value the different perspectives you both bring.
I'm wondering if you could please talk about how to improve finger accuracy, especially with fast passages. Specifically I'm trying to play In Dulci Jubilo BWV 729 by Bach, your training videos were great and I surprised myself how fast I was able to learn it (for me), it still took 2 months.
Now my problem is trying to speed up to concert tempo. Most professional organists on YouTube seem to play this piece in 2:40-2:50 minutes, your Christmas Concert video shows you play it in about this time.
I seem to be able to play it in about 3:10 mins quite ok without mistakes, but when I go faster, I seem to slur lots of notes by brushing against the key alongside, for example playing the note A I might bump the G sharp alongside. It feels like my fingers fumble, and I make mistakes in random places and even lose my place completely. This makes me feel quite uneasy and I don't have any confidence that I can get through the piece without messing it up.
So I need to go about 10-20% faster and it seems a big jump in difficulty. I have noticed I struggle with fast pieces in general.
Is it normal to take a long time to increase the tempo after having learnt a new piece?
What exercises should I do to be able to play fast tempo pieces accurately?
I want to play this piece as the postlude for the Nine Lessons and Carols service on Dec 16th, so I still have time, but this will be a big occasion with lots of people and the former retired organist will be there so I don't want to stuff it up!
I hope your day goes well,
V: That’s a nice message.
A: Yes, that’s a very nice message as John always writes to us. Well, let’s try to help him.
V: OK. In Dulci Jubilo the most characteristic thing is probably passages in the upper part. Sometimes they run in soprano but sometimes they go between both hands and Bach learned this technique presumably from visiting Buxtehude in Lubeck.
V: I think the main difficulty with those passages is 3 sharps of course. It’s in A Major.
A: So what we could suggest for John if he has the possibility to practice those scales.
A: I would work on scales in A Major.
V: A Major. Probably in related keys as well because Bach has modulation.
A: In D Major probably, E Major.
V: F Sharp Minor.
A: F Sharp Minor yes, it’s a parallel key.
V: And C Sharp Minor maybe.
A: True. In general I think playing scales is important technique to develop and it helps a lot when playing repertoire.
V: B Minor too because it has 2 sharps. So playing scales and arpeggios too because these passages have arpeggiated figures as well. Maybe we could suggest to John to isolate one passage and look how it is put together and maybe transpose it to different keys. The only passage, nothing more, just the passage. Would that work?
A: Well that might work but in general I think he needs to strengthen his finger muscles.
V: Oh, so Hanon exercises.
A: Yes Hanon exercises would be another resource to look at and to work on. But overall I think that you don’t have to look at other performers and compare your tempo with another. Because the most important thing is that you wouldn’t take too fast tempo. You need to take tempo as fast as you can still control everything because otherwise that freedom is OK for now. Maybe you will speed it up a little bit but don’t rush.
V: And maybe when John comes back to this piece maybe couple years later he can play without any trouble in less than three minutes.
A: That’s right. So I think listeners will forgive you if you will not play very fast but they will not forgive you if you mess up everything even if you play it fast.
V: One or two mistakes is OK obviously but in things like that we tend to get scared of mistakes and one mistake leads to another and another to another and pretty soon we panic.
A: That’s right. And for listeners it’s so uncomfortable to listen to such a performance because you know that you are not guilty of something but you feel that way.
V: Umm-hmm. You feel sorry for that organist and sort of helpless because you can’t jump in and play for him.
A: That’s right. So I always think you need to take a tempo in which you can control the situation because otherwise things might just get out of your control.
V: So probably the most beneficial would be Part 1 and Part 2 Hanon exercises and he could stack up maybe ten to twenty exercises in a row. Maybe not necessarily learning all of them together but maybe one day he would learn number one and then repeat a few days, after a while he would add number two so then he would have two exercises in his repertoire, three, four, five, and I don’t know in three months he would have maybe entire first part ready to play in a medium tempo and then his hands get tired, his fingers would get tired too, but sooner or later they would be stronger.
A: That’s right and it’s very good to practice on the piano too. Because in order to improve your technique you need to practice mechanical instruments, either mechanical organ or mechanical piano because electronic keyboard does not give for you enough for your fingers to work on.
V: Some very new keyboards they have this artificial resistance which is similar to real organ but not many people play them.
V: So I guess I could also recommend playing on a table just mechanically lifting and hitting the table with fingers those exercises because it’s a pain to listen to them, right, for the family for example. They are very un-musical and boring unless he takes different modes and adds some sharps, not only in C Major.
OK guys, please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: 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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