SOPP359: Speeding up fingerwork
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 359, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Jeremy. And he writes:
Speeding up fingerwork. For some reason, my fingers feel sluggish. I have practiced with high fingers (a technique I use in piano) and shortening and lengthening the note values (like swinging or reverse swinging rhythms), but still seem to get stuck at one tempo. Also, have tried Vidas suggestions of stopping on every beat, then every other beat, etc.
V: Ausra, do you have problems with speeding up, up to concert tempo, sometimes?
A: Well, yes and no—because usually speeding up is not my main problem.
V: Slowing down, right, is your problem.
A: Well, keeping steady tempo is bigger problem, sometimes.
V: Uh-huh. Right now I’m starting to practice Sonata Ad Patres by Bronius Kutavicius, a living Lithuanian composer, and it has a middle movement—very fast. And the style is minimalistic, and lots of repetitions, with minimal adjustments are going on, so have to constantly be aware of those changes. But my fingers are not ready to play fast, so I’m playing really, really slow, and then stopping at two, every two notes—not every beat but every eighth note, actually. Because every beat would be second step, I guess. What do you think about this technique, Ausra?
A: Well, I have played this sonata many years ago. I don’t think I had any problems to play it in a fast tempo.
A: It’s quite comfortable, actually.
V: But it takes a while to get used to the melodic motives.
A: That’s true, but after you get used to it, I think it will be easy to do.
V: Do you think it has something to do with writing in fingering?
A: Well, obviously, yes.
V: I’m playing from your score, so it doesn’t have any fingering somehow.
V: Mmm-hmm. For some reason.
A: Does it have any pedaling.
V: No. Maybe...
A: Maybe it’s not my score?
V: Maybe you played from another score.
V: Could be.
A: I’m not sure, but I’m not used to write every finger.
V: Actually, it’s a clean score, no…
A: So, so it’s not my score.
V: No registration.
A: It’s not my score.
V: Mmm-hmm. We could ask Jeremy if he is writing in fingering in his, let’s say, Dorian Toccata that he’s playing a fugue. Or if he is actually working from our score, right? I hope so.
A: Well, I think if he still has trouble with speeding up his fingering, I think he needs to play more exercises, more skills.
A: More arpeggios, more chords, more Hanon exercises.
V: Yeah, Hanon is a nice collection, I guess. It takes in a fast tempo to play, only one hour to play, all three parts. But if you can do it then you basically can play any type of organ repertoire as well, and majority of piano repertoire too.
A: Yes, because I think that being able to play up to a right speed is question of how well your technique is developed.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yes. Well, what could Jeremy do besides what he’s doing? I think he’s on the right track—gradually lengthening the motives. But it takes more than one day for one stage. Let’s say step one would be to play and stop every beat, or maybe every eighth note. But it takes just more than one day, I guess, maybe three days to do this comfortably. And then second step would also take several days. Right?
A: Of course! I think all of us, we want that immediate result.
V: That would be nice, Ausra.
V: What would you give if you had this ability in exchange? What would you sacrifice if you could play any type of organ music at sight, without any problem, in a concert tempo, perfectly, right now?
V: Your pinky finger?
A: No, no. But I could, I can sacrifice one of my meals today—let’s say, breakfast.
V: Oh, I know why. It would actually be very healthy, too.
A: Well, yes.
V: But not easy to do. I would probably sacrifice my second breakfast.
A: Are you having two breakfasts every morning?
V: Not every day.
V: Yeah. It’s interesting what Jeremy would sacrifice if he had this ability.
A: Unfortunately, I don’t think we have such a choice, just to decide to sacrifice something and get some special quality.
V: I know, like golden fish from sea would come out and say ‘I could grant you three wishes’.
A: And one of your wishes would be to play any piece, at the concert tempo right away?
V: Choose wisely, you say!
V: Because only two will be left.
A: That’s right.
A: So I guess you need to work on your pieces at your pace, as fast as you can, and don’t want to rush things right away.
V: Maybe you are right, because practicing things slowly takes a lot of time, but it also gives much more satisfaction. Remember how we watch movies how we read books. Reading books is much more pleasurable, I think, than watching movies because this pleasure lasts longer.
A: Well, then I wonder why are you asking me, begging me each week to go to movie.
V: (Laughs.) I know.
A: You never begging me to read books for example with you.
V: If I did, would you read with me?
A: I don’t know.
V: Let’s read tonight and see if we can survive without movies—just one night.
V: Nice! What about playing excerpts of that piece, Ausra, but exercises—maybe transposing in various keys?
A: That’s a great idea. I think we have talked about it already quite a few times. If you don’t want for some reason to play additional exercises or don’t have time to do that, then you need to make exercises out from your own repertoire.
V: I did once, and actually from memory. This was Magnificat Primi Toni. Magnificat by, I think Heinrich Scheidemann.
A: Did it work for you?
V: Absolutely. Because, you know what happened? I think practiced this piece in short excerpts—maybe one measure at at time—but went through the circle of fifths, in ascending number of accidentals, and then going back to the flat side. So what happened; I memorized this piece in fragments, and those fragments became my language too. I could actually improvise like Scheidemann sometimes.
V: But then, I thought, ‘well there was Schiedemann once, we don’t need the second Schiedemann, but there wasn’t any Vidas before so we need Vidas now’, right?
A: That’s true.
V: But it works for people who are interested in copying the style of certain composer in their improvisations. They could actually memorize just one measure and go up the ascending number of accidentals, and then going backwards through the circle of fifths. It’s really helpful. Plus it’s very healthy for technique.
A: Yes, but if we are talking about Scheidemann, I don’t think he would be writing his compositions for the keys with many flats or many sharps.
V: No. Because obviously…
A: Not that style, not that time.
V: Obviously the type of keyboard was different—it had split keys.
V: It had mean-tone temperament so keys with more than probably two flats or sharps would sound harsh or too harsh. Right? I guess now, for just educational sake it was work right, to let’s say take Bach’s Dorian Toccata and practice fragment by fragment in various keys. Even for Jeremy it’s a good technique, especially those places which give him trouble.
A: I think it might be quite beneficial.
V: Should we ask him to report to us in a month or so?
A: If he will do that, yes.
A: It would be very interesting to know how it went and if he had succeeded.
V: Good! Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: We hope this was useful to you. And please keep sending us your wonderful 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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