SOPP419: I could never play a triplet with one hand and four 16th notes with the other hand together
Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 419, of Secrets Of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May, and she writes:
Thank you for sending me the week 6 Harmony material. I have been working hard (and struggling) with the chords, the progressions and the sequences in the past 2 weeks. I find it most difficult to play with hands only using 2 right hand fingers and 2 left hand fingers. It is easier to play with left hand doing the bass only and right hand playing the triad (chords in closed positions). Playing the bass with the pedal is also much manageable than playing with 2 fingers from each hand. It takes a long time to go through the exercises first with hands only and then with pedals together. Shall I practice with hands only, with hands and pedals, or both? What do you suggest?
I am working on the sight reading master course at the same time. I struggle with the rhythms in week 3 day 2's triplets. I could never play a triplet with one hand and four 16th notes with the other hand together. If I assign 12 units to each quarter note, each note of a triplet will get 4 units and each 16th note will get 3 units. I am not sure if it will help me to get a better sense of this complicated rhythm by doing this. It will also take a long time to finish the passage.
Do you have any suggestions?
V: So this is sort of two fold question; one is about harmony and another is about playing complex rhythms.
A: Yes. And I know what she talks about, how uncomfortable is it to have two voice in one hand and two in another, but that’s the way the voice leading works because you cannot always use only a closed position. And if you need to play in an open position then you really need to play something with your left hand too. If you don’t like to play two voices with your left hand, then play bass with the pedal, tenor with your left hand and two voices with your right hand.
A: It will not make life easier. Because I think that trouble is the tenor voice.
V: Mmm-hmm. Yeah, I…
A: It always is the tenor voice.
V: Mmm-hmm. I could suggest here two things: one is to sight-read more hymns with or without the pedal, doing the same thing that you are talking about—two and two–left hand takes two voices and right hand takes two voices, or right hand takes voices, left hand takes one voice, and the pedals take one voice. Those versions are very beneficial. So, she practices harmony, but at the same time, sight-reading hymns would really be beneficial to her because it’s the same disposition of voice.
A: Well, yes, but by these two questions by May, I see actually the connection. It’s all what she talks about is connected to this coordination problem.
A: Which is very common in us, all, I think. Because if you cannot manage triplets in one hand and then sixteenths with your other hand it also means coordination, and basically independence of your hands.
V: One part of your brain must think in triplets and another in sixteenth notes.
A: That’s right. I remember when I first encountered this problem; it was in Franck’s A Major Fantasy. It has a couple [of] spots where you have triplets, and…
V: What kind of fantasy?
A: In A Major.
V: A. Mmm-hmm.
A: Yes. A Major.
V: And I’ve seen this rhythms in Messiaen’s music, uh…
A: Well I saw many times these rhythms. This was just the first time when I encountered it myself.
V: For example in Messiaen’s L’Ascension, the second movement.
A: What would you suggest? How to practice it?
V: First of all, hands separately. Not necessarily the entire piece but maybe a short fragment of 2-4 measures. And each hand has to know this part completely, like inside out. I’ve done this repeatedly, ten, twenty, a hundred times, with each hand. And suddenly, when put those hands together, they click and play separately, like two different people. Because they, your hands basically remember the muscle memory.
A: That’s a very good suggestion. And I had that trouble sometimes even playing trills. And I don’t think it was because of poor technical skills or something. I think it was also psychological problem too. Because when I know that spot, tricky spot comes, I would get tense. I would get like muscle spasms and then I would fell. But...
V: You mean fall.
A: Fall, yes.
A: And I would fall. And what helped me actually, relaxation and breathing.
V: Another method would be to think about sixteenths as just twice as smaller units of duplets. You know, three against two is easier to play than three against four.
A: Well, but for beginners, three against two is also a big challenge.
V: But you could...
A: But of course…
V: count it...
V: Those rhythms.
A: You can everything count mathematically. That’s what math is for—that you could calculate anything.
V: So, the first and the third note of the sixteen group, would fit nicely with the triplets. But the second and the fourth need to be inserted somewhere in the middle, right? So...
A: But you still have to know that spot where it has to be…
A: Put in.
V: But if you make a focus on the first and the third group notes, then two and four maybe take care, by themselves. No?
A: (Laughs.) I wish it would be like this.
V: Okay. And one last suggestion is about strengthening her left hand a little bit more. I have two courses concerning this. The first is left hand training, which is based on six trio sonatas by Bach, where the player is required to practice any part that organist play from trio sonatas—right hand, left hand, or the pedals—but only with left hand. And in various keys. I transpose them, in multiple keys. It’s just for strengthening the left hand. That would be beneficial for May. And then the second level is two part training where you take, where I take the same trio sonatas, but people need to practice two parts at a time—left hand, for example and pedals.
A: Yes, I believe it might be very helpful.
V: Mmm-hmm. And that might help her with harmony disposition when she has to play pedals in the feet, tenor in the left hand, and two voices in the right hand. Right hand is easier so left hand and pedal need to be strengthened—this coordination.
V: Okay. So anybody who struggles with this could really benefit from those two courses I think. Alright guys. We hope was useful to you. 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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