Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 456 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Gavin, and he writes:
G’day Vidas, Thank you for your work. My dream for my organ playing is to really enjoy playing well. What’s holding me back from this I think is good practicing…and not just in the amount of time, but also in how practice is done. I know that there can never be one solution that fits everyone, but guidelines are difficult to come by! Cheers, Gavin
Well, let’s talk, Ausra, about what are some basic guidelines for efficient and effective practice?
A: Well, that’s a very good question, I guess. Because, if you know would have like universal rules, probably you could win the Nobel Prize.
V: Oh, really?
A: True. Because I think what suits one person might not suit another one. But of course, there are some common features that can be adopted by many of us.
V: Mm hm.
A: And I think the rule number 1 is, stop practicing all your pieces from beginning to the end.
A: Because, each piece has easier spots and harder spots. And if you only play them throughout the piece each time, it means that harder spots stay harder spots, and that’s not a very good thing to do.
V: What Ausra means, probably, is that if you play the piece from the beginning until the end, the easy spots will get easier, right, because you’re mastering them. And you’re not making mistakes in easy spots, and you’re making mistakes probably in difficult spots. So, if you’re playing from beginning until the end, those difficult spots are not really improving because you are always making similar mistakes.
A: Maybe they are improving, but not efficient enough. And not as fast as it could be if you would work more on those difficult spots.
V: And in general, our psyche is conditioned to be pleased when we do something right, and not when we do something wrong. So when we play the pieces from the beginning to the end and make many mistakes, we obviously are aware of that, hopefully, and the feeling is not very pleasant, right? We are not satisfied with our practice that day. It’s better to keep conquering new spots of music without making extra mistakes. Which leads me to another point – start practicing really slowly, and then you will not make so many mistakes.
A: Yes, I also wanted to tell about the tempo, but first of all, I also wanted to tell the second step would be not to play all the parts together right from the beginning. What people always like to do, too. You need to work in voice combinations. Because, it’s not piano, it’s organ, you have pedal board attached to your instrument, and it’s important, too. So you have more things to think about while playing organ, comparing to the piano.
V: Mm hm.
A: So you really need to learn the separate voices first.
V: All right, so let’s recap a little bit. Playing…
A: …hard spots first. Playing in combinations. Then parts together.
V: And then playing slowly.
A: Playing slowly, yes. I guess these are three keys.
V: But there are more keys.
A: Of course there are.
V: Let’s talk a little bit about how often should you practice.
A: I would say every day.
V: Every day. Okay, daily practice. Then, the next point should be, when you play in those fragments, do you play them only once, or several times, or multiple times.
A: Well, it depends how well you’re able to do them, and how hard they are. If they are easy, maybe it’s enough to play once, but I highly doubt it.
V: I would say at least three times. But make sure those three times are correct in a row. And if it’s not correct, then you go back and correct those mistakes, and aim for three fluent repetitions in a row. That would be ideal, I would say.
A: True. And also, you need to know what you are doing. Because very often, people just practice for the sake of practice, but we don’t have goals.
V: Such as? What an example of the goal might be?
A: Well, let’s see… I’m playing, let’s say, Trio Sonata, yes? And I’m working on left hand and pedal. And let’s say this time I will play through and I will really think about my articulation – am I doing it right or not?
V: Mm hm. You mean probably that it’s not possible to learn entire Trio Sonata in one sitting. You have to think about goals for each day.
A: That’s right. Or let’s say today I’m working on F Major Toccata by J.S. Bach. I know that the cadences are the hardest thing for me to play in that toccata. So maybe today I don’t have much time, so I’ll just go through the cadences for a few times.
V: Which leads me to another point. When you say cadences, you have to understand what a cadence is, so probably it’s beneficial to know a little bit about music theory and harmony. Or even if you don’t know, study it. Study it right from the beginning, right from the start.
A: And maybe when you start to learn the pieces of music, it’s beneficial to look at it from the scientific point of view, and to analyze it a little bit. To analyze structure, the keys, how they change, all the structure, it will be helpful for you while performing it and learning it. And then of course, if you have your performance coming not far ahead, maybe you want to work on the right tempo, to check it if it’s even throughout the piece. So there are various aspects of practicing.
V: And also, fingering, pedaling. Those…
A: Well, yes. But this comes from the beginning of learning the piece. You will not check your fingering and pedaling right before recital.
V: Ornamentation, phrasing, registration, all those things need to be considered. What about, Ausra, when you practice an organ piece, and memorize. Is it healthy to try to memorize some pieces?
A: Yes, sometimes it’s helpful. Maybe not entire piece throughout, but some of the spots definitely. The most difficult spots, or places where you need to turn the page.
V: We would need to probably record an entire episode on page turns, how to do them. But that’s an important consideration to think about in each practice that you do. So, what else, the final ideas, would you have for Gavin and others who want to learn to practice efficiently?
A: Well, you know, your head needs to lead, your mind, your mind needs to lead your practice, not your body. And if you feel tired, you cannot control your body, then you better stop practicing and get a rest. Because there won’t be much of the benefit of practicing just for practicing.
V: I would agree on this one. I usually finish my practice before I am getting tired. And I’m never tired.
A: Good for you. Not everybody can do it.
V: Yes. Thank you guys. This was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your 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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