SOPP597: Two things that frustrate me are it takes me about 3 months to learn these big fugues (practicing about 1.5 hours/day) and the playing the strings of 32nd notes evenly at high tempo
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A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
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V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 597 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Bill. And he writes,
I put in 15-30 minutes a day working on the sight reading course. I've been working on BWV 543 Bach Prelude & Fugue in A Minor mostly beyond that. Two things that frustrate me are it takes me about 3 months to learn these big fugues (practicing about 1.5 hours/day) and the playing the strings of 32nd notes evenly at high tempo. Any suggestions to speed up learning and play better at high tempos would be appreciated. I do like the sight reading course, it certainly has me reading better!
V: So, Ausra, do you wonder why Bill is struggling with BWV 543 so much?
A: Well, you know, it’s one of the major pieces by J.S. Bach, and my suggestion would be, if it takes for you 3 months to learn such a piece and you still struggle playing 32nds in the fast tempo right, it means that actually this piece is actually too hard for you, for right now. If I would be you, I would go back to an easier repertoire. Make sure you have played all 2 part and 3 part inventions, you have done some of the Well Tempered Clavier, you have played all 8 Preludes, Small, Little Preludes and Fugues by J.S. Bach, and even then, after starting working on a major prelude and fugue by J.S. Bach, A Minor is probably not the easiest out of them. Definitely there are easier ones.
V: I should also add that you have to define what kind of level you should be when you take the new piece. I have to say, what kind of, you have to master the piece, and what does it mean, right? You have to be able to perform it for others, and then go to the next piece.
A: That’s right.
V: If you don’t want to share your work online with strangers, that’s fine. But please play it at least for your friends and family. You learn a piece, and you show them what you’ve learned.
A: Because, you know, for the piece like this A Minor, I guess if you are at the right level to play such kind of difficulty of piece, you need to be able to do text of it, roughly in a month. If it takes you longer, it means that this piece is still too hard for you.
V: You say you learned entire Clavierübung III by Bach, in a month.
A: Yes. That’s what I did. But it was when I was in good shape, at the full potential of my capacity, so…
A: Capacity, yes.
V: Was your professor George Ritchie surprised?
V: He wouldn’t learn so fast?
A: Well, I don’t know. Maybe he would learn it, I don’t know, but really I think I was getting to him sometimes at my learning tempos.
V: Mm hm. Yeah, that’s right. Did you have good sight reading abilities at the time?
A: Yes I did have. But you know...it’s...usually people take it for granted - if you are a good sight reader, you can learn music fast. It’s not true. I was always a really good sight reader. But usually when I play the same piece the second time or the third time, I would make more mistakes than just sight reading it.
V: I can see why, because you lose concentration, yes?
V: The first time might be the best.
A: Yes, that’s how it works for me.
V: Mm hm. Maybe you should try sight reading short recital!
A: (laughs) Maybe not.
V: Like easier pieces, and see how it goes. I did that once with 8 Little Preludes and Fugues, BWV 553-560 and it went okay. It went without major mistakes. But the feeling for me wasn’t very nice. I wasn’t relaxed.
A: Well, it wasn’t true sight reading. Because you had played those pieces many, many years ago.
V: Mm hm.
A: And then you sort of re-sight read them again.
V: Exactly, yes.
A: So it’s not the same. I’m talking about…
A: Completely new.
V: I see. When you learned to sight read on the organ, did you use my sight reading master course?
V: Of course not.
A: It wasn’t ready at that time.
V: It’s a dumb question, right?
A: Yes, it is.
V: And I mean that, you learned, you taught yourself just by playing repertoire.
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: Much repertoire. The more, the better. So I think Bill will also get better at sight reading with our sight reading course, this will be more systematic than just simply sight reading whatever you want. But Ausra says very wise suggestion: to take and learn easier repertoire first. There is on American Guild of Organist website a list of graded repertoire. For Bach music, for Langlais music, for Messiaen, for music composed after Bach in Germany. And you can see which level A Minor Prelude and Fugue belongs to. It certainly is not at the beginning and probably not even in the middle. This graded repertoire list has 10 levels. So it might be maybe level 10 or 9 or 8, something like that. So pick something from earlier levels first, right?
A: Yes. Because I think that playing music, any kind of music, has to give you some kind, some sort of pleasure. And if you are playing too hard pieces that are too hard for you at that moment, you might get frustrated and disappointed.
V: That’s right. And take the time to learn each piece really well. I recommend recording yourself, even if you don't show it to anybody else. Because this, knowing that you only have one chance to play through a piece without any stops. Because you know that the recording is going makes you focus much better.
A: True. And you know why I'm not arguing for you to, not encouraging you to play too hard pieces. Because I know for myself, when I was at the second grade at the academy for music, at the beginning of my second year of playing organ at all, my teacher gave me to play the B Minor Prelude and Fugue, BWV 544 by J.S. Bach. And as you well know, it is one of the most complex Preludes and fugues by J.S. Bach.
V: Which level, which year was that?
A: Beginning of the second year.
A: Of playing the organ. And…
V: And you wonder why my teacher gave me the A Minor at the 12th grade?
A: I struggled so much just to learn that music, you know? And I did it like in 2 months, but it took me such a pain, and so many hours. I put so much effort into it. I finally played it for an exam, but it never gave me any pleasure, and I never went back to this piece. Never in my life. And probably will never will. And even now, when I now listen to other organists playing this piece, I’m having this very sort of uneasy, unpleasant feeling. So basically, that teacher just ruined me this B minor piece forever.
V: Young teachers are like this. They imagine things much more differently than experienced teacher would, right? But I guarantee that if you took up this piece right now, it wouldn't be a problem for you at all right now, probably. You would just slowly sight read it very comfortably.
A: Yes, but I’m not willing to do it.
V: Yeah. So 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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