Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 705 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Matthew, and he writes:
“Hello Vidas & Ausra,
Thank you for all that you are doing to encourage and coach organists!
1. What is your dream for organ playing?
Be able to accompany any song without losing the mood of the song. Rich bass and appropriate chords.
2. What are 3 most important things that are holding you back from realizing your dream?
b. Unable to play soprano and alto in the right hand simultaneously (bass and tenor in the left hand simultaneously)
c. Knowledge of chords
Vidas: Well, from the wording of this question, I get that the feeling that Matthew hasn’t been playing on the organ for a very long time.
Ausra: Yes, it seems like that.
Vidas: The terms that he’s using are usually quite general. They’re meant for people who are not specialized, right, who haven’t, let’s say, studied formally!
Ausra: Yes! Yes, it looks like that.
Vidas: So… knowledge of chords, we would say “harmony.”
Ausra: Yes, definitely. Music Theory at the beginning and then harmony—keyboard harmony.
Vidas: Or even music music theory, yeah. Before harmony, you cannot neglect theory, because harmony is a second level from theory.
Vidas: Harmony is basically a subject which deals with the chords in keyboard notation, basically, of two voices in each hand. Right? At least four voices. Right? And music theory just teaches you various elements of music starting with what… with scales, modes, intervals, and then chords.
Ausra: Yes. Music theory doesn’t teach you… It teaches the names of the chords and how to recognize them, how to do in versions, but it does not teach you how to connect those chords together in the right way.
Vidas: Yes, how to create a meaningful passage of music using those chords.
Ausra: That’s what harmony teaches you.
Vidas: Music theory might concern about one or two chords, like a dissonant chord and its resolution to the tonic chord…
Ausra: But not…
Vidas: But not a wider passage. Okay. So Matthew wants to accompany any song without losing the mood of the song, a rich base and appropriate chords. So yes, he needs to select an appropriate harmony to the melody of the song.
Ausra: But you know, if you are an inexperienced musician and you want to accompany somebody, you really need to play it from the score, I think. You need to find a score and play from it. Not too add your own chords. You might be able to do that in the future, but as a beginner, I think think it wouldn’t be really the smartest idea.
Vidas: Let me put it that way. Supplying your own harmony to the originally melody, a hymn or another kind of sacred song, or a secular song, you just supply the harmony. It’s called harmonization. It could be without pedals, it could be with pedals, the melody could be in the right hand or it could be in the left hand, or whatever you choose for texture. Right? But this process is basically creating a new piece of music. So let me make an analogy with a different field in terms of literature. Then people would understand it better because people read books. Right? More often than play music. Or at least newspapers or magazines, or now something on their phones. Right?
Ausra: Just titles of the articles.
Vidas: of the articles!! Still they read.
Ausra: ...and watching pictures.
Vidas: They read. And what Matthew needs to do is, of course, harmonize and create new short pieces of music. So in literature, you would actually compare it to being able to write an essay or a short paragraph. Right? Like a story maybe, like a short story based on a certain theme—a theme like preexistent theme that is given to you or that you choose for yourself. So how realistic is that if you are not a reader first? You have to be a reader first, and then write second. Correct, Ausra?
Ausra: Um yes! That’s correct.
Vidas: And, I’ve read somewhere… I’ve read somewhere that you have to read 100 books in order to be able to write 1. It’s maybe a generalization, maybe it’s an over-exaggerated version, but it was, I think, a citation from one of those French creators of encyclopedias from the 18th century. And of course, they knew the knowledge of encyclopedic things, and they knew the necessity of reading so many books, 100 books, and then be able to write one, skillfully, you know. So what I’m getting to is actually, you have to play musical compositions first, and only then, probably, aim to harmonize or create your own compositions.
Ausra: Yes, and how to reach, for example, a rich bass, if you are accompanying somebody and you want to have a rich bass, you need to play the lowest voice on the pedal-board with adding 16’ and other organ stops.
Vidas: So this skill is actually easier to learn if you read the real organ compositions from the score. And if you do 100 of them over the course of several years or sooner, you will be able to do that.
Ausra: And you know, like, hymn playing, hymn accompaniment might do a great thing here, because learning to accompany hymns, you can learn all of these things, to play rich bass with the pedal line, and you can see how chords are connected between themselves, because it’s usually written in the hymnals—the four-voice harmonization. And I think this would help you a great deal. And as you know, Matthew writes that he’s unable to play soprano and alto
Vidas: in the right hand
Ausra: in the right hand simultaneously, and bass and tenor in the left simultaneously. So, if you want to accompany a hymn right, as it should be, you should play, of course, soprano and alto with your write hand and tenor with your left hand, but the bass line with the pedals. And it really annoys me that very often, church organists double the bass line in the left hand along with the pedal line.
Vidas: In other words, they play all four parts with the hands, plus they play the pedals—the bass line, additionally, which is incorrect!
Ausra: And I think I understand why this problem exists, because there are still more people that are right-handed, and if you are right-handed, as for example Vidas and I are, it gives you trouble to play left-hand and pedals at the same time. Because usually your playing makes you work in such a way that you want to double with your left-hand whatever you are playing in the pedals.
Vidas: So you need to persevere with playing maybe combinations of left-hand and pedals together, first of all alone, but then together more than right-hand combinations, because that’s more difficult to do. Tenor alone, bass alone, and tenor and bass together.
Ausra: And you know, fingering gives a hard time for Matthew. Just really try to work on the hymns from the hymnal—any four-part hymnal—and I think it will give you quite a right notion of fingering, because if you are playing four voices on the keyboard, I just cannot imagine how could you be wrong in the fingering.
Vidas: Yes! Because it’s all positioned fingering. Correct?
Ausra: Yes, it’s very positioned fingering.
Vidas: Intervals between, let’s say, a fifth, you could play with one, two, three, four, five fingers, without changing any position. Right? C and E… three notes. So you play 1 and 3, or 2 and 4, or even 3 and 5 if there is a change in position. So that’s a third. A fourth, a fifth, exactly the same. 1-4, 1-5, even 2-5, but then wider than a fifth, you play with 1-5. C to A or C to B. That’s a seventh. Or an Octave, C to C, you still play with the same 1-5 fingering. Yes.
Ausra: Well, and you know, as about losing the mood in the middle, let’s say of a hymn or of a song that you are accompanying—what would keep you in the mood all the time, that if you could sing whatever you are accompanying. You could sing the melody along with how your are accompanying it, because will help you to keep up with the congregation or soloist or choir or whatever you are accompanying. Because if you cannot do that it means you don’t know that song well enough, and you are still not ready to accompany it. And also, if you are accompanying a song or a hymn, it has text, yes, like words. So you really need to be familiar with those words and the meaning of those words, because usually a song or a hymn has more than one verse, so you need to know them all and to choose your registration accordingly, or the level of your dynamics accordingly. If you are playing, for example, or accompanying on the piano. So it’s really important. Plus, if you will know the text well and if you can sing, and I don’t mean that you will have to sing when you are actually accompanying it and performing it, but in preparation for doing it, it will give you the natural musicality, you will know how to phrase things, where to take longer breaks between the phrases, where to slow down, for example, at the end, and about tempo. Yes. It will give you a good notion about tempo, because it’s often that, not me very often, but it’s quite often the case that organists choose the tempo without thinking about it, and then it’s either too slow or too fast for a congregation or a choir to sing. Of course, if you have a conductor, then it’s all solved because the conductor dictates the temple. But if you are the main musician of the church, or whenever you are accompanying somebody, then it’s up to you to choose the right tempo. And if you will sing, you will know how fast or how slow you should play.
Vidas: Exactly. And I would just add at the end that a good idea would be to choose, let’s say, 100 hymns. And to practice one hymn per week. In 100 weeks, you will learn 100 hymns, and you will be able to play a lot of organ repertoire, basic level repertoire after that. Right? So a good place to start is our Hymn Playing Workshop. It’s just for 10 hymns. It’s a very small selection of hymns, but it’s a very good starting point. Good luck with that. So, we hope this was useful to you! This is Vidas,
Ausra: And Ausra!
Vidas: Please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
Ausra: 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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