Vidas: Let’s start Episode 127 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. Today’s question was sent by Lilla, and she writes:
“Thank you for all your advice about organ playing - especially the pedal virtuoso course that I am taking now. Regarding the arpeggios, is it OK to NOT to follow with both legs, when one foot is playing the highest/lowest notes on the pedal board? I keep my other foot on the note that I need to play when switching legs. For example, in case of B minor arpeggios, I keep my left foot on D while keep playing with the right foot upward and backward. (I followed your suggestion to use the F# minor pedal signs for B minor and it seems to work better).”
Isn’t that great, that the f♯ minor pedal version works for b minor, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, excellent.
Vidas: Sometimes you get advantages of discovering similarities between the keys and transferring one type of pedaling to another key, which works sometimes with sharps, sometimes with flats.
Ausra: Yes, it’s nice. It’s really a big help.
Vidas: And saves time. So, her question is about…
Ausra: About body position, basically.
Vidas: Keeping either one foot in place, or moving that foot, together with another foot, upward and downward. What would you say about that?
Ausra: Well, I would say that most of the organ scores would suggest to keep both feet together.
Vidas: But in the case of, let’s say, b minor, in the middle of the pedal part, you use both feet. But then, it goes very high. Then, you only need to use the right foot. What about the left foot, then?
Ausra: It cannot stay in the middle, I would say.
Vidas: I think so, too.
Ausra: Because otherwise you might fall down on the pedal, if you will shift your entire body too much to one side.
Vidas: It’s an unnecessary burden, I think.
Ausra: Sure, yes.
Vidas: And in general, it’s quite difficult to keep your balance on the pedalboard while switching directions.
Vidas: You have to push off with the opposite foot, to switch direction with your knees, in order to simply not hurt your knees, right?
Ausra: Yes. And remember that you must feel comfortable on the organ. Not like on the couch at home--but still, you know, it shouldn’t hurt, and it shouldn’t be very much uncomfortable. And if it feels like that, it means that something might be wrong.
Vidas: Should Lilla stick with the virtuoso pedal course, or would it be beneficial for her to supplement her menu with real organ music?
Ausra: Well, definitely supplement it with real organ music, because you might get bored by playing exercises.
Vidas: And exercises don’t get you real life experiences.
Ausra: Sure, sure.
Vidas: They’re isolated techniques which develop one certain aspect of your playing, of your skill. Which is good, but in real music, you need all kinds of abilities, right?
Ausra: Yes, especially while playing organ, you also need to work on your coordination.
Ausra: And if you are only playing pedal all the time, your coordination might not be as good. So you need to combine all those practices: do some pedal work, and do some repertoire.
Vidas: Maybe play a scale or two, or arpeggio or two, for starters--for warming up.
Ausra: Yes, definitely. It would be a good beginning, you know, to warm up.
Vidas: And with your fingers, too.
Vidas: Something technical. For example, I like to kind of...warm up with improvisation nowadays; because I can warm up, and slowly, gradually feel the keyboard. And the pedals too, because I improvise with my feet as well. What about you, Ausra? How do you warm up?
Ausra: Heheh. I warm up with dictations--playing to my students!
Vidas: “Eight measures!”
Ausra: Because I have so many classes that I teach--27 a week!--so I get plenty of warmups, with my hands, at least.
Vidas: Do you play this same dictation over and over again, the same day? Or do you have different ones?
Ausra: No, I have different classes, so I play different dictations. Some of them--most of them--are actually 3-part dictations; but some are 2-part, and some have only 1 voice.
Vidas: Do students like those dictations?
Ausra: Oh, no. They hate them. (Most of them.)
Vidas: Do you like them?
Ausra: Well...yes! Why not?
Vidas: And why do you like them and your students don’t?
Ausra: Because I can have the music score in front of me, and they just have to write it down by ear, so that’s another story. And they are hard dictations, so I understand why they don’t like them.
Vidas: Do they have syncopations?
Ausra: Yeah, syncopations…
Vidas: Dotted rhythms?
Ausra: Suspensions, dotted rhythms, and all kinds of...things...
Vidas: They’re like short musical compositions--
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: Like preludes of 8 measures.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: And sometimes they do sound like preludes, when they are 3 or 4 parts.
Ausra: Yes, those 3-part dictations, you could play them as preludes.
Vidas: Mhm. I would even say 2-part dictations sometimes sound convincing.
Ausra: Yes, because they have like secondary dominants, and some of them even have modulations.
Vidas: So, you teach your students the skills for real-life improvisation, I think.
Ausra: Well, yes, but dictations are mainly meant to improve the pitch--musical pitch, hearing.
Vidas: Mhm. To help them understand what they’re listening to in real life.
Vidas: And that’s not necessarily enough for creating your own music, right?
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: You have another class--harmony--
Vidas: --Which is a transition between playing repertoire, listening to what you play, and then improvising--creating your own music. Harmony is sort of the in-between step, right?
Ausra: That’s right. It’s very important, you know.
Vidas: Good. So, Lilla should also supplement her exercises, too, with real music, we think.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Alright. What about...what about other pedal virtuoso exercises? I have, I think, not only scales there, but also arpeggios over the tonic chord, arpeggios over the dominant 7th chord, arpeggios over the diminished 7th chord; and even, I believe, chromatic scales with single voice and with octaves. So it’s a really comprehensive approach. Not too many people finish what they start, from what I read; but those who do, thank me later. And thank themselves, too.
Ausra: Yes. Excellent.
Vidas: So, if you have the stamina to succeed, if you really want so badly to develop your ankle flexibility like Marcel Dupré taught, so then playing scales, arpeggios--with one foot and both feet--is very beneficial in the long run. But you have to not forget the real music.
Ausra: Yes, definitely. You know, the real music is the most important, I think. All these exercises, they supplement the repertoire very well.
Vidas: They are servants for repertoire.
Ausra: Sure, yes, yes.
Vidas: It’s not the goal to master those exercises. It’s a means--it’s a tool.
Vidas: They have to serve you. And if you don’t enjoy playing technical exercises, don’t play them. Right? This is for people who do enjoy them, like Lilla and others--hundreds of others, actually, who love isolated technical exercises. But other people cannot stand them, so they do something else. We need to always find a balance between what we can be passionate about, right--and what we can do long-term.
Vidas: Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. This is really fun. 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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