Vidas: Let’s start Episode 133 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And this question was sent by Bruce. He has a challenge with finger substitution to improve line. He writes:
As a pianist, I'm rather used to the sostenuto pedal, to the extent that I probably overuse it and it can be a bit of a crutch. Nothing like this pedal on the organ, of course, so I expect it's all about finger substitution, learning how to do this in a natural way. I expect there are exercises for me to pursue, and could use recommendations and support on this.
On my own, for starters, I have been looking at BWV 639, as you and Ausra suggested in podcast #85. I am looking forward to looking at Ausra's analysis of this piece.
I am also working on BWV 578 (g minor fugue) and BWV 659 (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland). And I have fooled around with Contrapunctus 1 from the Art of the Fugue a bit. And sight-reading some of the easier pieces from the Orgelbuchlein, without being too hard on myself over my current pathetic pedal ability.
In the short term, it would be nice to see your first week of pedal work (from your pedal virtuoso master course) - or something you think would be more appropriate for a novice - and to download your fingerings for 578 and 659, and to look at Ausra's analysis of 639.
Thanks again, and I'm eager to get started, in earnest, after the beginning of the new year. And look at the above items while I am able during December. Thanks!
So basically, Ausra, he struggles to play legato lines, right? And he feels that he needs to learn to apply finger substitution, because unlike on the piano, organ doesn’t have sostenuto pedals. You have to do legato simply by applying fingers. Is it right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s what I understood from his question. But actually, also, there is another side of this question; because the pieces, actual pieces that he mentioned in his question were all Bach pieces--all pieces written by Bach. So I don’t see how the first half of the question is related to his repertoire. Because I don’t know about you, but I never substitute fingers while playing Bach, because the technique when you use finger substitution is required for later music.
Vidas: You don’t play legato--Bach?
Ausra: No, you don’t play Bach legato. So you don’t have to use fingers substitution, because you play articulate legato, or quasi-legato, or non-legato. And you have to detach each note--not to play staccato, of course, but to detach each note, so you don’t have to substitute it.
Vidas: I don’t know if Marcel Dupré would agree with you.
Ausra: Well, it’s how things are nowadays. And it’s based on playing on historical instruments. So basically, what I would suggest for Bruce is to improve his finger technique in general; because I have seen many piano majors who cannot play well on the organ because they don’t have fingers muscles developed enough. And that’s because of overusing the sostenuto pedal. So even while playing piano, I would suggest for him to take some Scarlatti sonatas, and to play them without any pedal.
Vidas: It would sound like harpsichord.
Ausra: Yes, yes. Then it would improve his muscles. Then it would be easier for him to play on the organ. But definitely, when playing Bach or any other early music, don’t play legato; don’t use finger substitution.
Vidas: I agree, too. I kind of tend to articulate perhaps even too much, and whenever I write down fingerings in my pieces, or for other people in early music, I tend to use the system which allows them to play with correct fingerings and correct articulation without even thinking about it. Let’s say, in one hand, you have a line of ascending parallel intervals, like parallel thirds or parallel sixths--that would be often the case, right Ausra?
Vidas: So, a lot of people try to play one three two four, one three two four, one three two four, or one four two five, for the six. It’s very inconvenient, and sometimes even use fingers substitution. But it’s not necessary, because parallel intervals--the rule is that they normally are played with the same fingering. And then you don’t have to think about articulate legato.
Ausra: Well, unless there is like a special sigh motif, that is often used in Baroque music: then you have slurs where you have two notes attached--
Ausra: Then you would play with that kind of fingering; but not so many cases, you know...
Vidas: There are always exceptions, right? Composers sometimes notate their own articulation, like legato, because it’s an exception to the rule of ordinary touch--that’s what they called it back in the day. And if a composer wanted smooth legato, they would notate a slur.
Ausra: Yes. And you never should forget that organ is actually a wind instrument first of all. And while playing polyphonic music--and all music by J. S. Bach is basically polyphonic music--it just sounds bad when you’re playing it legato. Pipes don’t speak in that way. So, and even if you practiced on the piano in that way or on the electric organ, you still should keep in mind that your final goal is to play a pipe organ.
Ausra: To perform it on a pipe organ.
Ausra: And to articulate as if you would be playing it on the pipe organ.
Vidas: And don’t use dynamics on the piano, as if in a normal piano composition. Piano, forte, mezzo forte, crescendo and diminuendo--it doesn’t work on the organ, right?
Vidas: The touch should be always kind of a soft mezzo piano, I would think--
Vidas: Without any accents, or too much force.
Ausra: Yes. But of course, if Bruce will pick up some compositions by Romantic composers or later composers, then yes, definitely he will have to learn how to do finger substitutions. And that might be tricky, too, at the beginning, especially when you have thick texture.
Vidas: I agree. And for closing advice, I would think that playing like string instruments--imagining how a violin would play this line--is also helpful.
Vidas: Not only flute, not only oboe, but also string instruments. Imagine there is a single melodic line in the Baroque style; and violins, would they play it like 4 notes legato, with the bow downward, right, or 8th notes downward? Of course not. They would do down, up, down, up, down, up--especially in a faster tempo, if it’s an allegro character--a fast-moving piece. Then, what that means is that at the moment of the bow switching direction, there is an almost imperceptible rest. Right? And that means there is articulation. For us organists, we can also leave a very small, insignificant amount of silence in between the notes, then. That’s how they played it on the wind instruments--by tonguing, and also with string instruments. So keyboard is no different, actually.
Ausra: Yes. You have to listen to some good recordings of for example, Bach cantatas, where you can hear string player playing, or woodwinds playing. That might give you some idea what this style is.
Vidas: Mhm. And for later music, as Ausra says, of course apply finger substitutions, but not too much. I don’t think you ever need to use fingers with finger substitution on a single melodic line.
Ausra: Definitely not, but if you have thick texture, then yes you have…
Vidas: Thick chords, maybe intervals, then maybe yes. We mentioned earlier the thirds would be easier to do: 1-3, 2-4, and here substitute 1-3 again, and then 2-4 to the next interval.
Ausra: And then you can do 3-5, too.
Vidas: 3-5, if it’s convenient, right? The same is for 6ths: 1-4, 2-5, substitute to 1-4 again, and back to 2-5. And vice versa.
Ausra: Yes; and then substituting in later music, you have to learn everything in a slow tempo. That will help you.
Vidas: I think one of the best exercises for Bruce, if he really needs to learn finger substitution, let’s say for later music, is to play scales with double thirds and sixths. Slowly at first, of course, in many keys, in all major and minor keys. This is part of the Hanon pianist virtuoso routine. It’s already in Part III, I believe, so it’s quite advanced technique; but it’s indispensable for later Romantic and 20th century and modern organ music, too. Right?
Vidas: So, do you think that people will find this podcast conversation helpful?
Ausra: I hope so!
Vidas: Excellent. Please, guys, send us your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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