Why is it so hard to learn a correct organ technique for some people? It's not rocket science. It's not like you have to measure your finger movements to a hundredth part of a millimeter and if you're off just a little bit, the sound of your piece will blow off the windows of the church.
And then your priest has to call the team of window repair men and he would apologize to them saying, "I'm so sorry guys to call you on such a short notice again. It's the third time my organist miscalculated his finger movements."
And the window repair man would reply, "Oh, no problem, there's a new model of windows on the market now. It's organist-proof. It's easier to replace some windows than an organist!"
Today's question was sent by Mouton, our Total Organist student, in response of AskVidasAndAusra 5 - Is It Possible To Learn To Play The Organ When You Are 56 Years Old?
Here's what he writes:
Hi Guys - This made me think. I am 54 years old and only had some basic piano lessons for about 1 year when I was 10. I always had a great passion for pipe organ music but never had chance to do anything about it due to availability/access and above all - focusing on my work as an engineer. In 2012 I discovered Hauptwerk and experimented a bit with the technical side. I managed to build up a workable setup with a four manual console and pedals I built myself in 2013 (the engineering side took over). I started playing completely by ear and watching youtube videos of dutch organists. (I am South African, and we have a Dutch Reformed culture) I also stumbled across your material 2 years ago and subscribed/taking down a lot of your courses - but time was always the issue.
I have now decided that I need to focus on this passion of mine in earnest, having created a personal instrument (with 12 different organs loaded) available to me at any time of day or night. So am starting this week with the basics - I can play by ear, have the basic knowledge of chords and the like..but am concerned that this is taking me on the wrong path.
I also started singing in the cantory as well as a 400 strong mass choir performing quarterly here in Pretoria to help me get into the swing of things..
My personal challenge is to sight-read and learn the correct technique.
So by the age of 60 - I want to be able to lead congregations - a whole new world for me in the next 30 years!!! Here is a pic of my setup… [see above] Keep up the great work of motivation.
Listen to our full answer at #AskVidasAndAusra
Please send us your questions. We love helping you grow.
Vidas: Hello, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And today is episode 14 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. Today's question was sent by Mouton, our total organist student in response of the 5h episode of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. Is it possible to learn to play the organ when you are 56 years old? Remember this episode that we talked about, basically, approaching senior age and we gave advice. Of course, we were enthusiastic about it, and we think that age is not the limit. Motivation is the limit. Your belief is the limit.
Ausra what do you think? Should people be afraid to learn the organ when you are at an older age?
Ausra: I don't think so. I don't think you have to be afraid.
Vidas: It comes slower but still, you can make progress. So here is this question by Mouton. “Hi, guys this made me think. I am 54 years old and only had some basic piano lessons for about one year and when I was 10.” A big gap. “I always had a great passion for pipe organ music but never had the chance to do anything about it due to availability and access and above all focusing on my work as an engineer. In 2012, I discovered Hauptwerk, and experimented a bit with the technical side. I managed to build up a workable set up a four manual console and pedals I built myself in 2013. Because the engineering side took over.
I started playing completely by ear and watching YouTube videos of Dutch organists because I'm South African and we have a Dutch reformed culture there. I also stumbled across your materials two years ago and subscribed and downloaded a lot of your courses but time was always the issue. I have now decided that I need to focus on this passion of mine in earnest in having created a person instrument with 12 different organs loaded available to me at any time of day or night. So I'm starting this week with the basics. I can play by air, I have the basic knowledge, of course, and alike.
But I am concerned that this is taking me on the wrong path. I also started singing in the cantory as well as a 400 strong mass choir performing quarterly here in Pretoria to help me get into the swing of things. My personal challenge is to sight-read and learn the correct technique. So by the age of 60, I want to be able to lead congregations. A whole new world for me in the next 30 years. Here is a picture of my setup, and keep up with the great work of motivation.”
Look, he has four manuals built into it.
Ausra: Yeah, that's amazing.
Vidas: In his home Hauptwerk on his laptop system. Wonderful and pedalboard; a lot of switches, a lot of pedals. It looks very comprehensive, right?
Ausra: Yes, that's amazing.
Vidas: Make sure you look at the photo which is a illustration of this post as well. This is really extremely impressive if he built this himself as an engineer. Wonderful. So Mouton’s question is, of course, how to learn the correct technique, right? It's a broad question.
Ausra: Yeah, it is. It's a very broad question but-
Vidas: What would you suggest for him for starting?
Ausra: What I understood from what he is doing that he is playing a lot from his ear. And well I
don't think this is the best way to do it. If you want to become a professional organist, you have to read music. You have to do it. At the beginning, maybe result will not be as fast as it would be with playing by air. But after a while definitely, you will start to make much faster progress because like in our Unda Maris studio we have actually on student who actually mostly improvises and for two years now and he refuses to learn music and he is not making a progress at all in my opinion.
Vidas: In my view, to improvise is wonderful. Improvisation frees you up and it extremely valuable. But we should never neglect reading the notes and the earlier we do this, the earlier we learn to at least treble clefs and the bass clef, the easier it will get later on.
Ausra: Yes, and here’s another thing about correct technique. When I started to play organ, I started to play organ after playing for like piano from the age of five. So that's a pretty early age to play and I started to learn organ when I was 17. So I had pretty good piano technique, and for me, for example, the early music technique was very hard to comprehend and to learn. But when I found out later that for people who haven't played much and did not have good piano technique actually that early technique of early repertoire is actually easier to manage. For Mouton, I will suggest maybe to work on the early technique first and then to go to the modern technique.
Vidas: Because it's a lot of difference. You have to learn legato for later technique and articulate legato for early music, right?
Ausra: Yes, because for the Baroque music basically, you don't have to play legato so you don't use like finger substitution which is much easier for a beginner, and for pedaling, you don't use your heel, only toes.
Vidas: Mostly mostly.
Ausra: Mostly toes so it's also easier for a beginner. I would think so.
Vidas: Alternate toes is very simple basically.
Ausra: And you know for a beginner, we have to choose pieces to know that we have so much pedaling maybe not pedal at all for a while and then add music where only few pedals like pedal points like some Italian music like Zipoli. So that should be a good way to start, and I would suggest that you would do like practicing schedule, what would you want to do every day? How much time, for example, you will be sight-reading and how time you will spend on like exercises; manual exercises, pedal exercises and then how much time you will spend on learning repertoire?
Vidas: And maybe playing hymns too.
Ausra: Yeah sure definitely. Hymns are very good way to learn to play organ.
Vidas: Maybe playing some cadences and chord progressions, sequences, later on modulations. because it will maybe set you on the path to improvisation as well. Good advice Ausra, I think people can benefit from this. Not only people like Mouton but a lot of subscribers are basically wondering the same thing, the same question, what is the correct technique? And they can do things by ear, and this gives them the most pleasure right now. But they cannot really challenge themselves too much because it's difficult and start learning the notes from sheet music because it's like foreign language, for example, right?
Vidas: But you have to persevere, I think. It's a must. If you're serious enough. If you want to do this at least for five years or 10 years or 15 years or 20. Basically, it's a lifetime pursuit of perfection, so why not start right way the correct way? Because later on you will have to correct things, and it's always easier to learn the right way at the beginning.
Ausra: It's like when you learn a new piece of music if you learned it in wrong way, it's much easier to learn the new piece when you know how to correct that old one.
Vidas: So, guys, I hope you will start practicing the right way starting today, and if you want more advice and inspiration, of course, subscribe to our blog at www.organduo.lt where you will you also get our free 10-day mini-course on learning to play and mastering any organ composition. So we teach you the basics there in 10 days at www.organduo.lt. And, of course, send your questions to us. That's fun, right?
Ausra: Yes. It is.
Vidas: Answering questions.
Ausra: It is.
Vidas: Good questions.
Ausra: It's very interesting because it makes you to think about things.
Vidas: It's very practical. People are struggling. And this advice might really set them on the right efficient practice schedule perhaps and hopefully, help them solve their problems.
Ausra: Yes, and it gives actually a lot to us as well. I think we benefit from this too very much.
Vidas: Yeah, because we have to think about it and whenever we give somebody advice, we have to keep this advice to yourself as well to apply in our practice.
Ausra: Just to be honest with ourselves.
Vidas: Well, sometimes advice might be understood in several levels. In beginners level maybe is different and in advance level is another story how you practice. So keep in mind this because of your own current situation too. Wonderful. So send guys your questions to us we will be glad to try to answer. We won't promise we know everything but we'll try. Okay, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: 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.
Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.