Vidas: Let’s start Episode 83 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Radavia, and she writes that she is a beginner already, in advanced age--55 years old--in piano, and she loves organ. Radavia writes further:
“I have a virtual organ in my house (Grand Orgue software). My aim is to learn simultaneously the technique of the two instruments. I depend on reading (still easy) scores and I would like to memorize them, but I have some difficulty with this. Do you have memorization tips to achieve this goal?
PS. Your site is very cool, but many of the techniques presented are still difficult to understand, for MY level of learning. I hope someday to get there ... with your help, if possible. Thank you very much, from Brazil, Radavia.”
Wonderful, people are learning organ playing from different corners of the world, right Ausra?
Ausra: That’s true!
Vidas: Even though she’s a beginner, and some of our techniques and trainings are more advanced, I think she can really find out more for her level, right? But first let’s talk about what things would help her, when she would like to train herself how to memorize organ music.
Ausra: Well, you have to memorize short passages.
Vidas: Fragments of pieces?
Ausra: Fragments, maybe just one measure at the beginning, and then add the second measure to that first measure; and so on and so forth. It’s a long process.
Vidas: Remember, Ausra, when we were just starting playing the organ, nobody really taught us these things, and we didn’t have to memorize organ music...
Vidas: It wasn’t required. But piano--
Ausra: Piano, yes.
Vidas: It was required. How did you feel about memorization in piano?
Ausra: Actually, difficult.
Vidas: It was difficult for me too.
Ausra: I was always scared that during the actual performance I would have a memory slip.
Vidas: I struggled with memorization a lot during these days, because my teacher would normally say, “Ok, next week, learn and memorize...let’s say…hands separately.” Or, “In two weeks, the entire piece both hands together.” That’s it. She didn’t somehow teach me a precise technique how to do this. There are various ways to do this, right?
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: Remember when we got to the states and George Ritchie told you about Walcha’s technique.
Ausra: Well, because Walcha was a famous German organist and composer, and he was, unfortunately, blind. So he had to actually play from memory all the time. And learning a new piece, he would be learning it voice by voice. Somebody of his students or colleagues play for him one line of his piece, and he would memorize it.
Vidas: A couple of measures, probably, first.
Ausra: Yes, and then he would add the second voice, and so voice by voice he would memorize the entire piece, and learn the entire piece; so he would know it so well. And George Ritchie often used this method for learning music, himself. And I think this is a fascinating way. Maybe, of course, it’s time-consuming; now, in our modern times, we might not get so much free time to do this kind of thing. But that’s a good way to learn a piece really well.
Vidas: The advantage of this technique is that after decades of not touching this piece, when you come back and play it from memory, you will discover that you almost can do this perfectly, except a few strange spots which you have to just double-check. Like, in one measure, is it a quarter note or an eighth note and eighth note rest in one voice? You don’t remember those exact details, maybe, after years of not playing this piece.
Ausra: Yes; because, there are a few types of memory, actually, in each person. There is, this muscle memory, that works--let’s say, you keep repeating the same piece like a hundred times, and then your muscles, your fingers, will just remember. You can play it from memory even not thinking about it; but that’s probably not the best way to learn it. You can really use your brain to do it--understand how the piece is put together, how the structure works, which key you are playing in, what sequence you are playing in…
Vidas: You mentioned key sequence--so people should also know music theory, probably?
Ausra: I think everything should come in some sort of package.
Vidas: That’s why we teach Total Organist concept.
Ausra: Yes. And I think, with small kids--when they start learning, it’s harder to do that, because they don’t have the brain of an adult, and it’s harder for them to understand theoretical stuff. But if you are an adult, then things are easier.
Vidas: Of course, maybe your hands will not move as fast.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true, that’s two sides of the same coin. Young people have one advantage, and adults have another advantage; but I think we have to use that advantage that we have.
Advantage of who we are.
Vidas: And kids don’t usually have the inner motivation, perhaps?
Vidas: They need a push from external sources: teachers, parents, competitions, right? They want to win trophies and prizes, be first-prize winners, and basically be successful artists… I’m not saying that adults don’t want this, but they also have this inner motivation to perfect their art and skill; and sometimes it’s the only thing you need to keep going.
Ausra: Yes, and learning music from memory, you just have to be patient, and to memorize it measure by measure. And then to learn some spots which would be easier for you to start over, if something happens during the performance, and you will have some breakdown so that you could pick up at another spot and play fluently, further.
Vidas: Well, exactly. There is another technique that sometimes I like to use, which Marcel Dupré recommended in his Preface from 79 Chorales. He writes that it’s best to memorize all parts together at the same time right away, but memorize just one measure at a time, in groups of four-measure episodes. So you take measures 1, 2, 3, 4, separately, and memorize them. Then, you do 2 measures at a time--1-2, 2-3, 3-4; then you memorize 1-2-3, 2-3-4, and then 1-2-3-4 together. That’s your first fragment. When this is done, you can take a break, or come back the next day, maybe repeat the same thing a little bit, and then learn the next fragment of four measures similarly.
Ausra: That seems very logical because a four-measure musical excerpt is a sentence, actually. And each sentence consists of four measures; and these four measures consist of two phrases; each phrase has two measures. And then, each phrase consists of two motives, and a motive is usually a measure long. So that’s very logical.
Vidas: Exactly. Can we recommend people another course that we have created, remember “Memorize Easier?”
Ausra: Yes, I think this course might help.
Vidas: We describe various ways of memorizing organ music effortlessly; and we discuss that in greater detail in the videos, which you can then really apply in your practice, if you’re struggling with memorization.
So guys, we hope this was useful to you; please send us more of your questions. 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.
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