#AskVidasAndAusra 93: What are some tips for building up speed, and expectations for how long this should take – weeks, months?
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 93 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today’s question was sent by Simon, and he writes:
“Hello Ausra and Vidas, what are some tips for building up speed, and expectations for how long this should take – weeks, months? Learning a faster piece e.g Gigout Toccata, I can play the last section accurately at about 2/3 speed, but much faster and it starts to unravel. Playing same section over and over again I lose concentration, and probably just re-inforce mistakes. Greetings from Germany, and thanks to you both for your inspiration. Simon.”
It’s nice that people from Germany are playing French music, right?
Ausra: Yes, it’s very nice.
Vidas: And getting feedback and help from us, and applying our tips in their practice, and getting better--even slowly, right? Talking about speed, Ausra: in your experience, does it come naturally to you, or do you have to force yourself to do something--tricks or tips?
Ausra: Well, most of the time it comes naturally, but not always. It depends on the piece.
Vidas: Well, you have to really remember that we have extensive piano training. From 7 or 6 years old we started playing piano.
Ausra: Yes. Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: And started playing professionally. Maybe we were not pianists, as in majoring in piano; but nevertheless we played piano every day.
Ausra: That’s true, yes.
Vidas: For many years before playing the organ. And when we started playing the organ, our finger technique was fairly developed, by that time.
Ausra: Yes. But now, as talking about the speed, especially when you are practicing such pieces as Gigout Toccata, or basically any either Romantic or modern pieces (toccatas especially--Boellmann, Widor etc.), it’s a good idea to do half of your practice on the piano and half on the organ. It would be, I think, an excellent way to build up your speed--the tempo of the piece, too, while playing piano.
Vidas: Your piece...on the piano?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right!
Vidas: But never forget that it’s an organ piece, right?
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: Don’t play with pianistic gestures and motions from elbows, and lift off your hands from the keyboard, and lift even your fingers so much--right? It’s not necessarily valuable for organists.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true; but in some cases, especially if you have, let’s say, an early electronic organ, but you have a mechanical piano, too, then I think it would be very beneficial to practice on the piano.
Vidas: A lot of people have pianos at home, right?
Ausra: Yes. Because it has a mechanical action and it is good for your fingers--for developing your technique, and for building up the right speed.
Vidas: I think in our community you will find plenty of people who have a digital organ, without pipes…
Vidas: And a normal, mechanical piano at home.
Ausra: Then I would say, it’s better to practice on the piano; and maybe half and half, do half and half.
Vidas: And by “piano” I don’t mean a Steinway, concert, full-size piano--but just an upright piano is perfectly fine.
Ausra: That’s right. That’s right, yes. And with speeding up while playing, don’t be hasty. And don’t push yourself too hard to play in the right tempo right away. It will come in time. Just practice at the slow tempo first; and when you will be comfortable with that tempo, I think you may be able to speed up, little by little.
Vidas: What helps me in these situations is when I have a difficult and challenging piece, and I know the music fairly well by now, I can play it in a moderate tempo, but it’s not yet concert tempo, and I want to speed up--I do the following trick: I play the piece from the beginning until the end several times, maybe 3 times, but stopping at every beat; and when I stop, I really look ahead, just one beat ahead; and I prepare my fingers in my mind, and then I play very very quickly just those 4 sixteenth notes, and not anything else. And then I stop and think ahead, and wait until I’m ready, and then play again four notes, very fast--I mean, in concert tempo, perhaps. Would you think that it’s helpful, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, yes, I think it does help you.
Vidas: Because it’s just the first step. Once you’re comfortable with this trick, you can double the fragment--maybe play half of the measure without stopping, in concert tempo; and then stop! and wait, and think ahead, and prepare yourself; and then play very fast again until the next fragment of 2 beats. Right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And when practicing, what might happen is if you push yourself too early to a fast tempo, you might lose your piece, because it might begin to get sort of dirty.
Ausra: And then it will be very hard to correct it. Actually, I think sometimes it’s easier to learn a new piece of music than to correct a piece that is already muddy because you wanted to play too fast too soon.
Vidas: I think the key is listening. You have to listen to what’s happening, even in a fast tempo; and if you can’t hear, that means it’s too fast for you, for your hearing.
Ausra: Yes; and what you’re hearing, your listener will hear the same. So if you cannot hear what you are playing, your listener cannot hear it either.
Vidas: Yeah, so spend some considerable time on these shorter fragments: one beat, two beats; one measure, two measures, four measures; one line, two lines; one page, two pages--making the fragments longer and longer by doubling them, but be very careful to go to the next beat very patiently.
Ausra: Yes, because you still have to hear each note that you’re playing, and you have to be able to control yourself. Because if you will to pick up too fast a tempo, you might lose control.
Vidas: Excellent. Do you think that people should play piano exercises or etudes from pianistic repertoire--once in awhile, for this case?
Ausra: Yes, I think it would be good.
Vidas: Chopin, Liszt? Czerny?
Ausra: Well, Czerny, actually, is an excellent resource for building up technique. If you have trouble with some kind of technical problem, definitely you can find an etude by Czerny in which that problem will be solved.
Ausra: Because it’s an excellent source. People often rush to etudes like Chopin’s, and Liszt’s, and other virtuosos’...
Vidas: They’re too advanced.
Ausra: Yes, but sometimes they are too advanced, and sometimes I just think that for developing that necessary techniques, the Czerny etudes are the best.
Vidas: Especially Op. 299--the “School of Velocity,” I think it’s called. So you will find any type of keyboard technique there. And just start from the beginning.
Vidas: Learn the first etude.
Ausra: And I think it will help you later on, to play Romantic and modern music on the organ well.
Vidas: Yeah, and your fingers will thank you for that.
Ausra: Yes. You definitely will strengthen them.
Vidas: Thanks guys, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And you can do that by subscribing to our blog at organduo.lt and simply replying to any of our messages that you will get. 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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