Vidas: Let’s start Episode 98 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Rivadavia, and she would like to play reasonably difficult scores at first glance with the least error. So basically sight-read, yes, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: So, is sight-reading a useful skill for organists, do you think?
Ausra: Very useful; for any musician, it’s a useful skill.
Ausra: Because the easier you can sight-read music, the easier you can learn music, too.
Vidas: So, if I can play a medium-difficult piece from sight without preparation…
Vidas: Then probably, amount of time required to master that piece, or any other piece, would be minimal.
Ausra: I hope so, yes--I think so, yes.
Vidas: So what’s the first step, in your opinion, to get better at sight-reading?
Ausra: Well, to do it regularly, to do it on a daily basis--I think that’s the best way.
Vidas: How much music should you sight-read regularly, on a daily basis?
Ausra: I would say one piece is enough, but you must do it every day.
Vidas: Depending on the length, it could be even an episode of one piece.
Ausra: Yes, that’s true. And telling that it’s one piece, I thought it’s about a 1- or 2-page-long piece.
Vidas: But of course, if you have a sonata or a symphony, so it’s maybe half an hour long; so one part would be more than enough.
Ausra: Yes. Yes, that’s true.
Vidas: What’s the biggest mistake people make in sight-reading efforts?
Ausra: I think most of them just pick too fast a tempo at the beginning. And that’s a mistake. You need to be a genius to sight-read a difficult piece at concert tempo.
Vidas: Remember, even Bach couldn’t sight-read everything. When he visited his friends, he had this tradition of getting to the harpsichord and picking some music, and sight-reading right away. And one time, he stopped and got stuck in the middle of one page…
Vidas: And repeated that page 3 times! Finally, he decided that it’s not possible to sight-read everything.
Vidas: So... don’t despair, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right!
Vidas: Because even Bach couldn’t sight-read everything perfectly.
Ausra: I don’t think there is a magic trick that could help you to sight-read everything in a fast tempo without any mistakes.
Vidas: Is it ok to sight-read not all parts together, but just one line, let’s say, with one hand?
Ausra: Well, yes; if you have trouble playing a few voices, then just play one or maybe two voices. Maybe sight-read RH first and then LH, and then pedal part.
Vidas: Of the same piece?
Vidas: That still works.
Vidas: In the long run, you’ll get better…
Ausra: Yes, yes. Sure.
Vidas: And you can do combinations of two voices later on.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: So, I hope our students can take this advice, and apply it to practice. But it’s not very easy to apply to practice, because if it would have been easy, a lot of people would be doing this already. Remember in our school, I suggested our students to sight-read one voice of a Bach 2-part Invention per day--RH and then LH, in the same day.
Ausra: I remember that, yes.
Vidas: And basically no one did it.
Vidas: For a few weeks--it was a challenge, a 30-day challenge--because there are 15 2-part Inventions, and I suggested to do this for 30 days. One day RH, second day LH; and then from the beginning, the second invention; and so on. But they couldn’t keep up with this. Somebody tried it for a few days, but they stopped.
Ausra: Yes, people don’t have enough motivation and patience.
Vidas: Do you think that’s the case?
Ausra: I think so, yes.
Vidas: So, how could we motivate people to try this really, for real--for a longer period of time, until they get to see the results?
Ausra: Well, you need to take it just step by step, and trust that at the end of that long way, you will see the result. There is no such thing as immediate gratification.
Vidas: For example, I have a habit now, that whenever I sit down on the organ bench, I first try to sight-read or improvise, or vice versa.
Vidas: Maybe sight-read first, because the improvisation could based on that piece which I previously sight-read. So what I do is, I open up a collection of music, and I sight-read one piece. If it’s a long piece, I sight-read several pages, or a section of it. And then it becomes a habit; I don’t even have to think about it. I even sort of miss it if I don’t do it regularly.
Ausra: That’s a good way to do it--to make it your habit. Let’s say instead of warming up, just sight-read something and then learn your music, work on your music, or on your hymns.
Vidas: So for example, when you will be playing organ music of preparing for our recital (which will be in November today), what piece or which collection will you choose to sight-read today?
Ausra: Well I don’t know, I have to think about it.
Vidas: Let’s say, early music or Romantic or modern music. Which is more dear to your heart?
Ausra: Well basically any music, definitely.
Vidas: Mhm. But you don’t have to stick with just one style, right?
Ausra: That’s true.
Vidas: You can alternate.
Ausra: I like to sight-read piano music, too
Vidas: Mhm. that counts, of course.
Ausra: That way I can expand the repertoire that I know, from inside out.
Vidas: Yeah. So guys, you see it’s really possible to develop a habit of sight-reading unfamiliar organ music, and gradually get better at this.
Vidas: It’s a very valuable skill.
Ausra: And also, while sight-reading, maybe you will enjoy some piece so much that you will finally decide to learn it.
Ausra: So that’s a good way to build up your repertoire.
Vidas: And broaden your musical horizons, too.
Vidas: So, please apply our tips in your practice. It really works when we apply it--it works on us, and we know that our students who apply this in their practice, of course, get better and better every time. And send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. So, 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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