AVA185: I could have done more back in high school if I had followed our then teacher's advice to practice 4 hours a day
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 185, of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Leon. And he writes:
I have a ways to go before I am ready for BWV 531 by Bach, let alone Franck’s Finale. Thanks to one of your recent podcasts I have added the "Applicatio" to my Dupré chorale time each day. I had already changed his heel-&-toe pedals to toes only. When the "Applicatio" is comfortable, I will change the fingerings. My skills are generally improving, but I had still been resisting putting in 4 hours a day. From a recent discussion with my brother, I was reminded that I could have done more back in high school if I had followed our then teacher's advice to practice 4 hours a day. Writing up new practice schedule now.
V: Ausra; do you regret of not playing for four hours a day when you were first studying playing the organ? Or maybe you did play four hours a day.
A: Not every day, but sometimes, yes, I would play four hours a day.
V: How did you feel afterwards?
A: Well, I felt good, but of course, I didn’t have the possibility, you know, to play and to practice every day for four hours on the organ, because I did not have an access to the instrument.
V: What is the average time you would suggest people might practice every day, depending on their schedule, health, condition, and availability of the instrument?
A: Well, you know I think that the best way to practice for two hours. But one hour is already good, so everything depends on the, you know, your, your way of life, and you know.
V: And your goals.
A: Yes, and your goals.
V: It’s hard to tell precisely for everyone, but probably for the most efficient way of practicing I’ve found is depending on your own plans and goals, that you could play at least three times, you know, each fragment or each piece, you would have enough time. For example, if I’m practicing really slowly and I’m playing, let’s say, five pieces at the moment, and if those five pieces take about, about maybe half an hour to play, so I would maybe practice ninety minutes, you know, with some breaks in between maybe in order to be able to repeat everything three times, at least three times. How does it sound for you, Ausra?
A: Yes, it sounds perfectly fine.
V: And um, what would be the incorrect way of practicing, scheduling for practice? Too much or too less time?
A: Both these, you know, ways would be wrong. You know, you need all this to practice as much as you know, your head can still guide you. Because the mind, you know, what you’re thinking is the most important. Because, you know, if you just play, you know, to break up some records, you know, or to make some records, oh, today, practice for six hours straight. That’s wrong way you know, of practicing.
V: What happens tomorrow, right? You’re exhausted.
A: Yes, I know, and plus, you know if you practice too much it means that you just are doing mechanical work without much thinking, and it’s never good.
V: Mmm, hmm. So, two hours is probably optimum time.
A: Yes, I would say so.
V: So in my case, for example, if I can play a few of my pieces three times right, or more, maybe five times, so I might play a little bit more than two hours. But then I am careful and take breaks, frequent breaks, drink a glass of water in between, have a walk, stretch, things like that, to refresh my mind.
A: Yes. I wish I would have time for to practice everyday for two hours.
V: Would you practice if you had?
A: Yes, I would.
V: How much time would you practice if you had all the time in the world.
A: I think I would practice more than two hours. Three maybe.
V: Three! That’s a lot.
V: You can do a lot of things in three hours.
A: Well, you know, every day I spend a lot of time at the keyboard, but unfortunately instead of practicing what I need to practice for my organ things, I just play, you know, the pieces for my students at school.
V: Could you divide the dictations based on your pieces?
A: Probably not.
V: Like I do sometimes?
A: No. I don’t think administration would be happy about it.
V: (Laughs). I know what you mean. Um, sometimes I choose segments or, or, or even variations from my, you know, pieces that I’m playing right now at the moment, and especially if I haven’t practiced that day, that I’m teaching, and I say “oh guys, now there will be dictation, in two parts. Right hand in the treble clef and the bass clef will be played by the left hand”. Let’s say we’ll have like twenty measures, not eight measures, but long dictation, and I would play for them like ten times or twenty times.
A: And, are they will to write it down?
V: Oh, that’s a good question. Something like the soprano voice, yes. But when it comes to the bass clef they generally are lost.
A: Because you know, when I’m giving them like Christmas dictation, based on Christmas carols, some of them that we know well, some of them they can write down, but if it’s a little bit more sophisticated then that’s all. They cannot, you know finish it.
V: Why do you think the second voice is so difficult to hear for them?
A: Well, um, for those who play just a melodic instrument like flute or violin, I think they are not used to hearing the bass line. Or like piano measures you know, choir conducting measures, that’s an easier way to write the bass. Or for someone who plays cello or trombone.
V: But even people who play cello they cannot really think in two parts, they just hear one voice.
A: Well you know for kids, it’s often the case that they can write down what they can sing, I mean what is in their voice range, in their diapason, so, and usually because kids have high voice and they can sing in the first and then second octave but not so much you know, in the lower octave, in the bass range, so, and because the second voice in those low octaves.
V: Do you think that some of our organ students around the globe are writing dictations too, based on their organ works, let’s say?
A: I don’t know. And honestly, the longer I live, the less I think, you know, that writing down dictations improves you hearing so much.
A: I think there are better ways how to improve your hearing and your pitch.
V: Oh, you know a secret. Tell us.
A: Well I think actually that singing what you are playing improves it a lot and playing organ improves it a lot. Because let’s say for example, pianist plays a Bach’s fugue on the piano and you know, let’s say three voices, three parts with fugue, so, you know the theme comes and he can play it louder, and you know other voice not so loud. And when another you know, theme comes in and he can also to play it forte, or you know louder in other voices. But in the organ we don’t have that possibility. For example you playing the fugue by Bach and you play it organo pleno. How can you make one voice sound louder than another voice?
V: Then you need to hear it.
A: Yes, you need to hear it of course,,,
V: Listen to it.
A: Of course, you need to articulate it but definitely need to hear it, and how can you hear it if all voices, all four voices, sound, you know, loud. Equally loud.
V: Would singing each part help?
A: Yes. It helps a lot.
V: Mmm, hmm.
A: I’m convinced of it.
V: So, guys, whenever you have some quality time at the organ, consider singing some of the inner parts, especially. And not playing not necessarily all other parts, but just let’s say, one additional voice, like in two parts, combinations. Or just maybe, for starters, just a single line, right? Especially if you know the melody well, you should be able to repeat it with your voice.
A: Yes, and I’m convinced that if you can sing all the voices you can play them too.
V: Mmm, hmm. That’s a good advice. I think that we are singing not enough in this age and day.
A: Well, that’s because we have, you know, iPods and MP3 things and smart phones and all that our day of technique.
V: Which sings for us.
A: Yes, and plays for us too.
V: Mmm, hmm. Back in Bach’s day, probably they didn’t have any other options to entertain themselves but to sing and play.
A: That’s right. Even not as far back, even when my parents were young for example. They would go dancing each weekend, and they did not have recordings you know, and they spent time in the villages so they had to play themselves.
V: And making music together with other members of the family or your friends, it’s so rewarding. It strengthens probably your connection with those people. Like you become closer basically.
A: That’s true.
V: Would you, Ausra, recommend, our students make music together with their family members, let’s say?
A: That’s a lot of fun if you have opportunity you know, if you have family members that can sing or you know, play an instrument, you definitely have to make music together.
V: Like we do on the organ bench. We sit and we play together with four hands. Is it fun for you, or, or you feel some pressure?
A: Well yes, it’s fun.
V: You don’t feel like pressure, from me, or I don’t feel pressure from you.
A: I don’t feel pressure from you. I don’t know about you, maybe you feel pressure, pressure from me.
V: Stupid question. I know.
A: I enjoy playing together.
V: So why don’t we now go and practice together,,,
V: Organ duets.
V: And you guys do the same, right? If you find a friend on the street, grab him or her and bring them to church or whatever, and practice some Bach. Thanks guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember to send us your questions. We love to helping you grow. And don’t forget to practice. Because when you practice…
A: 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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