AVA215: My greatest problem at this point is independence of both hands and feet, in addition to the usual issues sight reading all the separate parts
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 215 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by George. And he writes:
My greatest problem at this point is independence of both hands and feet, in addition to the usual issues sight reading all the separate parts.
You're very kind to write!
So, it seems like George hasn’t spent many years on the organ bench.
A: Yes; it seems from his question that he’s a beginner.
V: Okay. And beginners usually struggle with playing separate melodies in your hands and separate in the feet at the same time--that’s what we call independence of both hands and feet. Right? So, this is just a very natural phenomenon, I think.
A: It is.
V: That’s how we all start, and that’s nothing to be either worried about or ashamed of.
A: That’s true. So, and as I have told before to other organists who asked our opinion and help, you really need to work in a slow tempo, and you really need to work in combinations--
A: Not play all the parts together.
V: Ausra, in your experience, will there ever be a time where a person can practice faster right away?
A: Not really.
V: Because the texture is just too complex, right?
A: I know.
V: Mhm. Unless you are playing a solo melody which is a single voice.
A: Yes, that’s right; then you can play fast!
V: Or--if you’re playing with a partner--maybe 2 voices, like an organ duet, and you’re both sight reading 2 voices each.
A: That’s right, but you know, in other cases, you need to start with a slow tempo.
V: Remember, Ausra, in Bach’s birthday recital, we just picked up a harmonization of Bach’s chorale maybe 5 minutes before our actual performance. We just played it through a couple of times, and we did it at concert tempo right away. That was risky, but we did it.
A: Yes. It worked okay, I think.
V: Would it be okay if, for example, either of us alone would have played it?
A: Probably not so well as we played it together.
V: Because alone, you have to manage 4 parts.
A: That’s right. And an open score--written in an open score.
V: Mhm. So then, you would need to spend some extra time.
A: Yes. Because it wouldn’t be so fun to read 4 lines together.
V: Unless you are doing this everyday.
V: Like choir conductors do. So yes--basically, slow practice is essential. And Ausra, will there ever be a time when a person can practice without spending too much time on combinations, just 4 parts right away?
V: That is possible?
A: Yes, that’s right.
V: But maybe later in his career, or her career.
A: True. Maybe after 4 or 5 years of extensive playing.
V: I think that’s too few years; I think more is needed.
A: Well...it depends on circumstances.
V: When did you first find out that you could manage 4-part texture right away?
A: I now don’t remember exactly when that time was.
V: It wasn’t like, on January 1st, 2014…?
A: No, no. But actually, for me, the church position helped a lot. When I was first--besides from playing that organ solo repertoire--when I was having to learn a lot of music for the church each week--
A: New music for the church.
V: So basically, having regular performance opportunities every Sunday--that basically facilitates your progress.
A: That’s true, yes.
V: It’s like being thrown into a swimming pool deep enough to drown…
V: And being told, “Swim, or sink!”
A: That’s right!
V: So, can we recommend that system to George? Swimming or sinking?
A: Well, I don’t know what his goals are, but maybe he could try to find an assistant organist position. Part-time.
V: Just a few hours per month?
A: Yes. And I think this would be motivation enough for him to improve faster.
V: Maybe just 1 piece per month to learn, for starters. That would be a good opportunity, right?
V: If he could show up on the organ bench at church just 1 Sunday a month, and play something new. And then go back and learn, for a month, something new again; and show up the next month.
A: Yes, I think it would be a good beginning.
V: Mhm. Would that be a scary experience at first, for him?
A: Yes, but I think it would get easier with time.
V: How much time do you need to be more comfortable with playing in public, at the beginning? How many performances, or Sundays?
A: ...Probably ten?
V: You’re about right, I think. In my experience, when I was playing in my improvisation recitals nonstop for 60 minutes, at first it was a very very scary experience; but after 10 performances, it was a breakthrough--a little bit of a revelation. And every 10 performances, you discover something new about yourself, something new about the music, and something new about the instrument that you’re playing. Agree?
A: So if you will take some church positions, then at the end of the year you will feel more comfortable.
V: Yeah. You will have learned 12 pieces!
A: That’s right.
V: And remember, you can constantly repeat those pieces over time--maybe not every week, but maybe a few times a month, right? And your repertoire will expand this way--you will not have 1 or 2 pieces under your belt, but 12 pieces; and the next year, perhaps you will learn maybe not 12 new pieces, but maybe 24 new pieces, because your new skill level will build on this old skill level, right?
V: It’s possible?
A: That’s possible, true. Maybe some of those new pieces you will not repeat--maybe you will not like them so much after a while.
A: But still, some of them you will keep practicing and playing.
V: Exactly. And by the time you will have 12 pieces learned for the repertoire, you can actually play a public recital. Maybe not necessarily an hour long, which is too hard for a beginner, but maybe 30 minutes.
V: Maybe with another person, split half--50% of the time. You on the bench, and another person would help you, too. Or maybe with a soloist, another instrument.
A: Yes. I’ve thought about it, too--that’s a nice idea, to share, to play in some ensembles.
V: Mhm. So...the best way to grow is basically to start failing in public as often as possible. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: And the scariest, right, too?
A: Yes. It doesn’t sound very encouraging, but it’s true!
V: That’s the way we do it, actually. Right, Ausra? We don’t keep our mistakes under the table, right? Because mistakes are not fatal--you will not die from playing C# instead of D♭.
A: ...I’m not so sure about that.
V: Hahaha! Okay! Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please remember to practice today. And send us more of your questions, because we love helping you grow. And when you apply our tips in your practice, and maybe modify, a little bit, our advice to fit your situation (because some things will work for us but not necessarily for you, but you can always adjust, and pick and choose from our advice what you like)--then, with time, you will discover something different about yourself. And actually, other people will say, “Oh George, you’re different now! Tell us more!” Right?
V: So, you will have gained a new skill. That’s an amazing way to live: constantly learning, and staying curious in the ever-changing world. Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: And remember, 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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