AVA220: It seems to take me ages to learn a hymn on the organ; especially as playing a hymn on the piano is very easy
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 220 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. This question was sent by Jan, and she writes:
Thank you for asking how my practice is going today.
Today I am struggling with hymns. I am not very competent with the pedals. I practice separately...pedals, RH, RH and pedals, LH, LH and pedals, RH and LH, RH LH and pedals. I also write in the pedaling and fingering. It seems to take me ages to learn a hymn; especially as playing a hymn on the piano is very easy. Perhaps I need to do more slow practice and perhaps I need to do more separate practice rather than playing the hymn together over and over again.
On a more positive note...I have been playing in church for a year now and my playing has definitely improved. I am very pleased. It has been worth all the hard work.
Thank you for your help over the last year.
Ausra, do you think that playing hymns is the easiest part of organists’ work?
A: Well, I don’t think so. I think it’s quite hard to play hymns, because you’re accompanying the congregation, and you never know what will happen during the service and during the singing, because when you are playing a solo piece, then you are only responsible for yourself.
A: But when you are playing hymns, you are responsible for the entire congregation, and I think it’s quite demanding.
V: Right. I think playing the hymn nicely, in time with the congregation--and actually leading it, not following--it’s a tricky skill to have and develop over time, but very handy. And I think the first step would be to--in addition to knowing all the parts--probably know all the harmonies, too.
A: Yes, this might be helpful, too.
V: Because when we compare 2 people who can play about the same level, and one can do only the music without understanding what is going on, and the second one can also analyze all the chords, and chord progressions and modulations (if there are any), and cadences perhaps, then the second person will definitely have an advantage.
A: Yes, I couldn’t agree more; knowing theory helps a lot, especially in tricky situations.
V: So Jan should take up, at first probably, music theory practices; and also, later, harmony, once she’s familiar with the chords.
A: I think it would be very beneficial.
V: So, our course which is called Basic Chord Training would be helpful for her to get familiar with all the basic 3-note and 4-note chords, in a position to be played with one hand only.
A: Closed position.
V: Closed position. But then, afterwards, I think she could progress to Harmonic Studies.
A: Sure, definitely. And because, you know, hymns are nothing but 4-part harmonization sets.
A: So it’s very well-connected with hymn playing.
V: Do you think, Ausra, that at this stage of her development, Jan could supply her own harmonizations, with pencil for example?
A: I don’t know how well she can harmonize, but…
V: She could try.
A: But yes, she could try, why not?
V: Following examples of well-known hymns--
A: That’s right.
V: From the hymnal.
A: But you know, for Jan, I think--because she’s already an organist for many areas--I think the second year will be getting easier, because some of those hymns that she worked on in the previous year will repeat.
V: Definitely, yes, I too agree with you here. And also, I think practicing 7 combinations as she does, instead of 15, is probably perhaps not enough for everybody. Maybe she could try to do SATB alone, instead of RH, LH, and pedals alone, and then to do all kinds of 2-part and 3-part combinations, too. Don’t you think?
A: Well, it might be beneficial, if you would keep the same fingering--then yes; but if you would play with different fingers, then it would be not so beneficial.
V: Ausra, what about hymn sightreading?
A: That’s very beneficial, definitely.
V: Take an unfamiliar hymn--one hymn a day, at least--and sightread it; and if you cannot play 4 parts together very very slowly without mistakes, then you could play just 1 voice.
A: But yes, as Jan said herself, maybe her problem is that she practices too fast; because she says that she needs to practice slower.
A: So yes, the tempo might be the issue.
V: Usually people who say they might need to slow down--not only are they practicing too fast, but I think WAY too fast. When they will slow down, it will be too fast even then, I think, usually.
A: Yes, that might be…
V: Let’s say at quarter note at 30bpm would be the fastest available tempo for her, I think. Right?
A: Yes, I think so.
V: Not 40. 40 is a little…
A: Yes, there is no need to rush.
A: Because, in any case, you will dictate the tempo for the congregation that they will sing, especially if you will play the organ loud.
V: Yes. So, sightreading hymns, then music theory, and harmony later on...and of course, regular practice.
A: Sure. In a slow tempo first.
V: Never skip 2 days in a row. You can skip 1 day, but 2 days in a row is not good. Right, Ausra?
A: That’s true.
V: Because when you skip 1 day, then you can make it up the following day by practicing a little bit more; but when you skip 2 days in a row, to make up for those 2 days on the following day will be much harder. You will be tired!
A: That’s right!
V: Excellent. So Ausra, I think this is useful advice for people who want to improve their hymn playing. And for closing, what would be your last piece of recommendation?
A: Well, practice every day; practice in a slow tempo; know what you are playing about, what the music is, how it’s put together; know the text of the hymn--that might help, too.
V: And practice, probably, changing registrations between the verses by hand or by pushing pistons in rhythm.
A: Yes, that’s a very good suggestion.
V: If you mess that up, you can miss the entrance of the next verse, or make a mistake.
V: Okay guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. 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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