Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 251, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Michael. He writes:
I'm really glad I have encountered such an opportunity from you, I want to be able to sight read most of the complex classical pieces by heart, as at now my current level is just playing hymns and not so difficult anthems for my church....please I want to just pick any complex Handel piece and sight read it easily… Please help me.
V: Ausra, this is the second time when somebody asks us for advice of playing Handel pieces, right?
V: I remember in the past, there was a gentlemen wanting to sight-read Handel’s pieces too. So this is an interesting question and interesting situation. A lot of people want to sight-read Bach, and maybe other more ‘organistic’ music, but Handel is not particularly known for creating complex organ music.
A: No, but he wrote so many compositions, that no wonder why people want to play his music because it’s really beautiful.
V: So Michael writes, that now he can only play hymns, which is a good starting point, right?
V: Other people cannot play hymns, but he can. So if he can play hymns, I would recommend treating them as little short organ pieces, and start playing them voice by voice, and in combinations of two parts and three parts, and then expanding to sight-reading classical pieces, but easy ones first.
A: True, I think there is no way to become a good sight-reader unless you practice repertoire on a daily basis, and sight-read on a daily basis. There is no magic pill, magic trick that you could take and to be able to sight-read anything you want. Well, and since Michael loves Handel, so pick up some of his music and start working with it.
V: Umm, Handel’s fuguettes are easy enough, right? And even I would say, variations cycles, such as Chaconnes and Passacaglias are great for that. They have one tonal structure, but with each variation you get a different texture on the same harmony. So it’s a good way to learn different textures, techniques, arpeggio configurations, things like that. But also keeping just one set of harmony progressions, usually four or eight measures long.
V: So each variation could be like a separate exercise. That’s a really great suggestion, Ausra.
A: Yes, it is, I think. I know the more time you spend every day with your music, the easier it will become for you to sight-read. Because you have to build up some sort of repertoire. And the more pieces you have in the repertoire the easier it will get for you to sight-read, any piece of music.
V: A question, for you Ausra: Do you think that Michael has to play both hands right away when he sightreads, or it could be possible to do just one hand at a time?
A: You could do it only one hand at a time, if it’s too hard to sight-read everything together.
V: Without major mistakes, right?
A: True. True.
V: And it’s even better. You can dissect the piece, right? And see how it’s put together and reverse then the hands. At first you practice one variation with the right hand, and then do the same variation with the left hand. And then maybe that’s it, all you need. Maybe you are playing very slowly and then the next day you do variation number two, same thing.
A: True, and maybe after learning first ten pieces with separate hands, maybe after that you can do and sight-read with both hands together.
V: But it will take a while.
A: Yes, sure.
A: These things take time.
V: But it’s definitely possible to do this on your own, because it’s just practice, and well, not only just practice, but deliberate practice. You have to know what you are trying to achieve with each run of your playing. Not just sight-reading for the sake of sight-reading but internalizing the structure, getting to know the chords and progressions, maybe key tonalities, modulations. But for that you have to know a little bit of harmony and music theory.
A: True. These things are (all) connected.
V: So do you recommend for Michael to start learning music theory and harmony at the same time, as practicing the organ?
A: Well if he wants to become a learned musician, then yes. I would suggest him doing it.
V: Mmm-hmm. It will help him. And sight-reading will also help him to discover music theory things too.
A: True. Because the easier you orient yourself in the music theory things, the easier it will get for you to sight-read things. Because the easier you will understand them.
V: I wonder, how much time does it take to develop a level when he could sight-read, let’s say, simple variations by Handel.
A: I think it all is very individual. It’s hard to tell how much time it will take.
V: What’s the minimum amount of time? Three, four years?
A: Well, maybe less than that. It depends how much you will spend each day on it.
V: Mmm-hmm. What about the maximum time?
A: You’re asking me if I would be a magician; I would know everything. I don’t know.
V: Sometimes people practice without improving, right. Have you seen those people?
A: Yes, I have seen such people. And sometimes it’s hard to tell why they are not improving, but I guess not everybody can improve. Although I believe that if a person does not improve, it means that he or she makes something not right.
V: Practices without head, without connecting the fingers with the mind.
A: That’s right.
V: So we hope Michael will do the opposite, of course; will practice mindfully and regularly. And that will help him improve.
A: Let’s hope for it.
V: Thanks 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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