Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 259 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Krampah and he writes:
Thanks so much Vidas, for your advice piano playing, I can accompany hymns and quite a number of anthems for my church, I now want to take my piano playing to a concert pianist level, I have played through a couple pianoforte tutors, will I be in a rush if I am to take Handel Messiah's pieces and play through them, or I should work more with the beginner pianoforte tutors to sharpen my sight reading before?.... Thanks in advance for any considerations....
V: It seems like Krampah is needing pianistic advice, not organ.
A: Yes, yes, and we could give that too since we both played piano professionally since very, very early age and he mentioned that he would want to become a concert level pianist, yes?
A: So, it you really want to do that I don’t think that Handel’s Messiah is a good piece to play on the piano. I don’t think many majoring in piano performance would do it because it’s not an original piece for the piano and piano has such a wide repertoire itself.
V: You are right Ausra, I just thought for a second, what if Krampah wanted to play piano repertoire in church. Sometimes they have this spots where you can play piano music after services or a special occasion maybe for sacred concerts.
A: Well, then yes you could do that. But in addition what he is doing on the piano, like having hymns and anthems for church I think he would need, in order to improve, he would need to work on some pianistic repertoire, especially technical repertoire, that he would not necessarily have to perform in church but to work on pieces like Czerny’s Etudes. I think this is source number one.
V: So we can advise a little bit of systematic approach, right? Etudes you say?
A: Yes, scales.
A: So basically you could play Hanon exercises.
V: And then probably then Bach keyboard music.
A: Yes, inventions two-part and then three-part inventions.
V: Well Tempered Clavier.
A: Well, yes, later on.
V: French Suites, English Suites, Goldberg Variations.
A: That’s right, of course all the classical sonatas (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven).
V: Uh-huh. And then of course romantic works.
A: Yes, definitely.
V: Starting with probably Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words.
A: Yes, or if you like Tchaikovsky you could do that Children’s Album and then later on you could play some Liszt, Chopin.
V: Brahms, Schumann.
A: That’s right.
V: Each of those great romantic composers has probably thick volume of works that if you went through you would be equipped to do anything you want with your technique.
A: Yes, that’s right because if you want to be really good at the piano this is the repertoire that you have to deal with.
V: Would Krampah benefit from contemporary music? With contemporary I’m saying about modern music primarily, not necessarily 21st century. But classical piano repertoire like let’s say Prokofiev, and probably Hindemith, and people who lived in the middle of the 20th century.
A: Yes, that would be beneficial too but I think those compositions that you mentioned before are more important.
V: More important.
A: More important, yes. Because I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t be playing Handel’s Messiah, it’s wonderful. But I’m just telling that in order to play transcription, and this is a transcription you know, you have to have fairly great piano technique. And in order to build that technique you will not build it up only by playing transcriptions, and hymns and anthems on the piano.
V: It would be wise to choose some systematic approach in general where you could learn each semester every few months four or five pieces at least, right? As we mentioned probably Bach or other polyphonic works.
A: Well you know I would really start with the Etudes. For piano players it’s crucial. And if you would take Czerny Etudes then if you would study them carefully you would see that each Etude teaches you different pianistic technique. Some of them are for right hand, some are for left hand, some teaches you how to play broken arpeggio, some teaches you how to play chords, some teaches you how to play scales, and all those other pianistic tricks.
V: Question. Is it possible to become a decent pianist playing just Czerny Etudes?
A: Well, yes in terms of technique, yes you could develop great technique only playing Czerny Etudes because he wrote so many of them. So if you would be able learn them all I think you might be able to learn any piece on the piano ever written. And you know people sometimes make mistakes when playing piano that we sort of ignore the Czerny Etudes and we skip them and we go to Chopin Etudes right away and I think it’s a big mistake because I think Czerny is the foundation of all the piano stuff.
V: And sometimes people do the mistake with classical sonatas instead of playing Haydn, Mozart, and then Beethoven, sometimes they want to play “Moonlight Sonata” right away instead of playing Haydn first.
A: Well if you don’t like Haydn, you could play the first sonata by Beethoven in F Minor. It’s perfectly suited too. It’s in traditional sonata form.
V: Or early sonatas by Mozart too. Probably Scarlatti sonatas are good.
A: Yes they are very good for finger.
V: So that’s a lot of advice, right? It will take many months to achieve that, probably even years to develop a decent pianistic technique.
A: But if you don’t want to play all that pianistic repertoire I would suggest that for right now you would pick up let’s say two etudes by Czerny in addition to what you are practicing for church, in addition to those hymns and anthems and Handel’s Messiah and after you are comfortable playing those two etudes but choose that they would develop different techniques at the same time.
V: Sometimes left hand moves, sometimes right hand moves, right?
A: Yes. Well usually there is one sort of model for one etude the way Czerny writes. And after you get comfortable with those pick up two other etudes.
V: And since he wrote so many opuses of etudes, so many collections, sight-read through them a little bit to get a grasp of where you stand in terms of advancement, which collection to choose right now.
A: True, Maybe you won’t have to start with the first one. Maybe you can go to a later opus but you need to check it.
V: And there are other pianistic composers who wrote etudes like Loeschhorn, Berens, who are also beneficial if you don’t like Czerny.
A: That’s right but I think Czerny is better foundation for piano technique.
V: OK guys. So this advice is probably useful for anyone interested in developing piano technique, right? For closing, is it useful for organists to have a good piano technique?
A: Definitely. Especially if you like romantic, French symphonic organ music, if you like to play organ transcriptions for organ then definitely it never hurts to have excellent piano technique.
V: But adjusted to the organ. It’s not the same. OK guys, thanks 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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I have done some training as a monthly subscriber for a few months - did the Bach Little Preludes and Fugues. I particularly appreciate when you have training videos along with the pdfs you post. Your going through an analysis of the piece and pointing out possible tricky areas is helpful to me; I can pick up on things I might have missed on my own. I also find the structure you provide by suggesting practice "chunks" with timetables very helpful - the more structure, the better!
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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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