Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 274 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this question was sent by Henry, and he writes:
Thank you so much for the first video you have just sent me Sir... My question is, what are the techniques for playing scales perfectly, how to play without looking the hands, how to look ahead and lastly how to prepare an organ practice schedule?
V: So, Ausra, that’s quite a few questions, right?
V: I’m not sure if we are able to answer them in detail, but let’s try.
V: The first question was, of course, about playing scales perfectly. Remember the first time you tried to play scales, Ausra, in your life?
A: Yes. I remember it.
V: I don’t, so enlighten me.
A: Well, I loved playing scales, actually, that was the easiest thing for me. And, I loved the scales exam, because you don’t have to memorize them, so it’s very easy. You just let your fingers run. But of course, I think the success of playing scales well is to play them with the right fingering, and the secret of it is to know when to put the thumb under. And if you know that, then it’s easy. Of course, it takes time. It takes, you know, a lot of practicing hours, but definitely, playing scales is not the hardest technique.
V: And people who are interested in scales can pick up a volume of “Virtuoso Pianist” by Charles-Louis Hanon, and of course, in the second part of that collection, there are exercises in scales and arpeggios and chords, so that’s a good place to start.
A: And of course, when you are playing scales, you need to know when to add accents, because, you know, if you are playing a scale in C major, it means that you have to accent each C note. Because otherwise, if you will not accent correctly, or if you won’t use accents, then probably you might lose the tempo and coordination between hands.
V: Your hands will play not in time…. Not together, basically.
V: For me, the difficult part in playing scales was playing in opposite direction with a few sharps and flats. I remember that. Especially minor scales. When melodic minor right hand goes upward with the 6th and 7th scale degree raised, at the same time, you have 6th and 7th scale degree normal, without sharps in the left hand in descending motion. And then they switch when the left hand goes up then the right hand goes down with those…
A: Well, wonderful, I have never thought about it.
V: It’s difficult.
A: Somehow I played it automatically and never thought that it might be hard, but now when you’re saying this, yes.
V: For me it was hard.
A: It might be confusing in some cases.
V: Right. So the next question by Henry is how to play without looking at the hands. Well, it takes, simply, practice, and obviously, knowing the patterns.
A: Sure. I think it will come with time. For example, let’s say when I’m playing solo, I don’t have to look at my hands or at my feet. Well, occasionally, of course, I look, but rarely. For example, when I have to organ duets with you, then it’s more complicated, because sometimes you play the first part, sometimes I play the first part, and then we switch, and then you know, you have to sit a different position, a little bit higher or lower on the organ bench, on the left or the right side. And then, I think I need to look a little bit more, because the keyboard is shifted.
V: Exactly. For me, I can play without looking, but then it’s confusing when you go from manual to manual. You have to check, sometimes. Or if you jump from octave to octave.
A: True, so, occasionally, you have to look. But in general your goal is to learn to play in such a manner that you wouldn’t be looking at the keyboard all the time.
V: And the best medicine is, of course, to look at the score in front of you.
V: The next question is how to look ahead, right? Imagine a situation where you’re playing a piece of music, and where do you look exactly in the score? Which note, Ausra?
A: Well, that’s a complicated question, because I remember since very early in my childhood, my piano teacher always telling me, “Look ahead! Look ahead! Think ahead!” And, I always thought, “How would you do that?” But, I would say that now, I’m looking sort of a half a measure ahead, or maybe a measure ahead.
V: A measure ahead is a lot.
A: That’s a lot. I would say half a measure, probably. But also, not on all occasions.
V: If the tempo is fast, then a half a measure, maybe. Maybe it’s possible to look ahead, but if it’s a slow tempo, then maybe a quarter note ahead is okay.
A: But you know, now, when I think about what my teacher probably kept in mind about looking ahead was not looking right ahead, but probably, knowing what is coming in the piece in its structure. For example, that you are getting to the end, let’s say, if you are playing a sonata, at the end of it’s position, or now you finish the first theme and the second theme will come, and knowing things like this.
V: You mean, probably, knowing the structure and feeling the phrasing a little bit, which helps for the listener to also feel the structure of the piece.
V: If you know the structure, then the listener feels the same.
A: Yes, and I think that looking ahead comes easier when you know a piece well enough.
V: Not when you sight read.
A: Sure. The better you know your piece, the easier for you it will be to look a head.
V: And the last question is how to prepare a schedule on organ practice. Basically, what he means, probably, is how to know what pieces to practice each session. Right?
A: Well, it depends what you are working on.
V: So let’s say you have 30 minutes of repertoire to prepare.
A: Sure, and of course, I would suggest if you don’t have very strong technique yet, that you would do some exercise first—some technical exercise: scales, arpeggios, chords. Something. Not necessarily a lot, if you are practicing only for a half an hour, maybe spend on five minutes on those exercises, and then start to learn the repertoire. And it depends upon how many pieces. If you have only a half an hour, I would study only one piece. Practice only one piece. And it depends on if you’re just beginning to learn that piece, then you need of course to play right hand alone, and then left hand a lone, then pedals alone, and then work on all the things in combinations.
V: I would just add, Ausra, that Henry needs to look at what pieces are the most difficult for him and work on them first.
A: Sure, and you know if you have a longer interval to practice, let’s say an hour or two hours, then try to do technical exercises first for a little bit longer, and then work on the piece is the hardest on your repertoire list. And then, things that you have already learned and maybe just need to refresh or re-polish, or to repeat, then practice them later on.
V: And it’s okay sometimes, not to play the entire repertoire in one session.
A: Sure! Don’t try to put everything in that session, especially if that session isn’t long.
V: So if you’re playing 30 minutes of repertoire and you are only practicing for 30 minutes, obviously you are not able to play even once, the entire collection of your repertoire, because you are playing slower than in concert.
A: So, and you know, I would say if you are planning your next practice session, you have to know what your main goal will be—what you will want to achieve.
V: This is called deliberate practice, and we all know that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in any advanced field, and especially in such an advanced field as organ playing. But you have to practice deliberately. Not just playing for the sake of playing, but knowing your goal and trying to improve with each repetition.
A: Sure, you know your piece and know the hardest parts, and maybe on your next session, you will know that, let’s say you have 5 hard spots in the piece, then you will tell yourself, “Next time I will do the first two hard spots of that piece.” And then practice them diligently.
V: So guys, we hope this was helpful to you. Please send of 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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