Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 380 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by John, and he writes:
Thanks so much for the podcast and chat today, you are incredibly inspiring! I feel so motivated after that chat.
As we discussed, I really want to go to the next level with my organ playing, but you are right this needs to be part of a balanced lifestyle, I have a full time job, I play hockey plus training, and Eliza and two young boys to care for and a new baby on the way, my family is top priority.
Could you please discuss this with Ausra, and give me your advice? It could be a podcast discussion if you want, I don’t mind the general questions being discussed publicly.
I would like to write up a practice plan for say 60 minutes a day Monday to Friday, and maybe 90 minutes on Saturday & Sunday.
To summarise how I feel:
I think I’ve hit a wall of being able to self diagnose what I’m doing wrong. I have done well so far to be aware of what I’m doing, and ask you the right questions to get your help, and then correct it. But right now I don’t know what I don’t know if that makes sense. I don’t know of a ‘better’ way of doing things.
For example, sometimes my choice of fingering isn’t good, but I don’t really know what the rules are, or what other options I have.
The older retired organist has been helpful, but his communication style isn’t great, he is quite dry and uninspiring, and we have a lot of arguments over historical fingering and pedalling. And although he is retired he only seems to be available about once per month for 1 hour.
Do I need a local teacher? Or should I go to a teacher in Melbourne once a month? (Cost is around $50-80 per lesson, plus 4 hours of my travel time). Do you think my progress studying with you online is satisfactory and just keep going this way? Personally I trust you guys so much because you have helped me with every problem. Other organ teachers might be dry and boring too.
I don’t know what I should do next, but I think it’s something like:
Rebuild foundation of finger technique (start with Hanon exercises, but what else??)
Work on improving focus / staying in the moment / get in the zone and stay in the zone from the start to the finish of the piece.
Breathing and phrasing of music.
I have the book “The Organists’ Manual” by Roger Davis, should I be working through this at my own pace or follow a teacher?
Understand why I am so slow at learning new pieces, and improve. My sight reading is poor, I might start on another 30 day challenge of sight reading a hymn each day.
Broaden repertoire, I need some help with deciding what to play next. I would like play pieces I enjoy if possible, and pieces I can play in public that will engage and inspire audiences).
I’m thinking Suite Gothique by Boellman, Fanfare for the Common Man by Lemmens, O Mensch BWV 622 by Bach, maybe Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor BWV 578 or the Prelude and Fugue in C Major BWV 531?
I have started on Hanon, at the moment I have been doing exercises 1-10, repeating each one four times, but this is taking me 40 minutes, which doesn’t leave much time for anything else, and sometimes I struggle to focus the whole way without going into autopilot and messing it up or not doing it properly/precisely. And I haven’t done any scales or arpeggios yet.
Maybe I could do:
5 mins sight reading for warm up
25 mins Hanon
15 mins learning hymns for church services
15 mins learning organ solo repertoire
Extras: music theory and harmony? Improvisation? Scales/arpeggios? Pedal scales?
I like the idea of submitting videos to you as part of the organ competition, as I feel I really need some more specific help and critiquing, and I want you to feel free to tell me how I can do better and what to work on.
I really need some specific instructions not just a general idea.
Thanks again so much for your time, and for being such wonderful friends and mentors!
V: This is something that I really enjoy that people do. You see, Ausra, how John not only asks us for advice, but he is also thinking about his own plan, and lists some choices of possibilities, and we can say whether this works or not this way. Otherwise, if we prescribe some medicine for him and he just follows it blindly, then he will never learn to plan for himself. And if he does like he is doing today, he’s writing a plan for us, and maybe we’ll adjust this plan here and there, if we think we need to do so, then he’s already on the way to becoming independent, and I think that should be his goal.
A: Sure! And I think this plan that he made: 5 minutes for sight reading warm-up, 25 minutes for Hanon, and so on and so forth, actually sounds for me like a good plan. Because, what I noticed from his performances from his DVD is that right now, what he needs the most is to strengthen his finger muscles, you know, to strengthen his finger independence. And, I think that the Hanon exercises and the general playing exercises will help him a lot.
V: And do you think that 5 minutes of sight reading, 25 mintues of Hanon, 15 minutes of hymns, and 15 minutes of repertoire is a good plan for weekdays?
A: Yes, I think it’s a good plan for weekdays, and I think then, on weekends, when he can practice more, he could, you know, that last section of playing and learning solo repertoire, could expand that.
V: Or learning extras, like learning music theory, harmony, improvisation…
A: Yes. But I think that building up the technique is crucial right now, because even when you are 80 years old, you can still be able to work on music theory and harmony, but building up the finger technique is crucial, because the sooner you do it, the easier it gets. So, I would not suggest for him to go to Melbourne right now, to take lessons with somebody, because if it would take him an hour to go back and forth, then I would say, “Of course, do that.” It would be very beneficial. But now, it would take just too much time!
V: An entire day!
A: I think it’s much better to spend that time at home, practicing.
V: Yes! Imagine what he could achieve once a month if he practiced for the time that he has to commute to Melbourne—several hours. Obviously, it doesn’t make sense. Four hours of his travel time is not worth it, I think.
A: I know, it’s much preferable to spend that time practicing.
V: And, plus, it’s a $50-$80 investment per lesson. I’m not saying the investment isn’t wise, you get what you put, right? If you put some money up front, you get much more, because you value your hard earned money, and then you try to take the teachers advice much more seriously. That’s why people who subscribe to our Total Organist course tend to progress much faster, because they have invested their own money!
A: That’s right.
V: Whereas others rely on free advice, and that doesn’t necessarily give them the strength of will to persevere every day, because they always can feel, “Oh, I can make it up tomorrow,” because it’s free. But when you are paying, you strive to do the best you can every day, because it’s your money! You need the results! You’re paying for results, basically. Not for our time or anything. But you need results. So the same is with John. I think he could improve so much while learning those pieces that he lists. All of those are wonderful! He needs to play a diverse repertoire, basically. He needs to learn legato playing, which is Romantic music and Modern music, and also Baroque articulation, which is Bach and other composers of that day, and maybe earlier, too. So, what he lists, “Suite Gothique” by Boëllmann is wonderful! “Fanfare” by Lemmens, and then Chorales and Fugues and Preludes by Bach, wonderful! They are not too easy, but not too difficult at his level.
A: That’s right! I think they are quite well fitted for him at this stage of his learning.
V: Do you think, Ausra, that he might supplement his menu with some modern music, as well? Not only Romantic, but Modern? Or not necessarily, at this time.
A: Well, each of us has his own…
A: …connection with the Modern music, so… Somebody loves it, somebody hates it, so I don’t know what John feels about contemporary music, so, I cannot really tell.
V: And probably, he’s not into it as much, because he never really played it, right? Never displayed interest, I think. More of a Romantic and especially English Romantic.
V: It doesn’t hurt to have variety, but with the limited time that he has, maybe he can do it later.
V: It doesn’t matter actually. Whatever he decides is fine. And in general, whatever plan you have, don’t look for us for salvation. We’re not gods, and we don’t know everything, but if you think that you need 5 minutes of sight reading, or 10 minutes of sight reading, or 1 hour of sight reading, if it’s your passion, go for it and stick with it for a month, or 2, or 3, or a year, and you will see results this way, too!
A: True, because it’s the same when people realize that, “Oh, I need to exercise. From this day on, I will continue doing my physical activities.” And then, they will make this unrealistic plan, and let’s say that they will be running every day for let’s say and hour, and then they will do whatever. And they cannot keep to that plan because it’s unrealistic. So whatever you choose to do, it needs to fit your general lifestyle and your life plan—your schedule. Because the most important thing is that whatever you do, you do it on a daily basis.
V: Exactly. Exactly, Ausra! This is very well put. And, just look how many things I have dropped—many physical routines didn’t stick with me. But, I’m doing those pullups now, since last summer, every day. And at first, I couldn’t do even 1, but now I can do 11! It only takes me...what...1 minute to do?
A: More than that.
V: More, a little bit, yes? But I do it every day, maybe in the morning before breakfast so that my stomach isn’t full. Maybe I could do more, other exercises, stretching, of course I could do more. But if I feel like I’m overextending myself with too much training, I might just quit! And now, with this short pull-up routine, I know I can do it, even on a rainy day.
A: Well, of course, practicing organ will take more time than doing 10 pull-ups, but still…
V: Yes, at least 15 minutes a day. That’s our rule. And even the busiest person in the world, I think, can sacrifice something that they would find 15 minutes a day. Because, if you don’t have enough time in your day, what’s the rule? You should have enough money, because you are working, working, working. But if you don’t have enough money, and you don’t have enough time, that means that somebody is abusing your time and energy. You have to think about your priorities. Ok, thank you guys, this was Vidas!
A: And Ausra!
V: Please keep sending 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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