Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 422 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May, and she writes:
Thank you Vidas for sending me this video. I didn't have a chance to watch it yet. The harmony course is challenging enough for me. It's like a brain exercise. With the S-D transposing sequences, I have to first figure out what key it lands on at a major 3rd interval. Then which key is its subdominant and which key is its dominant. I took a long time before I could run through each of the 6 sequences from C major, a minor, Bb major and g minor three times without making mistakes. Today, I just finished watching the week 7 video. I think I have to postpone the sight reading course until after I finished with the harmony course (hopefully in 6 weeks). Otherwise I would not have time to prepare or the music in lent.
Actually, how much time we should be spending each day to work on these exercises in order to accomplish the improvement you expect?
I guess I can use the pedals with the week 7 exercises. Perhaps I should say I have to use pedals for the bass because it's impossible to reach all 4 notes by hands only in many cases.
Thanks again for your advice.
V: So Ausra, how much time should people spend with harmony?
A: I don’t know how much time they have and what their final goal is.
V: It depends.
A: Yes, it depends.
V: Well, if you look at your students at school, for example, how much time do they spend, and how much time would you like them to spend?
A: Well, it depends on the person. For some, for example, who have good working tempo, they don’t need to do any extra work at home. They can manage to do everything in class. So, we have classes twice every week, so about two hours per week.
V: Right, two hours per week, that’s about 20 minutes per day. 15-20 minutes per day.
A: Something like that… but of course, people are different. For some, it takes a lot of time.
V: I would say the minimum time would be 15 minutes. That would make sense, right?
A: Yes. And don’t feel that you have to polish each exercise. It’s not a piece of music that you are going to perform for a recital or a Mass or in a church service, so basically, it develops your musical thinking, and builds up an understanding of how the music is constructed.
V: And each exercise that you master will lead to new horizons; it helps to discover something new in later exercises.
A: That’s right. So don’t try to perfect them.
V: It’s like in sightreading, I don’t think people should spend too much time on one particular piece if their goal is to sightread, or with pedal exercises, too. Playing arpeggios or scales with pedals... it’s enough to do this 15 minutes per day and just move on with the next thing you need to do, because time is limited for everyone. It’s better to perfect something that is useful, practical, than apedal scale, for example, because you can come back to it tomorrow, to the same scale.
A: That’s right.
V: So, it’s the same with harmony exercises, I would say, too. Ausra says it right. What about improvisation, if people are spending time with improvisation? Do you think they should repeatedly polish the same thing over and over?
A: Well, then it probably won’t be improvisation if you would polish the same thing over and over again, it will be more like memorization. And it’s good in some sense, because then you internalize it and can use it easily on the spot. But again, I don’t think you need to play it like a hundred times over and over again. What do you think about it, because you are a master of improvisation?
V: Probably not a master, but I do improvise—try to improvise every day. Even before we sat down record this conversation, we played with Ausra our organ duets, which we are preparing for our upcoming trip to the French Alps, but afterwards, I improvised on a Genevan Psalm, Psalm 42, which in German chorale setting would be “Schmücke Dich”--the same melody. I like this collection, Genevan Psalms, they’re very suitable for improvising, and in my case, when I do this at home, I can use it as a basic exercise, like note against note counterpoint, and I played it twice. One was for the right hand when a tune was placed in the soprano, and another time was in the left hand, when the tune was placed in the bass. And then the other voice had to supply the counterpoint. And that’s it. I didn’t work on improving, polishing and otherwise perfecting this setting, so it took me maybe 4 minutes, the entire exercise, because maybe I could later do another exercise—another tune. So, the same is with May, for example, or other people who are doing harmony, and even improvisation. It’s better to move on to the next exercise, once you have the basic foundation of understanding of it rather than memorizing it, I would say.
A: True, I think you are very right.
V: There is so much to learn in music. You will discover something new everyday, and simply, we will not have enough time to do everything. So just enjoy whatever time you have on the organ, and try to spend no less than 15 minutes a day to see some kind of results. The results might vary, right? “Your mileage might very,” as the car dealers would say to you. It depends how you drive, where you drive, things like that. So the same is with organ playing. It depends on what your starting point was. Right? Did you have anything prior to organ study? Did you play keyboard before or not? Is it your first instrument or not? How early or late in life or not? Whatever musical challenges you have overcome, maybe talent also plays a role here too, right?
A: Yes, I think everything is….
A: ...connected, that’s right.
V: But probably we should tell people that they shouldn’t get discouraged. That if something goes really slowly for them, and if they, for example, see me doing the same exercise without mistakes in one try, they shouldn’t be discouraged and say, “Oh, I will never play like Vidas.” Right? It’s not the goal to play like Vidas. It’s the goal to play like…
A: ...like you!
V: ...like you.
A: A better version of you.
V: Yeah. Today better than yesterday.
A: That’s right.
V: And sometimes, this progress doesn’t feel with everyday. Right? We need to take a step back every few weeks, maybe to see the bigger picture. Only then, we can see how much we are improving, probably. Right Ausra?
V: Thank you guys for listening, this was Vidas,
A: And Ausra,
V: 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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