Vidas: Hi, guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 430, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by May, and she writes:
Thank you very much for addressing to my concerns in this email! I have been spending over an hour each day on the harmony exercises for a few weeks. I worked on the difficult way whenever possible (using 2 fingers from each hand) as suggested by you in an earlier email. Ever since I could manage to use to play the bass part (of hymns) with the pedals, I always use the pedals. I find it much easier to play the hymns with 3 fingers and both feet. Now I am not comfortable at all playing hymns with hands only. I am hoping I can slowly regain my hands-only hymn playing skills by doing these harmony exercises.
For quite many chords in the exercises, there is no way I can play them with hands only and 2 fingers from each hand. I need the help from the pedals anyways. I always wonder how piano players practice these chords.
A question from the week 8 harmony exercises… we should skip all D-T sequences starting with the 3rd note (from the dominant chord) on top. Is this correct?
I saw that you have made the fingering of BWV 618 available a few days ago. I love to learn this chorale prelude but my hands are small and my fingers are short. My hands and fingers could only stretch to reach one octave only, meaning I am not able to reach certain intervals (e.g. from the low A to middle C in measure #7). Does it mean I could never play this chorale prelude? Is there any ways I can overcome this difficulty?
V: So, Ausra, let’s start from the top, okay?
A: Yes! So many things to talk about.
V: Mmm-hmm. She’s spending a lot of time on those harmony exercises from Harmony for Organist Level 1. And the first thing that she struggles is playing hymns with hands only, right?
A: Well, that’s an interesting struggle, because usually it’s not a problem for people to play hymns by hand. It’s more often problem to play with the pedals.
V: I guess she would struggle with pedals also if she used left hand also.
A: Well, true. The most, easiest way is to play with pedals and right hand playing in closed position, three voices with your right hand.
V: Mmm-hmm. So she probably should practice playing the tenor line with left hand.
A: True. This would be a beneficial exercise. And it would improve coordination a lot.
V: Mmm-hmm. And um…
A: Because since she wrote herself, that she has a small hand, she won’t be able always to play three voices with the right hand and she really needs to play one voice with the left.
V: You teach a lot of students on the piano—those harmony exercises.
V: She wonders how piano players practice the chords when they have to reach between the bass and tenor, for example.
A: Well, of course, we have pedal, sustaining pedal in the piano, but I would not offer, would not suggest my students to use it. Well, but in that case, if you cannot reach, let’s say, bass and tenor voices at the same time, you would hit the bass note first and then would play the rest of the chord…
A: tenor, alto and the bass. That’s what we do.
A: Or sometimes we can manipulate bass and put it an octave higher.
V: Exactly. And she is also wondering about those sequences, dominant to tonic, and the third note, the seventh scale degree…
V: is problematic, right? It also, always has to resolve to the first scale degree.
A: Well, not always, always. It has to resolve to the first scale degree when it’s in the soprano voice.
V: Yes, in the soprano. And in those exercises from week eight, I am skipping dominant to tonic sequences in that position. There is no seventh scale degree in the soprano, and she’s wondering is this correct. Yes! She could do other dispositions but not when soprano is in the seventh scale degree.
A: But it’s one of the most common positions of the dominant to have the seventh scale degree in soprano…
A: in general.
V: but the connection was not harmonic but melodic, and therefore…
A: But you could do harmonic connection with the seventh scale degree. That’s very easy.
V: I mean melodic.
A: Oh, yes, but you said harmonic.
V: Did I?
V: Okay. I meant melodic. If you have…
A: But when you do melodic you could do three melodic connection.
V: Oh, I didn’t teach her that.
A: That’s the easiest way. If you have let’s say from the bass, G-D-G and B…
A: you would resolve it to C-C-E-C.
V: Skipping G.
A: That’s right. That’s one of the most common way in general to resolve dominant.
V: And it works in C minor as well.
V: With B natural in the soprano.
V: So, G-G-D-B natural, resolving to C-C-E flat C. Mmm-hmm. She’s wondering about reaching certain intervals in Bach’s chorals from the Orgelbuchlein, and since she has short hand only reaching one octave, I think I wrote to her that she could use those lines a little bit creatively, right? Most of the time it’s possible to play Bach with short hands—most of the time.
A: Yes, I wouldn’t say that Bach needs a wide hand.
V: But from time to time you see like an interval of a twelfth, for example. Maybe that was the case because short octave was present.
A: Yes, that’s possible. Also maybe you could help with another hand at that concrete spot.
V: Yes. Or…
A: Always need to check on this concrete situation.
V: Or raise the bass one octave higher for a measure or two...
A: Yes that’s possibility too.
V: to make the connection logical. Not one note, which is inconvenient, right? But, entire motive, let’s say.
A: That’s possibility too.
A: But if you would look at the Bach hand, from the pictures we have left, he didn’t have a big hand himself. Although he had sort of short fingers, but widely spread…
A: if you can say so. But that’s a good hand for playing polyphonic music.
V: Yeah! Maybe people need to do more yoga for fingers.
A: I don’t think so. But you know, if you have really long fingers, then maybe organ is not your instrument. Maybe you need to practice violin.
V: If you have long fingers?
V: Yes. Like Paganini.
A: That’s right. But with short fingers and small hand you can perfectly play organ.
A: There is plenty of music that could work for you.
V: But probably not Vierne.
V: And Franck.
A: Well, I have played some both, although I don’t have such a big hand.
V: But it wasn’t comfortable.
A: Well, actually it was, after playing for some time.
V: I guess your span of your fingers improves with time.
A: That’s true. That’s true, especially in the left hand.
V: The more difficult music you play, the more it stretches.
A: That’s right.
V: Mmm-hmm. Thank you guys. We hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
V: 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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