Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
Ausra: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 435 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Gena, and she answers my question for Total Organist students on Basecamp, where I ask, “What are they struggling with this week.” So she writes:
“Slow practice for accuracy”
“Isolating tricky sections to practice them repeatedly”, and,
“Faster more accurate manual changes”
So basically, those three things were the most challenging for her, Ausra. Slow practice—let’s start with slow practice. Do you find yourself, Ausra, that you tend to play faster than it would be safer when you practice, or not? Can you control yourself?
A: Well, I could not control myself when I was young. Now, the older I get, the slower I practice.
V: Why was that, when you were younger you tended to speed up a little bit?
A: Because I wanted to have a fast result!
V: Did it help?
A: No, it did not.
V: And what made you to slow down?
A: Well, because the slower I’ve practiced, the better the results are. And actually, the faster you get with the results.
V: Didn’t you understand this when you were younger?
A: Well, no. Of course, my teachers would tell me that, but I couldn’t listen. I had to experience it with my own….
A: Yes. What about you? Do you like slow practice? Do you find it beneficial?
V: Actually, I do. Every day, I sit down on the organ bench, I practice something very slowly—maybe sightread a piece or two in a really slow tempo, maybe half speed. This gives me accuracy, just like Gena writes—slow practice for accuracy. It really helps. But, it wasn’t always that way with me, either. Like you, at the Academy of Music in Lithuania, I wasn’t very conscious about how I would practice, probably, so I would just run through the pieces in a comfortable manner, and mostly that would have been too fast, I would assume. It’s hard to remember now, because a lot of time has passed.
A: Too much cholesterol in your blood, yes? Memory doesn’t work as well as you wish.
V: Too much Easter eggs! The second point for Gena that she’s struggling with is isolating tricky sections—to practice them repeatedly. Well, this is really common for people, right? You play over and over again this piece from the beginning until the end, and you hope for the best results. Is this a good method?
A: No, it’s not a good method, because you’re just wasting your time, because I don’t know any piece of music that would be equally hard from the first page until the last one. I think all music that is written, that is composed, has easier spots and harder spots, and you always have to determine which spots are harder, and which are easier, and you don’t have to practice them all the time in the same manner and play the piece through. Because, if you will do that this way, there will always be harder spots for you, where you will not feel as secure and as comfortable as you could.
V: The only instance that I would probably approve of playing pieces repeatedly without stopping in shorter fragments is if you are really slow. If you’re taking an extremely slow tempo sight-reading a piece, and want to just get a good feeling of the piece.
A: Or, if you are fluent with it, and you are ready to perform it.
V: So basically, if you are not making mistakes, you can practice without stopping.
A: Of course!
V: That means you have to either slow down, or you have to reduce the texture, so that it is easy for you. Maybe take just one voice at a time, and then you can practice without stopping. But most people don’t do that, I guess. Right, Ausra?
A: I’m not sure about other people, but for example, if I practice trio texture, then I find it more beneficial to practice maybe in a faster tempo, but to do it in two voices.
V: Or even one voice, sometimes.
A: Well, yes. Maybe at the beginning even one voice.
V: So the third challenge Gena is struggling with is faster, more accurate manual changes. Hmm. What does she mean in your opinion, Ausra?
A: That probably, it is hard for her to change manuals.
A: And, you know, in a very fast tempo, because very often, you don’t have much time to change manuals.
V: And then if she changes manuals, then she makes a mistake or two. Right? She touches the wrong note, probably.
A: I think it’s just a matter of more experience, maybe.
V: And even, I would recommend, practicing those changes the other way around. If you have to jump from the lower manual to the upper, maybe do the other way around, from the upper to the lower as well, so that your muscle memory wouldn’t be just one way.
A: Yes, and I would suggest even when you start to learn a new piece, and maybe you’re practicing on a one manual instrument, or you are practicing on a two manual instrument, but you are not making manual changes, because you are just learning text, start to think about manual changes right away, that you would know exactly where you will be switching off and changing it—that you could be mentally prepared right away. That will help.
V: And also, you don’t know what kind of instrument you will be playing in the future, in public for example. Maybe you have to jump from the lower manual to the upper manual, or from the upper to the lower. Therefore, it’s good to practice both ways. Or even, sometimes, from the first manual to the third manual, and vice versa, if you have three manuals available. Do all kinds of possibilities.
A: Plus, I’m also thinking about the compositional structure of the piece, because you rarely change the manual in between the phrase—in the middle of the phrase. Usually, it happens at the end of a phrase, after, let’s say, some sort of cadence. And it also gives you a little bit more of extra time, because we might slow down just a little bit at the end of the phrase, and take a breath before the next phrase.
V: This reminds me. Sometimes, maybe fast manual changes are over exaggerated, maybe. Maybe sometimes we need, as you say, to take a breath, especially if you change the manual from the loud registration to the soft registration, you need to give a space for the echo to sound.
A: Yes, especially if you are playing in large acoustics. Because, in a larger acoustics is the most space you need to give.
V: Don’t rush, then. Drag. Ok, guys, please send us 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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