by Secrets of Organ Playing

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AVA239: I play at home on a classic digital organ, spiritual classics, Baroque and Romantic music Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas. Ausra: And Ausra. V: Let’s start Episode 239 of #AskVidasAndAusra Podcast. This question was sent by Koos and he writes: Hi Vidas, I am an organist that plays mainly organ in church services of a Christian commune in the Netherlands. Also I play at home on a classic digital organ, spiritual classics and music. Baroque and romantic. My biggest wish is that I can improvise. Although I do have time to practice I manage not to learn it. Apart from this wish I would like to be able to play better pedal; I make too many errors. I am searching for organ shoes, but can’t find them in the Netherlands. Also, I am learning to harmonize but that goes slowly. This is what I would like to pass on. Thank you for your articles on playing organ. Koos from the Netherlands. V: That’s a wonderful dream he has, right? A: True, yes. V: To be able to improvise, play better pedals, and learning harmonization. A: True. V: All those things will help one another actually. Harmonization will help to improve improvisation. Improvisation will help improve harmonization. And pedal playing will help to improve improvisation as well. A: Yes, because all these things are related between them. Yes, I would like to answer his question about organist shoes a little bit. I would say you know that if you cannot find real organist shoes you can buy other shoes as well because you could adjust them. Especially for men it shouldn’t be hard to find organ shoes because so many classical men’s shoes are suited to play the organ. V: You just need to check the heels, if they are even and not rubber and not plastic but probably leather. A: Well you cannot find often leather shoes. V: Souls. A: Souls, yes in just a regular store. But it wouldn’t be a problem if they wouldn’t be leather because for many, many years I played with no organ shoes and I played well. I played trio sonatas by J. S. Bach just having regular shoes. The front of the shoe needs to be not too wide so that you wouldn’t hit two keys instead of just one and the heel of organ shoes for women for example needs to be not too thin that it would slide off the pedal. V: Right. A: Yes, but sometimes people think that if you can access and get real organist shoes that all your pedal problems will be solved but that’s just an illusion. What do you think about it? V: Can’t they invent organ shoes that play themselves? A: (Laughs) That would be wonderful but you can just press a button and play a recording for service for example and just read a newspaper or surf through your phone. Actually I have seen things like this especially in the province. V: Ohh. What do they do during the service? A: Well it was not for service but I think for a wedding. V: I see. They press the button and then music will sound through the loud speaker system in the church. A: Not necessarily but sometimes an organist would bring a recording player with him and just cheat from an organ loft. V: And it sounds like real organ but it’s not. A: I know because acoustics are often so good in our churches but that’s not a nice thing to do so don’t do it. But I hope I convinced you that having real organ shoes is not a need. V: Some people play even without shoes and manage to play pedals quite well. About improvisation Ausra, Koos wishes to learn improvisation but he writes that although he has time to practice somehow he doesn’t see improvement. A: Well maybe he could combine learning harmonizing improvisation because this might be a problem that he does not know how to harmonize or what certain chords mean, how to make them, how to connect them. V: You’re right. There are several ways to go about improvisation and one of them is going through the basics first. Basics would be chords, learning chords and chord progressions and harmonizing them in four parts but at first it’s not easy because you have to learn voice leading and avoid parallel fifths, and maybe octaves and augmented intervals and other various rules in classical harmony. So what would be the easier way to learn harmony and then improvisation? Is there a shortcut? A: I don’t think so actually that there is a shortcut. V: Answer this Ausra. What would your answer or suggestions be to your younger self if you could go back in time maybe twenty years or not twenty years maybe twenty-five years? A: Well when I was at school I learned harmony very well actually extremely well. I could play modulation sequences, all type of cadences, in various keys just caused me no problems. But nobody taught me to improvise and nobody taught me to use these things in my practice. V: Although you had some keyboard harmony experiences right? When you had to play on the piano and your teacher would listen to you. A: I think this was a sort of crucial point. At that point I would try to improvise and somebody would teach me to improvise. I think I could do that very easily because I had such a great knowledge of theory and such good basics. V: Now you are teaching harmony for many years, right? A: Yes. V: You cannot say that you lost this skill right? You actually improved this skill to the level that you are an expert in this. A: But I think it’s always easier to start things and to do things when you are young. The younger you are the easier it is. Through the years it becomes harder and harder because when you study something you have more time for that and after that you have to learn how to do other things, you have to learn how to support yourself and money and all. V: I know what you mean. A: You have less and less time through the years. V: So learning as a child is much better than learning as an adult? A: True. V: What if Koos is not a child anymore and of course he is not a child anymore. Can he improve? A: Sure you can improve at any age except that your progress will be probably slower. V: It depends, right? It’s different for every person and since Koos cannot compare himself to Koos in the childhood. He only has this opportunity to practice today. So there is only one option, sit down on the organ bench at home for example or in church and just play. A: True. And you know if you have no time or patience to learn all the harmonic voice leading rules first, but you still want to learn to improvise and to improvise soon what you could do is study easier compositions by composers such as Bach for example. What I would do if I didn’t want to learn theory a lot I would take Prelude No. 1 from the Well Tempered Clavier by J. S. Bach. I would write down myself progressions, it’s not so hard to analyze them and then try to play it maybe in another key or try to play it by looking at the chord progressions not looking at the score myself. Then maybe I would pick up one idea from Bach and let’s say another idea from Pachelbel. Maybe I would take progressions from Pachelbel and texture from another composer and try to mix things. V: It’s an interesting thing you mentioned Ausra. That’s exactly how I created Prelude Improvisation Formula. From the preludes written in the Clavierbuchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and actually the C Major Prelude, the earlier version, is in it too. And I would analyze and find figures, patterns, that people could practice and give them different cadences, different chordal progressions and different tonal plan to make it a different piece, unique. In major and minor and they can transpose of course. It’s the same system you can apply it to any composition that you want. I applied it to Bach’s style but it works for any creative way you want to express yourself. A: Yes. V: So you basically have to learn as many “tricks” and put them into your pocket basically and later take out at a certain time and to use them. A: That’s right. V: Thank you guys. This was Vidas. A: And Ausra. V: We hope this discussion was useful to you and please apply our tips in your practice. We know it helps us and we hope it will help you. And remember to send us more of your questions because we love helping you grow. And sit down on the organ bench today before you go to bed because when you practice… A: Miracles happen.