learning to practice effectively and modulate the AGO way


I divided my practice yesterday into two sections: one before and one after lunch. At each sitting I rehearsed my little Bach trio movement carefully. Lately if I am repeating something as I practice, I make sure I at least do it four times, often more. When preparing for a weekend performance at church of something a bit challenging to me, doing something four times carefully seems a good way to proceed. Even when practicing piano for the heck of it, I find carefully repeating a section and counting the number of times I do helps me.

If this seems a bit studentish, it’s because it is.

I have such a long way ahead of me in my technique that I persist in using some pretty simple rehearsal approaches. I do this because I have experienced a lot of improvement in my basic piano and organ technique in the last decade or so due to practicing and learning to practice effectively.

Yesterday I wanted to double my prep for today’s Bach piece. So I began with rehearsing smaller sections of the Bach repeating them over and over. Finally I went through the entire piece four times. Before this I listened to the recording I had made of myself earlier in the week on my phone. From it I learned that my choice of tempo (slower than most play this movement) remained convincing to me as a player. I also cringed at the sound of the reed in the trio.

I began yesterday re-registering the trio without the organ’s ugly reed. This helped a lot.

I also listened to the way I had decided to do the ritard at the end of this piece and found that convincing as well. I am doing what I think of as the John Gardiner baroque ritard which pulls up sharply at the end of a piece in a kind of jerky way.

I rarely use it. But I have added an ornament on the top voice (a  turn) to the ending and it seems to go nicely that way.


I then read through the duet Rhonda has asked me to play, playing through both parts in an attempt to understand the music. I got about twenty pages and broke for lunch.

After lunch, I decided to go through the trio varying tempos consciously. First at performance tempo, then slow, then performance again and then finally slow.

I find that if I leave a piece with a slow rehearsal it reinforces the learning process for me.

As I did this, I did stop occasionally and go over sections if they needed it.

Also I used mister metronome.

In the American Guild of Organists, there are a series of examinations that if you pass you are awarded a professional thingo which allows you to put more letters after your name if you wish.

The exams are Service Playing, Colleague, Associate and Fellow.

When our bookstore failed spectacularly I decided that the next step in my education would be not to get a music degree, but to move to Detroit and prepare to take one of these exams.

I ended up both attending college and taking the exams.

I pursued the Associate exam.

I took it a couple of times and did not achieve it.

The second time I had scores high enough to be awarded the letters, but there was a rule that if you flunked any section of the exam, no matter what your overall score was, you didn’t pass.

I flunked modulating from one hymn to another. One judge gave me no points and drew the judge average below passing.

At the time, I thought that I probably disagreed with the judges about what constituted a coherent execution of a modulation between two keys.

Philip Gehring published an article in the latest American Guild of Organist mag (Oct 2013) called “AGO Colleague Examination 2013 improvising question: The Modulating Bridge.”

I read it over and decided to try to learn to do this his way.

So I have added that to ┬ámy daily practice, modulating via Gehring’s recommended technique of duplicating the initial motive of the hymn you are modulating to and doing this in a circle of fifths keys between the two.

So far I feel like I’m doing it in a clunky way. But what the heck. Toujours gai, Archy, toujours gai. There’s some life in the old gal yet.

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