Let me start by remembering recent experience I had while preparing a new, long, and challenging program for a concert of choral music at the Madeleine church in Paris. I was supposed to play organ accompaniments (many of them with an advanced organ part) and some solo organ pieces on the choir organ at that church. I was given the music quite early in advance but circumstances were such that did not have enough time to practice this repertoire. So I felt like it might be a bit of a challenge to perform it with confidence.
Our concert was supposed to be on Tuesday afternoon, but I arrived at the hotel on Sunday afternoon. Because this church is very popular among tourist groups, I was not given any time to practice organ until the day of the concert. Imagine that – two and a half days without an organ right before the concert. Oh, and by the way, I played a full solo recital in my church with completely different music on Saturday the night before my trip to Paris. So I had to use my practice time wisely to be able to prepare multiple organ pieces.
I am writing all this not because I want you to think that I was cool or something but just because I would like you to appreciate the seriousness of my situation. However, I was quite confident that my system of practicing will not fail me. And sure enough, the concert went well, and was well received. So if you are curious to know what method I used for practicing organ without having access to it for two and a half days - here it is:
Because the bed of my hotel room was not high enough, I put a few cushions, pillows and other things that I could find on the edge of the bed. The height of it became similar to that of an organ bench. Then I pulled the table next to my bed so that I could put my music on it. I think you get the picture now: the bed became my organ bench, the table – music rack and keyboards, and the floor… the pedal board.
So I sat there pretending that I played the real organ and began practicing. I imagined that the edge of the table was my keyboard and played just as I would on a real instrument. I also moved my feet visualizing the pedal keys accordingly. It was an interesting experience – the music sounded in my head.
You see, it is all about visualization. They use it in sports and martial arts all the time. In boxing they call it “shadow boxing”, in karate - “kata”. The athletes don’t always practice their moves and techniques with a partner. Very often they practice on their own. They visualize their opponent or multiple opponents.
The same thing applies to basketball as well. I once read about an experiment with 3 groups of people who liked shooting a basket. Before the experiment their abilities were measured. Group A was told not to practice shooting basket and forget about it for a month. Group B had to practice shooting the basket for one hour every day for one month. Finally, Group C was supposed for one hour every day to visualize the movements in great detail without actually physically shooting the basket.
Their abilities were measured after one month. As you can imagine, Group A tested the same as before. Group B showed 24 percent of improvement. And here is the most interesting part – Group C showed 23 percent of improvement. That’s only one percent less than that of Group B who were physically shooting the basket for a month.
I hope you can now see the power of visualization. This kind of practice not only gives you same results as you would be physically playing the real organ but also develops your mental focus abilities and inner hearing. It is important that we try to hear in our minds the music that we pretend to be playing. We don’t just go through the motions, so to speak. I am sure that practicing on the table and on the floor without mental visualization would give you some improvement, but not nearly as much as if you would practice with your inner hearing.
Let’s take another real life example: About a month ago I taught a group of adult students in our organ studio. These were adults, some of them professors at the university with some piano but no organ experience. Usually the way we worked was such that one person would play exercises from our method book, I would comment, correct the mistakes, play myself to show my students how it supposed to sound. While one person was playing, others would be watching him or her and make mental notes of the mistakes, my comments so on.
But one day I decided to do an experiment with them which would prove if my system was any good. And so, while one student was playing, others also were playing at the same time but on the table and on the floor. After a while I asked them to switch and another student took the place on the organ bench. Strangely enough, even though the exercise was new to her and she only practiced it on the table, she did not make any mistakes at all on the real organ. I thought maybe that was because she played only the manual part and that she will have more trouble with the pedals.
After a while it was her turn to play the pedal line of that exercise on the organ and as you can feel, she did it fine, too. So you see, it works not only for the finger work but also for pedal part as well.
This method of organ playing also saves time because we are not fixed to the location of the organ. Organ practice can be done anywhere where there is quiet. All you need is a table, a floor, your music, mental focus, and inner hearing. Of course, you can use this method to memorize music as well.
I hope my suggestions will be useful especially to organists who have very limited practice time on the actual organ.
By the way, do you want to learn to play the King of Instruments - the pipe organ? If so, download my FREE video guide: "How to Master Any Organ Composition" in which I will show you my EXACT steps, techniques, and methods that I use to practice, learn and master any piece of organ music.