The mentality or the mindset of a world class organist is similar to the state of mind of an athlete or a martial artist. Athletes refer to it as “Being in the Zone”. Martial artists say that “their body should be relaxed but the mind should be on fire”. In other words, they have to have an alert but clear mind. They have to throw all of their thoughts, insecurities, and mental blocks away and simply be in the moment.
Various traditions have different techniques which can help you to achieve that state of mind. Some of the most popular are breathing, meditation, or prayer. In organ playing, I find that deep, regular, and slow conscious breathing from the lower abdomen actually helps me to improve my mental focus. When playing a piece of music, I often try to find the natural breathing rhythm. Usually it coincides with the cycle of measures. For example, I may inhale over two or more measures and exhale over the same number of measures and repeat this process over the course of the piece. The breathing should be done through the nose.
You can do the same in your piece and you will start to notice some really interesting things over time. If you stay focused on your breathing then your mind gradually calms down, your body relaxes, and you will be able to control your movements much better. In turn, the risk of hitting the wrong note by accident is much lower.
If you do play an incorrect note or two during your performance, let it go and force yourself to stay focused and not keep your thoughts on this mistake. Very often if we make a mistake, we think about it for a while when we are playing, we loose focus, and consequently make more mistakes. So no matter what went wrong you have to try to stay focused until the very end.
It is interesting how we can make mistakes even in a slow tempo in an easy spot. This is how it may happen. As we are playing, we might be aware how well we play or how easy is this particular episode and again, we may loose our focus. The solution is to keep your focus until the very end.
The legendary American organist Marilyn Mason used to say that the recital is not over until you are in the parking lot. Actually, it is so true because if for a moment we relax our focus, we can make a mistake and loose control over the piece.
The master French organist Marcel Dupre suggested that we keep our attention fixed on the current measure that we are playing in order to avoid mistakes. This thought is similar to the idea stated earlier of being in the moment.
I understand that for most people it will be hard to achieve this level of focus on the organ. However, if you consistently practice slowly, work in fragments, give a great attention to details, and keep your attention on your breathing, eliminating mistakes actually is not too difficult. Simply change your focus from how not to make mistakes to fulfilling the musical needs of the piece, be in the current measure, and your performance level will improve dramatically.
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.