I bet you have been in a situation where you had to play an organ piece in public and you lost control of your pedal part. As a result of this you obviously made a few nasty pedal mistakes. That might have happened because you lost position on the pedalboard. In other words, you would play a passage with your feet and suddenly you wouldn‘t know where exactly is there right pedal to press.
There are only two reasons for losing position of the pedalboard.
1. Lack of pedal preparation.
2. Lack of focus.
As you might know pedal preparation is the secret technique that not too many organists use but it would help you to make your pedal playing very powerful and automatic. When you master your piece and apply pedal preparation, you never have to look to your feet in order to find the right pedals to play.
Pedal preparation is best practiced repeatedly with the short fragments of the pedal part in a very slow tempo. For example, repeat the passage of two measures 10 or more times while playing very slowly.
More importantly, as you release the note with your foot, with one swift motion slide it into position for the next one and let it rest there. Don‘t play the next pedal yet but let it wait for its turn. This of course applies for any of your feet, left or right.
Using pedal preparation doesn‘t guarantee the success, though. What you also need is to focus your mind. Focus is your mental attitude where you put you conscious mind into the current measure that you play.
No matter what kind of thoughts enter into your mind, don‘t fight them, don‘t think about them and don‘t worry about them. Simply be in the current measure. This is easier said than done of course but one thing which really helps to focus is your eyes. Fix your eyes on the measure that you‘re playing.
If you do this often enough, little by little your mind will learn to focus and you will have no trouble in finding the right notes and maintaining position on the pedalboard.
Shish kebabs and the flies
To make shish kebabs on a fire in an open air could be an excellent task – it is really exciting to prepare a delicious food for a delightful company of friends or family.
However, the entire cooking process is quite a responsibility because not only the fire has to have just enough of hot burning coal but also you have to turn over the meat on time, otherwise it may get burned (as sometimes happens).
However, the real responsibility begins even before cooking or starting a fire – the meat has to be well-chosen and marinated. Otherwise even the well-cooked shish kebab can turn out not as juicy and tasty.
However, when you skewer the meat there is one additional problem – you have to guard it against flies that are constantly trying to land on it. If only you turn your back on the meat or go bring a cup of water, the flies will beset the skewers or a pot with meat in no time.
When you practice playing the organ, the situation is similar to skewering the meat for shish kebab. Our mind has to be focused and keep away other thoughts that can steal our attention.
After all, when you practice organ music that you love, it is very easy to start thinking about the events of the past or plan the tasks of the future.
When you come back to your senses, you will notice that you forgot or even didn‘t pay attention to things that took place in your organ piece.
When you practice organ playing, pay attention to any detail that you find – melody, rhythmical figures, colors of harmony, stop combinations, form, dynamics, texture etc.
Learn to pay attention.
How to Really Focus in Organ Playing
Lack of focus while playing the organ can lead to many mistakes. If you are distracted and constantly think of a variety of things during the performance, you may be feeling quite insecure. However, there is a simple trick which will force you to focus your mind while practicing or performing your organ music.
One of my favorite techniques which help increase my focus is playing in a noisy environment. This could be other organ music sounding at the same time when you play, a street noise, people talking or some other sort of sounds. Playing without the organ stops on works well, too.
The trick is to force yourself not to pay attention to the outside noise. Instead, put all your conscious effort into your current measure. The current measure is a life saver in organ recitals or church services.
Whenever you feel like losing focus, you should force yourself to stay in the current measure. Your eyes should be looking straight ahead to the score at the exact spot you are playing. Remember, we focus through our eyes. Therefore it is of utmost importance to truly sink into that measure you are in the current moment.
Don't try to think ahead about approaching difficult episodes. They have not happened yet. Also don't think about the past places in your score. They are already gone. What matters now is this measure only.
To make your focus stronger, you can also put your headphones on with some music, radio or other form of sounds and noise. This way you can create a noisy environment anywhere you want, virtually anywhere you practice.
By the way, you don't have to do this kind of practice at the organ, either. You could practice this way anywhere there is a stool and a table. The stool is needed for you to sit down and the table - to put your music score on.
A practice without an instrument at the table is a superb way to force you to focus your inner mind. Without the real organ sounding while you are pretending to depress the keys, it is virtual impossible to do it without a real focus.
You can go one step further with this and put your headphones with music, talk, radio, or noise recorded. You will hardly find a better way to force yourself to focus.
Apply these tricks in your organ practice, if you want to increase your focus and reduce the number of mistakes while playing. Of course, as with anything worth pursuing this is not easy at first, but if you stick with it long enough, the rewards will be enormous.
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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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