SOPP703: I want to become the best organist that I can be. Things holding me back are playing anxiety, physical stamina, and lack of concentration.
Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
Vidas: Let’s start episode 703 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Pamela, and she has a dream to be the best organist that she can be. And holding her back is playing anxiety, physical stamina, and lack of concentration.
Vidas: So, it’s of course very general, Ausra, not very specific. Right?
Ausra: Well, yes.
Vidas: “The best organist that she can be. What does it mean?
Ausra: Well, I think that’s a nice goal, because especially young people often say, “I want to be the best organist in the world,” “I want to be the best organist in the universe,” and I think that she wants to be the best of herself. So, I think she, in putting her goal as this, formulating her goal as this, she knows that she has some sort of limitations, which I think is important, because I think it’s very important to be realistic about ourselves.
Vidas: You’re right, but what I meant was, we don’t know what she’s playing. Right? What type of music she’s playing, what type of organ she is playing, so that is why our advice cannot be very specific, and might not work for her. Right? But we will try.
Ausra: Yes, and she mentions a few problems, and we can discuss those. For example, anxiety. Yes?
Ausra: So I think in order to beat the anxiety, what you have to do is actually to perform more often for like a real audience. The more often you go public with your playing, the easier it will get, the less anxiety you will get.
Vidas: Is it like similar to driving a car, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I think it’s the same with anything that requires high quality skills, and it’s happening in time.
Vidas: In real time!
Ausra: In real time, yes.
Vidas: The risk of making mistakes is big. Right? The stakes are high. Of course, driving a car, the stakes are higher than making mistakes on the organ.
Ausra: Oh yes! Your mistakes will not kill anybody, so…
Vidas: Yes, so… but you still can pretend you’re playing it live for an audience, while recording yourself, while giving yourself, let’s say, an opportunity to perform in front of your family or friends, regular opportunities like that.
Ausra: And another thing that Pamela mentions is concentration! And I think I will give her one advice that I hope will help for both, for concentration and for performance anxiety, and this is actually breathing, because breathing is crucial while playing. It helps you stay concentrated and will calm you down so you won’t feel such a big anxiety. You won’t be so anxious. So just before starting your public performance, take a few deep breaths, maybe do some relaxation exercises before that and then take a few deep breaths before starting performing, and remember during your actual performance to keep breathing. It’s very important, because just pay attention to it, because usually people say, “I’m breathing, it’s okay, everything is fine.” But from my experience, I can see that usually people while performing, they don’t breathe as deep and as natural as they should have, because the body gets tense, the muscles get tense, and the people forget to breathe.
Vidas: Yeah, it’s a stressful situation, so you tense your shoulders, you raise your shoulders, keep your breathing shallow, and try to rush through that piece as best as you can.
Ausra: And you know, the less you breath, the worse your performance will become, because you will get anxious, you probably might make mistakes, most mistakes make you even more anxious, and you, of course, with lack of oxygen, your brain will lose your concentration! You won’t be able to stay focused and relaxed and to do what you have to do.
Vidas: She also mentions physical stamina as the challenge holding her back. Stamina means working for longer hours. Right? Playing for longer periods of time.
Ausra: Well, you know, we all are sort of not perfect with our physical conditions, so… we all have our own mountains to reach and to climb, so, some people have short legs, short arms, some have too long legs and arms, some have spine problems, back problems, some people have had strokes, cannot move one of the hands or legs equally, so we all have to do the best we can. But actually physical exercises might help, too! Like do some yoga, some Pilates, and do some breaks during your practice hours, because if you’re thinking you will just sit down on the organ bench and do like four hours of practice without stopping, then no, you cannot do that. Even if you don’t have any disabilities, you still have to do breaks and to rest and relax your muscles and relax your mind, do some exercises and do some breathing exercises and to find what works out for you.
Vidas: I think the Pomodoro technique works very well in order to figure out when to take a rest. The Pomodoro technique basically can be applied to any type of activity and it lets you practice for 25 minutes at a time, and then you take a 5 minute break, and then again practice for 25 minutes, and then again a 5 minute break. So then those practice activities can be done 4 times for 25 minutes plus a 5 minute break. But then after that, if you still want to practice, you have to take your break longer than 5 minutes. It’s a half and hour break. And then you can start your practice session all over again for 25 minutes with a 5 minute break. So that’s how it works. After 2 hours, you have to have a longer break, basically. 30 minutes. And there are timers to really time your activities and rests for that. You can find your own version of a timer.
Ausra: That’s a very good advice!
Vidas: Yeah. I, of course, forget that, but on a good day, I apply that and try to take frequent rests. You know, if you take a rest when you are still not tired, you will never get tired! Right, Ausra?
Ausra: Oh yes, that would be nice.
Vidas: That’s the main idea of the Pomodoro technique, because after 25 minutes, you are not still very tired. A lesson is 45 minutes long, sometimes even an hour. What is a 25 minute interval? After a long piece practice session, you can have 2 or 3 runs of the same piece, and 25 minutes would be over. Right? And then you can take a break without actually feeling too tired. So that’s my advice to Pamela about physical stamina. Take frequent breaks and maybe take advantage of the Pomodoro technique. Okay, was it useful for you guys? Please let us know! And if so, please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice,
Ausra: Miracles happen!
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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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