Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Real Life: Playing After a Break

I received this question from Paul:
I play for my ward and am having some problems.  I practice the hymns and do alright for the opening and sacrament hymns.  However, the problems come when I play the intermediate and closing hymns.  I sometimes stumble thru the first few notes.  By the end of the 1st verse I am doing fine.  My organ teacher says I should just play the manuals at first.

How do you get your head into playing after having to resting?  do you have any suggestions?

I think you are experiencing a common problem for organists.  I do have several suggestions that might help.

Write in Fingerings

The first is simply to make sure you use the same fingerings every time you play a piece.  Write them in and be consistent.  Muscle memory is so important to playing.  If you use the same fingerings every time you play, you will be more likely to play without mistakes.

Practice For Your Situation

This is the suggestion that came to my mind as soon as I read your email. If you are struggling with an aspect of playing, you need to practice that aspect.  In this case, you need to approach the organ "cold" and play the piece that you will play after a break.  As many times as possible, approach an organ, play the introduction and all the verses of the hymn through, then walk away.  This method is easier if you have a home organ.

If you do not have regular access to an organ in your home, or if your chapel is some distance from your house this can be difficult, but can be adapted.  When you practice, start your practice with an intermediate or closing hymn. In the middle of your practice session, take a break and walk around the building, use the restroom, get a drink, then return and play your problem hymn again.

You'll soon find playing after a break becomes easier.

Take a Moment to Think 

When you do approach the organ after a break in the service, take a moment to review the piece in your mind before beginning to play.  It's much better to delay the introduction a few seconds than to start before you are mentally ready.

Also, if it is an issue for you, get the brain out of the way.  Remember that your role is to facilitate worship, and that you are playing for the glory of God.  Try to make your playing be about Him, not you.  Ask for His help, and you will receive it.

Simplify the Introduction

Finally, if you would feel more comfortable, you can simplify the introduction using these techniques, and perhaps prolong it.  By the time the congregation begins singing, you should be sufficiently warmed up to play the hymn as you have practiced it.

I  believe by following these suggestions, you will soon come to the point where you play without stumbling, even after a long break.

Thanks for reading!  I hope these suggestions help.


  1. I've been playing the organ all my life and out of general necessity to my overworked brain, I always study the hymns without playing them. Usually while sitting through Sacrament Meeting. I've found that it really helps. I don't mean that's all the practicing I do, but if I've got a hymn or a piano piece coming up, it helps to study each note. Does that make sense? Seems to help me. At least I know what's coming and you don't go into it so cold.

  2. I do a few things to combat this: I keep my mind focused on the music whenever I can. If I am away from the console (during a talk) I grab a hymnal, open it up to the next hymn and occasionally look at it during the talk, review the introduction, think of where my feet will be for the first notes, etc. That makes a huge difference in how I play vs just "vegging out" during the talk.

    Secondly, when it is time to play, take your time getting ready to play (focusing your mind). As organists, sometimes we think the instant "Amen" is heard or the instant the bishop stops talking, we have to play. It's ok to take 5-10 seconds to prepare yourself mentally (doube check stops, get fingers and feet set, look at the first few notes, etc.). That 5-10 seconds can seem like minutes to us, but to the congregation, it's really no big deal.

    Lastly, there is no rule about when you can or can't be sitting at the console. If it's not too disruptive, anticipate the end of the talk and move to the console early. Make sure (DOUBLE CHECK) the organ is either off or no stops are pulled and play through the hymn. You can push down the keys just like you are playing, but no sound comes out (hopefully). That can get you back in the zone.

  3. An organist needs to get in the "zone" before beginning to play, and the best way to do that is to practice doing it (and this includes before solos, too). This has been described well by Jennifer, RoeH, and Lance.

    There are a lot of things to consider---things that have the potential to throw one off balance before beginning to play. The hymnal---is it already on the desk, or do you take it with you to the console? Is it open to the hymn? Are the stops prepared on a preset, or do you have to manually prepare the registration? Are you sitting in the choir seats or with your family in a pew? Do you need to adjust the swell pedal before beginning to play? Has the bishop just announced that there will only be one verse, after you've prepared hours for a special intro, interlude, and free accompaniment on the last verse? Do you see where I'm going with this? So I practice all scenarios so that I don't get flustered as much. "Playing" the organ is the easy part; organizing the logistics is the harder part!

    Whenever I am invited to play a solo, as part of my preparation, I go down in the pew and practice walking up to the console, removing the music from the rack that the organist has left there, putting my music on the rack, adjusting the bench, pushing the preset, adjusting the swell pedal, and begin playing. It's all part of my preparation. I want the entire experience to be relaxed and comfortable. I want to enjoy it!

    I hope some of these ideas help.

  4. These are some great tips for coming back to the organ after a break. Very helpful. The organ is certainly a complex instrument.

  5. Great ideas. I would add simply not to let these unpredictabilites frustrate or discourage you. It's just part of working with other people, none of whom feel any more expert in their roles than you. Plan and practice for it, as noted by others. Then expect them and don't fight it. Just be ready.