Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist's Resource 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.

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Anxiety and Nerves

I recently received a question from S.D.:

I just finished playing for my 3rd Stake Conference this weekend. I had practiced everyday for over three months.  I knew the songs well and felt much more confident in my pedaling.  

I was pretty calm on Saturday Night's meeting but on Sunday, I felt more anxiety at the amount of people and of course hands and legs stiffen with anxiety and I really had to concentrate to keep things going.  I was able to cover okay, yet I was so disappointed because I had prepared so well.

When I received the call the size of the crowd was the biggest intimidation to me.  I have played the piano for years and accompanied a lot of groups, yet the organ is new, I have felt less in control of sounds and adjustments, therefore, I am nervous of making mistakes and that brings about the anxiety.

Have you ever experienced this or have any suggestions on how to work it out? This past two weeks I have been listening to talks on overcoming fear and having faith and done all I could think of to prepare.  I know I did okay, but I was wiped out when I was finished just dealing with my stress.  I hope to learn a little more on how other organists might prepare to overcome this type of fear or stress, so I can deal better with the next conference.
Have any of you felt this way? I certainly have! I'll share some ideas here on what I do to work through anxiety, but I'd love to hear from my readers as well!

What you're experiencing is very normal, unfortunately. There are several things that I've used to try to get past those nerves! Here they are, not in any particular order:

  • Recognize that your body doesn't know the difference between fear and excitement. When you start to feel those nerves kicking in, tell yourself that you're really excited to be able to play: Either because you have a really cool registration, or you can't wait for the congregation to be able to be united as one voice, etc. Try to turn that potentially scary emotion into a positive one.

  • Play in front of people more often. This is a difficult one, as in our church playing the organ is something we can't really do unless we're called. You can get involved in your local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, or see if you can be a volunteer temple organist on a regular or semi-regular basis (if your local temple has organists, and is close enough for you to serve there). Playing in the temple every other week helped me more than anything else!

  • When your brain starts playing head-games with you, shut it down by saying, "I don't care!" I learned this one from tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth. "I don't care!" saved me when I took my CAGO exam.

  • Cut yourself some slack. It doesn't have to be perfect! There was only one perfect person to walk the earth, and it's not you. Making mistakes is okay! Figure out what you're the most nervous about, and see what you can do to circumvent that issue. It can be simplifying your first hymn introduction by beginning with the melody in octaves, or with just the melody stepping into the other parts.

  • Shrug off mistakes. Mistakes happen, but don't let them derail you. Don't give them any room in your brain. Always look forwards, never backwards when you're playing.

  • Worrying about your upcoming "performance" will make your anxiety grow. Now that you've learned some great coping techniques, try not to stress as the date comes nearer. I know that's hard to do! Also, don't just prepare for that one huge event, play and learn other pieces, too, and intersperse them as you practice to take some of the pressure off. 

  • Trust your preparation. I'm sure you're heard the saying, “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.” Well, when the time to play the organ has arrived, your preparation is over. TRUST YOURSELF.
The Inner Game of Music is a great resource. I read it a long time ago, so I don't remember much about it, but it's definitely worth a read.

So, my faithful readers:  What do you do when your nerves kick up? Do you have any great suggestions to share?


  1. Just prior to the performance, if I start to notice my heartbeat going up, and my hands getting sweaty, I begin a breathing exercise. 4 beats breathing in, hold for 4, then 8 beats breathing out. Repeat as desired, and then increase the numbers (8:8:16, etc). It works best if you're practiced at the exercise and do it often. It's also completely discrete and can be done even if you're on the stand and everyone's watching.

    During the performance, think about the anxiety from a third person point of view. Anxiety distracts your attention away from the music, so I first work to focus my attention on the music, and let the anxiety be (Still acknowledging that it's there, it doesn't go away, I just let it be there while I focus even harder on the music).

    I also do the best I can to just keep the music metronomic and flowing with all the other music going on, (especially in the case of an ensemble). The melody is the most important thing, after that, no one notices if you fake a chord here and there.

  2. I have never been a wonderful organist. I mostly play for my own enjoyment, but have filled in in Sacrament Meeting in an emergency. A few years ago, the Stake President asked me to play for Stake Conference. I tried to get out of it since I am extremely shy and get nervous with more than 2 or 3 people. I was singing in a multi-ward choir. Our Stake Conference is held in the beautiful old pioneer Box Elder Tabernacle in Brigham City Utah, with a video feed to the Stake Center. With a pending knee replacement climbing from the organ to the top of the choir loft would be difficult. A fantastic 16 year old girl accompanied the choir. I only had to play prelude, postlude, rest hymn and closing hymn. On Friday my back was so racked with pain I could hardly move. I tried in vain to find a substitute. By Saturday Afternoon I was really frantic. I knelt down and asked Father to help me to bear the pain so that I would not detract from the sacredness of the meeting. I did not ask for relief, only the ability to bear the pain. When I finished I stood up and the pain was gone. Instantly. I was fine that evening and all day Sunday. Then Monday morning the pain returned. I was so grateful I didn't mind the pain, I Love that Heavenly Father loves us all and answers sincere prayers.