Five Simple Ways for Church Organists to Improve their Playing

Between learning music for each week, leading rehearsals, teaching, and keeping up with regular life responsibilities, it can be hard for working church musicians to focus on their musical growth. But growing as a musician is one of the most important and fun parts of your work. So how do you make it happen?

Here are some simple ways to keep your musical growth a priority as you keep up your regular responsibilities at church.

1. Develop a Practice Plan

Set aside time for practice each week, and remain consistent in your practice. Yes, musicians must be recruited, music must be selected, and choir practice needs to be conducted. Sometimes it feels like practicing must be squeezed in among all these things. Instead, try blocking off practicing as a dedicated time on your calendar. And stick to it!

Use your practice time to prepare the service music and become comfortable with the hymns and the liturgy. Preparedness is a great way to improve your skills—and your confidence. When you’re comfortable with what you’re playing, you can relax more and enjoy the music, and this will come across in the beauty of the music.

2. Set Manageable Goals

Consider both short- and long-term goals. For example, a long-term goal might be learning a certain piece by a specific date. Once you decide on the date, add it to your calendar. Next, break this goal into several short-term goals, maybe in this way:

  1. One week from now, I can play through the first page. Two weeks from now, I can play through the second page. And so on.
  2. A month from now, I can play through the entire piece comfortably.
  3. Two months from now, I can play the piece with beautiful phrasing, dynamics, and passion.
  4. Three months from now, I will be ready to perform the piece with confidence and conviction.

Reward yourself when you achieve your goals. Maybe after each short-term goal, you can spend one full practice session playing some of your favorite music, just for fun. After a long-term goal, you can take a couple days off or treat yourself to another activity you enjoy.

3. Focus on the Problem Areas

When we’re crunched for time, it’s natural to feel like all we can do is run through the music a couple times and call it a day. But then we still trip over difficult spots. So instead of simply running through the music, take that same amount of practice time but focus on what is challenging you, and spend less time on what you have already mastered. You’ll still get through all the music, but you’ll have spent the time more efficiently.

Once you have identified the problem areas, find tangible solutions to them such as practicing hard-to-play notes in a variety of rhythms, repeating tough rhythmic sections with a metronome, or learning long runs one measure at a time. Spending time mastering problem areas gives you control over your practice sessions and gives you results you can hear.

4. Challenge Yourself

Learning is fun! Knowing that you are constantly growing as a musician can empower you and give you a sense of excitement in your playing. Balance your service repertoire with music that is accessible and music that makes you work a little harder to learn. In this way, you won’t feel overwhelmed by having too much challenging music, but you will also stay interested.

Gradually increase the difficulty level of your service music so you can progress incrementally. Use tip number two—setting manageable goals—to choose new music and work toward getting where you want to be.

5. Take Private Lessons

Just because you play professionally doesn’t mean you can’t still take lessons. Private lessons provide training that is directly tailored to you. You’ll have someone who can give you immediate feedback on your playing, help you set goals and develop a practice plan, and help you refine and learn new techniques.

Private lessons can also motivate you to continually do your best. Find a teacher who inspires you, who makes you say, “I want to be able to play like that.” Great teachers push you just beyond what you can currently do, and they give you the tools to get there.

If you ever feel static in your playing, remember that you have the ability to keep moving forward as a musician. With some adjustments to your time and routines, you can reach your musical goals.

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Written by

Jacob Weber

Jacob Weber is the associate editor of music/worship at Concordia Publishing House. A prolific composer, Jacob holds degrees in church music (organ) from Bethany Lutheran College and Concordia University Wisconsin. Previously, he served as kantor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Dearborn, Michigan.

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