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Warm-ups for organists?

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Hello - does anybody know of any good physical exercises for organists - for arms, legs, back or whatever - that can be used as a warm-up before and a "warm-down" after practising/performing? Or any good websites that go into this sort of thing? Thanks in anticipation!

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I suffer from an aching back after playing and on my wife's advice joined a local Pilates class. I find that the basic exercises both before going to the church, during the service when I have a stretch at the start of the sermon**, and when I get home have a hugely beneficial effect. My classes, at which I'm the only male, :rolleyes: , have only 6 or 7 attendees so individual attention can be given. I also find that regular swimming, especially front crawl, stretches all the appropriate muscles and helps a lot.

 

**My organ is at the west end of the church and I pre-warned the priest so that she wouldn't have too much of a shock when I started pushing my arms above my head. Not evangelism; just ache relief!

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I'm interested to see that you have an aching back handsoff - I thought it was just me. I'm sure that there is some posture problem at times but the ache nearly always goes after a couple of minutes and a quick stretch and walk around although I appreciate that it can't be done during the service! I do get off the bench during the sermon though and sit in a normal chair which offers some relief. No problems with the piano so it must be connected to the 'suspended animation' that we find ourselves in on the bench (ours isn't adjustable in height which might also be an issue). I have been looking into Alexander technique but I need to do lots more homework with that, it produces some pretty miraculous results with violinists in particular. There is plenty of information on various websites about the Alexander method - I don't think you have to go the whole hog with it but it offers some useful ideas.

If it is a new instrument then I always play through this http://imslp.org/wiki/Toccata_on_'O_filii_et_fili%C3%A6'_(Farnam,_Lynnwood)

- I learnt it years ago and find it really useful to physically find your way around the instrument (it doesn't have to be blasted out, couple of flutes do the same job. I do appreciate from the initial post that this might not be approachable for those starting on the instrument.

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I'm sure that my problem is linked to the non-adjustable bench which is a bit too high, even after removal of the copies of "Mission Praise" which were under the ends. I too have a normal chair on which to sit for the sermon after my stretch. The other organ I play on occasions has the bench screwed to the choir stalls and it is too cramped for me. I have to sit in a slightly hunched position too close to the keyboards. Again, there is a seat nearby to get some relief during the sermon.

 

I can't recommend Pilates highly enough. It's excellent for all round strength and flexibiity and is, most importantly, safe for anyone with back problems when taught by a qualified teacher.

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There are two issues here - 'limbering-up exercises' and aches and pains due to playing. I can't say anything about the former but the latter are always made worse if the organ in question does not conform fairly closely to standard console dimensions. I have designed, and in some cases made, various consoles myself so the following comments are supported by some experience.

 

Two measurements are particularly critical - the height of the bench above middle D on the pedals, and the amount by which the pedals are recessed with respect to the manuals. This latter measurement varies depending on how many keyboards there are, and if it isn't correct, you can (for example) find yourself tipping forward while playing on the top manual. Counteracting this can result in excessive demands on one's musculature, with the result one can get aches and pains particularly in the back.

 

If it's any help, there is a sketch containing the most important console measurements at Figure 3 of the following article on my website:

 

http://www.pykett.org.uk/simple-console-virtual-pipe-organ.htm

 

CEP

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I would like to add another vote in favour of Pilates exercises for general well-being, particularly where an aching back is concerned. The movements are very helpful for improving flexibility, core strength and posture; a session will usually relieve physical niggles and leave one feeling relaxed and strong. I found I grew an inch taller in middle age after taking it up!

 

I'm less sure if it is practical as a pre-practice warm-up, though. Probably better done afterwards.

 

As a means of improving the use of the body in playing an instrument I'm thinking of attending (as an observer) a course led by Nelly Ben-Or in January. This is geared to applying the principles of the Alexander Technique to playing the piano. It may have some application to playing the organ (I hope so!) although I'm sure other contributors are correct in remarking that the peculiarity of the posture adopted at the organ, and the relative insecurity of the feet will have a bearing on the associated discomfort.

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Guest Organconvert

I'm really grateful for all this advice. My position is that I'm preparing for a recital (first one since 2011) and have been packing in the practising over the past couple of months. The result is that I'm frequently waking up with muscles I didn't know I had feeling considerably "used", although not necessarily back muscles. Whistlestop and handsoff - I think Pilates sounds like what I'm after, for all the reasons you give. Also, Colin Pykett, maybe I ought to check the height of the bench - although the console's not huge, I'm not tall...... And Phoneuma - that looks a good one for warm-up - certainly gets you round all the keys! I might give it a go. Thanks, everyone. Much appreciated.

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If it is a new instrument then I always play through this http://imslp.org/wiki/Toccata_on_'O_filii_et_fili%C3%A6'_(Farnam,_Lynnwood)

- I learnt it years ago and find it really useful to physically find your way around the instrument (it doesn't have to be blasted out, couple of flutes do the same job. I do appreciate from the initial post that this might not be approachable for those starting on the instrument.

 

Wow! That's some warm-up!

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Indeed it is! Farnam apparently used it to 'test' any new organ he hadn't played and it does have you flying all around the thing, the only piece I've ever memorised, perhaps it is a bit of an extreme example..

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Two measurements are particularly critical - the height of the bench above middle D on the pedals, and the amount by which the pedals are recessed with respect to the manuals. This latter measurement varies depending on how many keyboards there are, and if it isn't correct, you can (for example) find yourself tipping forward while playing on the top manual. Counteracting this can result in excessive demands on one's musculature, with the result one can get aches and pains particularly in the back.

 

If it's any help, there is a sketch containing the most important console measurements at Figure 3 of the following article on my website:

 

http://www.pykett.org.uk/simple-console-virtual-pipe-organ.htm

 

CEP

 

Some very sound advice in Colin's article there, to which I would add two things. Firstly that before I built my home organ I sat on, played and measured as many four manual organs as possible. I quickly found that for me a minimum height of just over 30 inches was "right" and a height of 29 1/2 (which is often quoted as the standard height for pedals to lowest manual) was not only very uncomfortable as it left me scrunched up, but also it was mercifully surprisingly rare. All the more surprising as I have rather short legs.

 

On the other hand, apart from the pedal distances and the expression pedal location, I think there is another measurement which you didn't mention Colin but which is vital if you are building your own organ. I went to the expense of having ten toe pistons for each foot, only to find I couldn't reach the furthermost piston either side of the swell pedals!

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