Confidence Archives - Heidi Bender

Category Archives for "Confidence"

November 11, 2018

The Benefits of Weekly Piano Lessons

The Benefits of Weekly Piano Lessons

I will share some of the benefits of weekly piano lessons. First, I will give some background on how I got to this point.

When Michael let me know last summer that he could no longer give me organ lessons, one of his final recommendations was for me to find a teacher that could provide weekly lessons. I had a choice to make.

  • I could stop lessons altogether. After almost nine years of lessons, was I going to be able to improve?
  • Find a new teacher, but with lessons spaced more than a week apart.
  • Find a new teacher that could do weekly lessons.

Once again, I decided not to give up. And I started weekly lessons with Marijim in August. I decided to do whatever she asked since I wasn’t exactly a successful organist. She suggested that we start with the basics and that I would benefit from learning the piano.

So I bought a piano and beginner piano books. Accepting that I was still at a beginner level was difficult. I had to admit that the results just were not there. Even though I managed to play the organ for a church service once, I was still taking a very long time to learn new hymns and other pieces and couldn’t sight read well.

I have wondered how I ended up in this situation. Eventually (sometimes that was a year or more), I would be able to play a hymn or other pieces successfully. I don’t know what the word for this is, perhaps by rote, but I would sit down at the organ and attempt to play a piece over and over again. And, then I would be making mistakes and not being self-aware to know until Michael would tell me at a lesson. And I know there were time periods where I wasn’t practicing much.

Now that I’ve been taking weekly lessons for three months, I will share some of the benefits I’ve experienced.

The Benefits of Weekly Piano Lessons

The Benefits of Weekly Piano Lessons


As I learned in November 2017 from reading The Four Tendencies, I am an obliger. I will get more done when someone else is expecting me to deliver. Marijim is my accountability since she is expecting me to make improvements each week.

Marijim is also expecting me to learn music theory as it will help me understand the music better and help with my sight reading. I had attempted music theory in the past (I have this book!), but without the accountability, I gave up when it felt hard.

Michael had made it clear at one of the first lessons that I could learn music theory on my own. So we didn’t talk about much after that. I felt like I was off the hook! Michael would say that a chord was in D minor (or whatever key) and I pretended to be able to follow along. Only now, I understand that knowing the theory will be beneficial. And Marijim spends a few minutes on music theory at each lesson.

Practice is a priority.

As an adult taking lessons, it can be easy for me to skip practicing the piano or organ for other priorities. And pushing off practice when I was meeting with Michael, was much easier to do knowing that my next lesson might not be for another month. It’s harder to skip practicing for a day when I only have seven days in between lessons. When I can only squeeze in 15 minutes, now I do it!

Faster Feedback.

Each week I get feedback on what still needs work. This is reducing the amount of time I spend thinking I have something, okay, only to find out it isn’t. And then having to spend even more time correcting the muscle memory.

More frequent interaction with my teacher makes it harder to hide my struggles. When Marijim gives me advice, she’s going to know if I did what she said. Much of her advice for improvement is similar to Michael’s: use the metronome, count out loud, record myself, write in fingerings, etc. However, now I’m trying harder to follow the suggestions consistently. When my lessons were a month or longer apart, it was easier to try for a week or two and than relapse back into old habits.

Increased Confidence.

I have talked about confidence in many posts. It’s been a struggle for years! Because of the feedback at lessons and increased practice time, I feel that my confidence is going up!  Ordering the Alfred d’Auberge books 1 and 2 was hard as I had to agree to start over from the beginning.

They were helpful to learn piano technique as playing the piano is somewhat different than the organ. And, being able to quickly learn the simpler pieces boosted my confidence. Yes, they were easy and straightforward, but I could play them correctly!

In the the third piano book, several of the pieces are to be played allegro (fast). I’m still working on this, but feel like I am on the verge of conquering this, thanks to Marijim’s instructions and encouragement.

Also, I am feeling less nervous playing in front of Marijim because I see her every week! At home, usually The Cats of Organist Heidimy cats are my only audience.

The piano hasn’t been a magic fix

I still have many of the same issues on the piano as I did with the organ. This isn’t a total surprise. I still struggle with subdividing, syncopation, dissonance, and tempo. Going through the easier pieces should help me get on track faster. The weekly lessons are forcing me to make corrections faster. I still need to use the metro.

How long will I need weekly piano/organ lessons?

How long is hard to answer. I will stick with weekly lessons until Marijim recommends less frequent meetings. Until the time comes when I am confident enough in my abilities I will stick with weekly lessons (or whatever lesson scheudle the Marijim proposes).

I hope this post as helped you understand some of the potential benefits: Accountability, Practicing more, Faster feedback, and increased confidence.

Share in a comment any other benefits of taking weekly lessons.

April 2016 Lesson: Still Struggling

April 2016 Lesson- Still Struggling

I am still struggling with syncopation. On April 30, I met Michael for another organ lesson. I haven’t played the organ since then. Tomorrow, I will get back on the bench.

April 2016 Lesson- Still Struggling

My expectations going into the lesson were very high. I had been working on my mindset for a few weeks. I had practiced every day in the week leading up to my lesson.

I knew the classical pieces would need to be repeated as they were not strong enough yet. And I had underestimated the complexity of “Herr; num selbst den Wagen halt”. It looked easy!

I didn’t get a passing mark on any hymn. Same old story with syncopation and tempo.

I’ve been working on “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” for over a year. I felt like crying during my lesson, but I managed to hold back the tears. It was better than my previous lesson, so that is a positive, but the syncopation still needs work. Michael gave me a suggestion for a different way to practice. I am hoping this will help me to get it right!

The Break

I decided to take a break after my lesson. I was going to have a busy week working on my book and we had a trip planned to visit the Mammoth Caves. This seemed like a good time for a break.

My hope is that taking a break will help me to change some of my practice habits more easily. I need to stay committed to different practice techniques for more than a few days.

I need to make a habit of recording myself even when I think it sounds okay when I play it. I will need to rely on the metronome to help me learn to feel the beat. We noticed that if I made an audible sound for sub-dividing, my tempo was better than when I just did sub-dividing in my head. I will practice making an audible sound along with the metronome.

I am also reading The Power of Neuorplasticity now. I will learn how I can reprogram the “programs” in my brain. Perhaps choosing different thoughts will lead to better organ playing. Time will tell.

Even with the current hardship of syncopation, I still believe that I can learn to play pieces in tempo. I am not giving up!

I haven’t thought of a good question to go along with this post, so I will just thank you for your support!

Is my fixed mindset hindering my progress?


I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck. My coach, Camilla, who is helping me Get Things Done, suggested I read it after I mentioned my fear that no one will read my book other than friends and family. (My book is about thank you note writing).

I realized that I developed a fixed mindset with my organ practice!


In Mindset, I quickly learned about fixed and growth mindsets. The fixed mindset believes that we can’t change much. That our qualities are what they are and we can’t improve beyond a certain level. The result is, as Carol puts it, “If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain personality, and a certain moral character – well then you’d better prove you have a healthy dose of them.”

The growth mindset believes that we can change. We can learn more. We can work hard and improve at things. Your true potential isn’t known. Carol says “This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things that you can cultivate through your efforts”.

The book points out that we can have fixed mindset in some areas of our lives and growth mindset in others.

My fixed mindset with organ practice

I have been taking lessons for several years. Sometimes I have felt like my progress has plateaued. I felt that way even after Michael has told me that my he believes that “I have the chops”.

Since learning about mindsets, I believe I developed a fixed mindset towards my organ practice. I had a growth mindset at the start of lessons since I believed that I could learn to play the organ as an adult.

Evidence of my fixed mindset:

  • I began to resist marking up my music. I felt like I shouldn’t have to do that anymore after all these years. Michael adds marks to my music at nearly every lesson. And I’ve seen the markings on his scores. Yet, I still felt like I should be able to play without so many marks.
  • After years of practice, I continue to struggle with syncopation. I’ve felt like its become part of my identity as an organist. “The organist who can’t handle syncopation”.
  • Failing to practice consistently the week before a lesson believing that a little more practice will not make much difference so what was the point.
  • Beginning to believe that I can’t play as well at a lesson as I can at home.

I had a fixed mindset BEFORE the organ in other areas

I was able to identify with many of the stories in the book. They were several involving school and learning. One of them was about drawing. When I was in seventh grade art class we had to draw a portrait of the student seated across from us. My drawing was not great. I’ve felt like I could not become good at drawing based on that one attempt. In the book people who took a drawing class were able to improve!

Another story was about math. In high school, I felt very successful at math. I earned student of the month while taking geometry for receiving 100% on every test that month (and maybe homework assignments). Fast forward to college. I had decided to study math because “I was good at it”. Well, college math was much harder! I received a D in Physics (I got an A in the lab!) and a D in calculus. I was not so smart after all! I had to retake calculus. The issue was that my math skills going into those classes were not strong enough. I didn’t want to admit this as I was the one in the family that was supposed to be good at math. This was a fixed mindset.

How is your mindset? Fixed or Growth?

One of the insights in this book, was that just be learning about mindsets we can make different choices.

There are also sections about raising kids and how to praise them in a way to encourage them to have growth mindset instead of fixed. Stop telling that that they are smart!

Further Reading:

The book: Mindset by Carol Dweck.
Brain Pickings: Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
Bullet Proof Musician: Why the Wrong Kind of Praise Can Undermine Our Students’ Confidence

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