My Story Archives - Heidi Bender

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January 7, 2020

Climbing out of the Valley of Disappointment

The Valley of Disappointment Graph by James Clear

Have you ever felt like learning something new is taking longer than you expected? That’s me with the organ. It’s not new anymore, and after years of modest effort, I’m still struggling along.

There have been times when my lack of improvement from one lesson to the next would nearly bring me to tears of frustration.

And then I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. He describes the Valley of Disappointment as the time spent learning until your results match what you expected. The graph below is from the book.

Learning about “what you think should happen” vs. “what actually happens” gave me hope that I can still become a great organist! And, it helped me feel like I am not alone. I am not the only one in the valley!

The Valley of Disappointment Graph by James Clear

Exploring the Valley of Disappointment

I started learning the organ in 2009. If you would have asked me back then, I probably would have said I would take lessons for 2-3 years! Here it is more than 10 years later and I’m still in the valley disappointment! The allure of being a great organist continues to taunt me.

So, why is it taking me to long to get good?

♦ There is no pressure to perform for anyone since I do not have an organist position and no one at a church is pressuring me to play for their services.

♦ My practice habits have not been fantastic or consistent. In 2019, I intended to practice every day, but “broke the chain” when I was grieving the death of my cat, Kilala. One day off led to two, and then three.

♦ I don’t have the time every day to practice like a student studying for a degree. My understanding from Marijim is that college students that are majoring in organ often practice four or more hours a day. If a piece takes 8 hours to learn, it might take me 2 months to get in 8 hours on a piece.

♦ I skipped learning music theory. I figured if I could play the music why did I need to understand the theory. Now, with much encouragement and explanations from Marijim, I feel that learning it will help me become a better musician.

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.” – James Clear

♦ Practicing is borning sometimes when the time I need to spend to get a piece from 80% to 100% is much more than the time it took to get to 80%.

♦ And then I made a habit of not playing a hymn or any piece that I learned after Micheal gave his stamp of approval. I was so happy to be moving on to something new. If you don’t use it, you lose it! So, even though I have learned many pieces, I would have to spend time remembering (relearning) how to play previously learned pieces!

hymnal with tape flags sticking out of side. Each flag is on the page of a hymn I learned long ago.

Each tape flag is on a hymn that I could play at some point in the past.

Climbing out of the Valley

My concentration and focus while practicing need to improve as I read about in Performance Success by Don Greene.

Atomic Habits put habit change into a different perspective. The book talks about your identity. If you want “great organist” to be part of your identity, ask yourself what do great organists to become and stay great?

Here are the habits I will be working on in 2020:

  1. Practicing organ and piano every day. I am using the “don’t break the chain” method and tracking daily practice. I am also using the habit stacking method as described in Atomic Habits. On weekdays, I will practice after dinner or when I get home for the evening when I have an evening activity.  On weekends, since my schedule varies, I am not always going to be able to practice at the same time.
    I mentioned my plan to practice daily back in April 2018. What’s different this time, is the identity piece. I want to be known as a person that practices consistently!
  2. Practicing at a slow pace. I need to get over myself and accept that at this time I can’t sit down and play something new accurately at performance tempo. Slow practice with a metronome, will help me learn the correct muscle memory from the start and reduce the number of mistakes that need to be corrected.
  3. At least one day a week, I will study music theory.  I want to be able to play all of the minor and major scales. When learning the Zipoli pieces, I noticed that some sections are scale-like or arpeggios. If I had already learned all the scales, learning these pieces would have been much easier! I have a book with all the scales including the fingerings and a brief overview of music theory.
  4. I will continue to have weekly lessons. Marijim gives me feedback each week and her encouragement keeps me practicing.
  5. Reviewing pieces Marijim has approved of my playing for the organ. For the piano, I am still working through the beginner piano books but will review the challenging pieces I’ve learned. The goal is to play the pieces at least once a week so that I don’t forget how to play them! I am a little embarrassed to admit that I made this same goal back in 2016! Habit change can be hard. I think I failed as I wasn’t tracking the review peices and when I reviewed them. That’s going to change this year!

By developing better practice habits, I will climb my way out of The Valley of Disappointment!

July 1, 2018

Summer Update: A new teacher and a piano

used piano

I have two updates to share. First, I’m starting with a new teacher in August. And then, I bought a piano!

The teacher change:

When I reached out to Michael to schedule a lesson in June, he let me know that I needed to find a new teacher. He had personal reasons and also suggested that another teacher may be able to offer a new approach to my rhythm problems.

Michael had been my teacher for almost 9 years, as I started with him in September 2009. I am very grateful for all of his time, support, and advice. I hope to make him proud someday!

He also suggested that I find a teacher that could give me weekly lessons. I have a teacher lined for weekly lessons starting in August. I will withhold her name until I’ve met her in person and she approves having her name on my blog.

The piano:

My new teacher read some of my blog posts. She suggested a “back to basics” approach to fix my rhythm, which included practicing on a piano.

I didn’t have a piano. I probably could have worked out something with my church to practice on the piano there. My parents also have an old piano (it would need to be tuned though and might have other issues). Knowing myself, I felt like I needed to have a piano at home if I was going to be serious about it.

I went to King’s Keyboard House and purchased a used piano that was once in a school. It was already tuned, and I can turn it back into the store for credit if I ever want to upgrade to a better piano.

My new teacher had me order the Alfred d’Auberge Piano Course Books 1, 2 and 3 and NoteSpeller books 1 and 2. So far, I’ve played through all of book 1 and part of book 2.

Playing the very simple pieces in book 1 that contain eight notes, reveals my rhythm problems. So, I have a problem with the basics!

I am practicing with the metronome until I can meet with my new teacher.

The timing of needing/wanting the piano seemed meant to be as just a couple of weeks prior, my husband and I had emptied a bedroom to have it painted and to install cat shelves. So, we were able to accommodate adding a piano.

The cats do like to run across the piano, and some of them sit on the bench while I practice. I am thankful that there is a cover for the keys!

cat on shelf by piano

Kilala on the shelf by piano

Do you think piano practice will help make me a better organist?

June 20, 2016

June 2016 Lesson: Ending the insanity practice method

June 2016 Organ Lesson: ending the insanity

At the start of my organ lesson on June 11, I shared with Michael how depressed I felt after the previous lesson. That lesson felt like rock bottom.

June 2016 Organ Lesson: ending the insanity

He asked “What did you do about it?”

I told him about taking a break. The break was 11 days off. Then I practiced for 3 days and took another 7 days off. This is the longest break I have taken since I started organ lessons in 2009.

I also decided to practice how he has been telling me practice for years. I’d been doing the insanity approach for the past few years: practicing in the same way, hoping for a different result at my lesson.

This meant I needed to make a sound along while playing. Not just in my head. Not just relying on the metronome to make the sound for me.

He asked “Why did it take so long to actually do what he said?”

This is a very interesting question. I have been paying him for advice as my teacher for over six years. At most (if not all) lessons, he encouraged me to make a sound while I played.

* In the past, I was making the sound in my head and thought it would be the same effect.

* The metronome felt like a suitable replacement.

* I would try it for a day or two, and then revert back into my old habits.

* I didn’t want to admit that I needed to make a sound to be able to play on tempo

* I had tried making a sound on my own (without using the metronome at the same time), only to discover at a lesson that my sound making wasn’t reliable.

* Feeling embarrassed to make sounds in front of Michael at my lessons.

* Maybe a part of me didn’t believe it would work for me

What I did during my practice time

I practiced making a sound aloud along with the metronome. I needed the metronome to keep me honest. I also recorded myself much more often, with and without the metronome.

Instead of practicing 6 pieces, I focused on the 3 hymns and the Bach prelude.

The Difference

Turns out, practicing how Michael said worked! I could play on tempo at my lesson! I played “Angels From the Realms of Glory” very well and it was checked off of my list. I still need to keep working on the other 2 hymns, but I am making progress. Michael could tell a difference.

Given my progress, I had the courage to play “Crown Him With Many Crowns” by memory for Michael. I have been playing this piece for warm up at home. He said it was at 95% and gave me a couple of suggestions for improvement.

Stay Fresh, Refresh Update

Facbook Memory of Nun Bitten WirThen I shared my goal of remembering how to play the pieces I had learned once but I have forgotten how to play. Back in January, a Facebook Memory reminded me of Nun Bitten Wir by Buxtehude.

I have been slowly relearning this piece. I played it for Michael. He said I should work towards polishing and memorizing it.

That way if I am ever at a church or somewhere with an organ, I’d be able to sit down and be able to play something without having music with me.

Michael was also very kind. When I got home I check Nun Bitten Wir with the metronome and I was way off!!!

The morale of this lesson:

If you are doing something and it’s not working, change it up! Resit the insanity method and you also do not need to wait for rock bottom.

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