How does that piece go again?

Kilala cat on the organ bench
My cat Kilala sitting on the organ bench next to me as I practice

At the end of last year, I discovered that I am not able to easily play most of the pieces I have learned.

The revelation

My brother’s family came for about 4 and a half hours away to visit family in the area on New Year’s weekend. Knowing that they were coming, I wanted to be prepared if they asked to come over and hear me play something.

I have been taking lessons for six years so I should be able to put on a mini-concert at my home on demand. Usually, only my cats are around when I am practicing and they do not seem to mind hearing the same assigned pieces over and over again.

I attempted to play the Christmas hymns that I learned in prior years. The next piece I tried was “Oh Love, How Deep”, which I once knew well enough to put on YouTube. The muscle memory was not as strong as it once was! I struggled to play them through.

The habit problem

I have developed a habit of not playing pieces after they get approved at a lesson. I am usually ready to move on to the next newly assigned piece.

Since I’m not performing anywhere on a regular basis, I hadn’t really considered what would happen if I stopped playing what I’ve learned. Well, I found out the hard way!

The new goal

My goal new is to form a new habit where I play already learned pieces on a regular basis, at least once a week. As a result, I will be able to play more than what I am currently learning if someone stops by and wants to hear me play.

I am currently reading “Better Than Before” about forming habits. One suggestion from the book is to giving new habit a rhyme:

An idea expressed in rhyme, seems more convincing that the same idea paraphrased in a non-rhyme, which is why “Haste makes waste”, is more compelling than “Haste fosters error”.

So far, the rhyme I have come up with is “Stay Fresh Refresh”. However, that sounds like it could be a tag line for a deodorant commercial!

What suggestions do you have for the rhyme that will help my new practice habit stick?

Kicking off the Christmas 2015 season
January 2016 Lesson - Syncopation Struggles and more
Website | + posts

Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

9 thoughts on “How does that piece go again?”

  1. Revision makes Precision

    The box idea is great or if you work from volumes index cards in a box would work too.

    Once things are in the long term memory they need less frequent revision so for these you may be able to pick more than one a week.

  2. I like the Stay Fresh Refresh thought.
    Mr. Lopez has some very good suggestions. A plan worth trying.
    Then invite a few people for a mini concert every couple weeks or once a month

  3. The best way to keep your playing in shape is to play regularly in front of people, so it’s important to make a conscious effort to practice old songs regularly. With a little organization that can be an easier task to do.

    Here’s my suggestion. I guess you have a thick binder or file cabinet with your music sheets. Try to organize them in three different sections:

    1- songs I want to learn someday,
    2- songs I’m learning now,
    3- songs I have learn.

    To keep old songs fresh, just go to the 3rd section once a week, close your eyes, and pick a random sheet. That way you’ll be forced to play every song you have, not just the ones you prefer to play. That’s to avoid a psychological trick we all fall victims of at least once: to practice only the songs we like and leave the rest aside.

    It might not seems that exciting, but believe me, once you are faced with the fact that piece you mastered is not sounding godd anymore, you will only have two options: to quit playing altogether or to take it personally and dare yourself to play better than ever. I often take the latter option.


Leave a Comment