January 2016 Lesson – Syncopation Struggles and more

On January 16, I had my first organ lesson of 2016. Sometime in December, I decided that working on 6 pieces was too many at one time given that I only practice about 30 minutes a session and 4 of the pieces were assigned at my previous lesson. We focused on the 4 pieces that I had spent time on. At the end of the lesson, Michael looked at the Walcha prelude he had assigned previously (this is one that I stopped practicing) and decided that I wasn’t ready for it yet and switched me to #12 in the Walcha book: Herr; num selbst den Wagen halt.

I also shared that I am not able to easily play through the older pieces that I have learned. Michael said if I learned the piece well, that it should come back fairly quickly. I am hoping that turns out to be true as I spent more than a year learning some of the pieces.

Michael also suggested that I start practicing sight reading for at least 5 minutes a practice session. He explained how to figure out the tempo of a hymn by looking at the time signature and singing it until the first breath should occur. if I can’t make it in one breath, than its too slow.

Due to having surgery this past week to have 2 dental implants put in, I have only had one day so far where I’ve practiced the sight reading. I hope learning to sight read becomes a turning point in my progress!

The Syncopation Nemesis

music-notesThis lesson was like many past lessons. I continue to struggle with syncopation. I understand the math behind the note values but there is a disconnect between my mind and my hands. I tend to hold on to the dotted note too long. Or then I over compensate and do not hold it long enough. This means I am not “feeling the beat”.

While playing “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending”, I was able to play it correctly (eventually) with the metronome. At home, I have been working on “feeling the beat” and subdividing.

It seems that I am not to the point where I can trust myself yet and will need to do more practicing with the metronome. I also need to get in the habit of recording myself more often so that I can hear the issues myself at home.

Some Good News

“O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” was interesting as I thought I had the problem of playing the eighth notes as quarter notes when I learned it. Michael said my playing of it was fine but on the slow side. This was good news. The real issue is that I have been learning it very slowly. A few days before my lesson, when I checked the tempo at home with metronome I wasn’t able to play it at performance speed. I am on the right track with this one and need to practice it more often to get it to performance tempo.

I will get there!!

Despite the issues, Michael has confidence that I have the chops to play these pieces correctly. I will keep working and plan for success!

How have you defeated syncopation issues?

How does that piece go again?
Is my fixed mindset hindering my progress?
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.

5 thoughts on “January 2016 Lesson – Syncopation Struggles and more”

  1. Thanks for another interesting and thought provoking post. Your experiences sound very familiar to me and I too have reduced the number of pieces on the go to three in my case:

    One in progress, one nearly learnt, and one just starting. I need to be more disciplined about rehearsing pieces that I have already learnt. Why not put together a programme of pieces already “learnt” and spend some time focussing on getting them to performance standard for that small concert at home?

    If regenerating them is difficult perhaps more meaningful marks on the score would help when revising them. A slow play through can be helpful to identify the problem areas and then focussing on these, asking why is this a problem and how do I solve it?

    I now realise that if I don’t see real progress after every practice session it probably means I am not practising correctly, trying to do too much in the session or am too tired.

    A big breakthrough for me was when I remembered that it’s all about making music. The technical and co-ordination questions can seem so challenging that one can become totally preoccupied with these. So, I now try to have a clear idea of the music and the pulse in my head before I start learning it.

    Here is a list of useful tips that I have picked up from recent organ workshops that I have attended:


    Sort out the problems first
    Focus on isolating the issues
    Use post-it notes to frame the area of interest.
    Gradually move them out to play in and out of the issue


    Build on strength. Don’t move on until confident.


    Sing the melody to get the shape of it.
    Get used to the timing with the key part
    Sing as you play.

    Sing the parts away from the organ
    Practise the parts independently and with the pedal.
    Aim to play the independent parts up to speed and then a little faster.

    Well, I think these ideas form a useful armamentarium in tackling some of the questions and issues as we learn the organ and certainly these two guys can play well and teach well. How we use them I guess comes down to the specific nature of each problem.

    I hope you find this as helpful as I have and thanks again for such an interesting and inspiring blog.

  2. I also find that previously learned pieces don’t come back as quickly as I expect. Like you, once I pass it off, I don’t look at it again for awhile – especially the particularly challenging ones. The easier ones that I can pull off when nervous I typically use as a prelude or postlude at church.

    My biggest challenge right now is trying to play a more challenging hymn at church. I play it fine at home, but when I get nervous and no chance to really warm up, my pedaling falls apart. By the 2nd or 3rd verse, I’m playing confidently. It’s the first verse that’s rough. I suppose that will only get better with time.


Leave a Comment