June 2016 Lesson: Ending the insanity practice method

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.

April 2016 Lesson: Still Struggling
July 2016 Organ Lesson: Developing better at home practice
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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.

21 thoughts on “June 2016 Lesson: Ending the insanity practice method”

  1. Hi Heidi,

    I read every word of this post. I’m not in your situation but habits are hard to break or change.
    I think you have great persistence but persist in sticking with the plan.


  2. Hello Heidi

    Yes indeed! Test Comment received loud and clear. I have been busy over the summer and not had a chance to read all your messages. I will do so asap. Be of good cheer! The music is the thing.

    All warmest best wishes


  3. Hello Heidi

    It was so encouraging to read this latest post from you. I have recently been told to make loud clicks when I am practising hymns and, so long as it can’t be heard in the church, when I am playing them. Reading this, I remembered that Glen Gould’s recordings often have audible singing on them.

    I used to work for a Chicago based company and once read on a wall in the Head Office: “What is the strongest urge known to man?”. The answer was “To change something that somebody else has done”. It’s a great lesson. Thanks so much for reminding me of it and good luck with your practice.

    The organ is really difficult but it is also really rewarding.

    Take care


      • Hello Heidi

        Yes indeed – although quite difficult to do. When testing out a performance without doing them I find I can still think them quite clearly and they are really helpful.

        I have also been surprised to find out how much repetition I need to really make the music secure. It seems to be at least as much again as the time taken to get to the point where I think I know it.

        Did I say my first teacher told me “if you can sing the music, you’ll be able to play it”. That was about 50 years ago so I think you have the heads up on me! Although to be fair I didn’t play for all my working life.

        Good luck to you too. It’s a great thing to be doing and I love reading your blog.


  4. This reminds me that my teacher has encouraged singing along while playing also… and I’ve rarely done cause I feel like an idiot 8). If I could only have a private room to practice in…

  5. It is sort of like following the instructions since Michael is the instructor.
    Many people don’t follow instructions until the recipe doesn’t turn out right or are putting a swing set together and have screws left over or even in doing homework assignments.
    You have been working hard at this so will get it. Never need to hit rock bottom again now that you know you need to follow the instructions when you practice. .

  6. Oh Ford. And I am just getting ready to start organ lessons again. Yes, I know how you feel. Sometimes when you go to a lesson you would rather be beaten than hear what the instructor has to say.


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