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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
On Friday, I had my first lesson with Marijim Thoene. She is my new teacher for organ and piano. When I contacted her a couple of months ago, she suggested that I get a piano (which I did) to help correct the issues I have with playing the organ. My weekly lessons will be for a half hour and may eventually be bumped up to an hour.
Marijim started the lesson by asking me to play something I know well. On the piano, I had made it most of the way through book 2 of the Alfred d’Auberge Piano Course. So, I choose Big Rock Candy Mountain, not feeling 100% confident, but I had to pick something.
Marijim commented on the position of my hands and forearms and the angle of my thumb on the keys. My technique needs work. If my I can improve my technique playing the piano will sound better and be easier. And the skill will help with my organ playing too.
Next, I played “Crown Him with Many Crowns” on the organ which didn’t go very well. Even though I have played this hymn many times at home (and by memory), I wasn’t able to make it through the second line. I was nervous (sweat through my shirt nervous), but I still should have been able to play it. I need to be able to play on any organ.
Perhaps, my problem with the organ is not having enough confidence in my playing.
Marijim gave me forearm exercises to do on the piano. The exercise involves exaggerated rotation of the hand and fingers. When playing just a 5 note scale, my hand is to rotate in the opposite direction, before rotating to strike the key. This rotation will give my fingers more power! I am to do the exercise in 15-minute intervals when I’m not distracted by anything else.
Also, she gave me a stretching exercise to do: Stand with my arms up and out to the sides and then bend my wrists up and down. Her wrists are much more flexible than mine.
I also need to work on my posture and stop slouching! Not slouching is painful and will take work. I already am starting to get the rounded shoulders of my mom and grandma. You can see the slouch in the video from when I played the organ for the first time at a church. I will be working on my posture all of the time, not just when playing the organ.
With my first lesson complete, I feel that if I put in the effort, I will improve my playing and along with it my confidence. And weekly lessons while provide greater accountability.
On May 16th, I met with Michael at his church for an organ lesson. We realized that I’m not always able to play at my lesson as well as I do at home.
I started the lesson with the Bach fugue from Prelude and Fugue in F Major (BWV 556). I’ve been working on it for over a year. I felt confident that I would play it well enough to get it checked off my assignment list based on my progress at home.
Well, my performance did not go as planned! While better than my previous lesson, my tempo was still uneven in some sections. And I had a complete breakdown and stopped completely in the middle. I may have been thinking too much about playing it without messing up.
Michael had me play it again from start to finish, this time recording it on my phone. Even if played a wrong note or struggled with tempo I was instructed to not stop and keep going to the end.
The recording revealed my old tempo issue of speeding up when easier and slowing down when harder. I could clearly hear the issues in the recording.
I had made a recording at home during the week prior to my lesson. We listened to that recording together. My tempo was much more consistent and even at home! On scale from 1 to 10 where 1 is best the tempo was a 2 at home. My performance at the lesson was rated as a 6. That is a huge difference.
I need to be able to play consistently and accurately on any organ, not just my Saville organ at home. Being nervous probably did not help and the keys on my organ at home making a clicking noise, so that may be helping me at home.
Perhaps, I should reach out to some churches (and maybe funeral homes) in my area to see if they would let my practice on their organ once a week. This would give me experience with playing on more organ consoles than only mine and at Michael’s church.
I will keeping working on the fugue for one more lesson. Then I will be assigned another yet to be named fugue. Since fugues seem to be a bit more difficult for me grasp than other types of pieces, I must keep playing them to conquer them!
Until my next lesson, I am not to start any piece at the beginning. When Michael asked me to start the fugue in the middle, I had trouble with the tempo. I eased into it, instead of starting with the correct tempo. Michael asked if I always start at the beginning. I confessed that I did. This may seem like a small thing but It feels like a huge shift in my mind to change my routine.
I was able to play “Arise, Shine Out, Your Light Has Come” successfully during the lesson and this hymn was taken off my assignment list. “God Be With You till We Meet Again” was added.
Do you have any tips for planning at the same level at a performance as at home?