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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.
I have two updates to share. First, I’m starting with a new teacher in August. And then, I bought a piano!
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.
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.
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!
Do you think piano practice will help make me a better organist?