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Have you ever felt like learning something new is taking longer than you expected? That’s me with the organ. It’s not new anymore, and after years of modest effort, I’m still struggling along.
There have been times when my lack of improvement from one lesson to the next would nearly bring me to tears of frustration.
And then I read the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. He describes the Valley of Disappointment as the time spent learning until your results match what you expected. The graph below is from the book.
Learning about “what you think should happen” vs. “what actually happens” gave me hope that I can still become a great organist! And, it helped me feel like I am not alone. I am not the only one in the valley!
I started learning the organ in 2009. If you would have asked me back then, I probably would have said I would take lessons for 2-3 years! Here it is more than 10 years later and I’m still in the valley disappointment! The allure of being a great organist continues to taunt me.
♦ There is no pressure to perform for anyone since I do not have an organist position and no one at a church is pressuring me to play for their services.
♦ My practice habits have not been fantastic or consistent. In 2019, I intended to practice every day, but “broke the chain” when I was grieving the death of my cat, Kilala. One day off led to two, and then three.
♦ I don’t have the time every day to practice like a student studying for a degree. My understanding from Marijim is that college students that are majoring in organ often practice four or more hours a day. If a piece takes 8 hours to learn, it might take me 2 months to get in 8 hours on a piece.
♦ I skipped learning music theory. I figured if I could play the music why did I need to understand the theory. Now, with much encouragement and explanations from Marijim, I feel that learning it will help me become a better musician.
“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.” – James Clear
♦ Practicing is borning sometimes when the time I need to spend to get a piece from 80% to 100% is much more than the time it took to get to 80%.
♦ And then I made a habit of not playing a hymn or any piece that I learned after Micheal gave his stamp of approval. I was so happy to be moving on to something new. If you don’t use it, you lose it! So, even though I have learned many pieces, I would have to spend time remembering (relearning) how to play previously learned pieces!
Atomic Habits put habit change into a different perspective. The book talks about your identity. If you want “great organist” to be part of your identity, ask yourself what do great organists to become and stay great?
By developing better practice habits, I will climb my way out of The Valley of Disappointment!
Since I have an organ at home, I have been asked about how to find a practice organ. This post will contain my ideas of how you can find a home practice organ.
I was fortunate to get my Saville organ for at home for free! At the time, I was taking organ lessons with Michael, and he was the organist at Adrian College then. The college has a pipe organ, and they were not using the Saville organ that had been donated to them. I was able to take it to my home for free and have been using it ever since.
If you choose an electronic organ, I strongly recommend finding a model that has a full range of pedals. The models with only one octave of pedals aren’t going to help much with practicing to be able to play other organs. Newer electronic (or digital) organs will sound more like an actual pipe organ than older models. My organ is from the 70’s. Technology has advanced a lot since then!
Once you find an organ, you may need to make a plan for moving it to your home, unless you bought it from somewhere that provides delivery. They can be very heavy. It took 4 people to move my organ into the house. You may need to hire movers, rent a truck, find 4 strong people that can lift it, etc.
Piano stores that sell used pianos may also have used electronic organs. I discovered this when I bought my piano. The store had at least one electronic organ on display each of the three times that I visited.
Some churches may have electronic organs that they are no longer using. Or they have more than one instrument and be willing to part with one. Of course, this could be quite time consuming depending on the number of churches in your area.
Ask everyone that you know. Someone’s relative or friend of a friend might have an old organ that they would be happy to get rid off.
One time, I saw a full-size organ with the full pedal board in a second-hand store — however, most of the time I’ve seen the small organs with only 1 octave of pedals, which I recommend you avoid.
You can also check Facebook Market Place, Craigslist, and eBay for electronic organs that might be for sale close to you.
They last time my organ was serviced, the technician mentioned that he had other organs for sale. These organs were not listed for sale on his website as far as I remember. Even if the repair place doesn’t have any organs for sale, they might know people in the area that are looking to sell.
Depending on your budget, you might decide to purchase a new organ. Dealers that represent big brands may also have used models available. The prices will vary depending on how many ranks and the size of the organ. A 5 manual organ will cost more than a 2 manual organ.
Several years ago, I went to the American Guild of Organists convention, Rodgers was there selling new instruments. They, of course, sounded great! However, the price of a new organ wasn’t in my budget then, and I didn’t think a newer organ would help me become a better organist any faster. I am sure it would have been more enjoyable to hear!
Pipe organs are going to be more expensive. But if you have space and budget, you can have a pipe organ in your home!
What other tips and recommendations do you have to find a home practice organ? Please share your ideas in a comment below.
On April 7, I met with Michael for another organ lesson. I didn’t have a lesson in February or March. By the time I was ready (I contact him once I feel I have progressed enough to make a lesson worth his time), he was busy with Easter commitments.
I started the lesson by playing “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” I nailed the first half! With the second half (which is a bit harder for me to play) I am still playing with my old habit of redistributing the tempo. I thought I had this worked out at home, but when we worked in small sections and with Michael pointing things out, I could hear the problems. So, I will continue to work on this.
“Christ is the sure foundation” finally received Michael’s stamp of approval. I did have some tempo issues, but I had a recording from home that proved that I can play it correctly (with the metronome). I’d been playing this hymn for almost a year. I was ready not to play it again.
My love/hate relationship with the metronome continues!
“Let it Breathe on Me” was interesting in that I could play it with the metronome but the tempo was wonky without it. So perhaps I have become too reliant on the metronome.
I am still struggling with note accuracy Fugue from Prelude and Fugue in E Minor once the pedal part comes in. Michael suggested that I practice it without the metronome until I have the notes correct.
The metronome isn’t always my friend!
My progress feels slow and it slow, having to practice hymns and other pieces for a year or more isn’t a stellar pace. But I am still improving and haven’t given up! Persistence will win.
Part of my slow progress is due to not making the time to practicing every day. Recently, my foster cat has taken priority over my organ practice (and other activities) in the evenings. He has to be kept separate from my other cats since he has feline leukemia virus and I want to spend time giving him attention every day.
But, if I really wanted to get better faster, wouldn’t I find a way to practice more? Do less of something else to have time for the cat and organ practice? I can make different choices.
The habit of not practicing every day has become just that, a habit. I need to work on straightening the habit of daily practicing! I am feeling inspired to work on this habit after reading this blog post on the Yes and Yes blog.
My progress is slower than I want it to be but it’s still progress. I can also tackle my practice habit to get better faster.
Have you changed a habit that lead to significant change or improvement? Share a success story in the comments!