practice Archives - Heidi Bender

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January 7, 2020

Climbing out of the Valley of Disappointment

The Valley of Disappointment Graph by James Clear

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!

The Valley of Disappointment Graph by James Clear

Exploring the Valley of Disappointment

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.

So, why is it taking me to long to get good?

♦ 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!

hymnal with tape flags sticking out of side. Each flag is on the page of a hymn I learned long ago.

Each tape flag is on a hymn that I could play at some point in the past.

Climbing out of the Valley

My concentration and focus while practicing need to improve as I read about in Performance Success by Don Greene.

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?

Here are the habits I will be working on in 2020:

  1. Practicing organ and piano every day. I am using the “don’t break the chain” method and tracking daily practice. I am also using the habit stacking method as described in Atomic Habits. On weekdays, I will practice after dinner or when I get home for the evening when I have an evening activity.  On weekends, since my schedule varies, I am not always going to be able to practice at the same time.
    I mentioned my plan to practice daily back in April 2018. What’s different this time, is the identity piece. I want to be known as a person that practices consistently!
  2. Practicing at a slow pace. I need to get over myself and accept that at this time I can’t sit down and play something new accurately at performance tempo. Slow practice with a metronome, will help me learn the correct muscle memory from the start and reduce the number of mistakes that need to be corrected.
  3. At least one day a week, I will study music theory.  I want to be able to play all of the minor and major scales. When learning the Zipoli pieces, I noticed that some sections are scale-like or arpeggios. If I had already learned all the scales, learning these pieces would have been much easier! I have a book with all the scales including the fingerings and a brief overview of music theory.
  4. I will continue to have weekly lessons. Marijim gives me feedback each week and her encouragement keeps me practicing.
  5. Reviewing pieces Marijim has approved of my playing for the organ. For the piano, I am still working through the beginner piano books but will review the challenging pieces I’ve learned. The goal is to play the pieces at least once a week so that I don’t forget how to play them! I am a little embarrassed to admit that I made this same goal back in 2016! Habit change can be hard. I think I failed as I wasn’t tracking the review peices and when I reviewed them. That’s going to change this year!

By developing better practice habits, I will climb my way out of The Valley of Disappointment!

January 5, 2019

How to find a home practice organ

How to find a home practice organ

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.

How to find a home practice organ

Check with piano stores

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.

Ask around

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.

Thrift Stores and online selling sites

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.

small organ without all the pedals

Small organ without all the pedals. I don’t recommend this type of organ for practice.

Contact places that repair organs

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.

Buy from a dealer

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.

I have heard of Allen, Rodgers, and Viscount organs.  There are likely more brands out there.

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!

What if you want a pipe organ as your home practice instrument?

Pipe organs are going to be more expensive. But if you have space and budget, you can have a pipe organ in your home!

  1. Contact a pipe organ builder and hire them to build one for you
  2. Find a home to purchase that already has a pipe organ in it. You’d need to be willing to move. I remember when a house in Grand Rapids, MI was for sale that has a pipe organ in it. The listed price for the house was much less than what it would cost to get a similar organ installed new.
  3. Check with Organ Clearing House. While they mostly seem to work with large organs, sometimes have smaller home organs. These smaller organs may have 4 ranks.

What other tips and recommendations do you have to find a home practice organ? Please share your ideas in a comment below.

April 14, 2018

April 2018 Organ Lesson – Slow Progress is still progress!

April 2018 Organ Lesson - Slow progress is still progress

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.

April 2018 Organ Lesson - Slow progress is still progress

Lesson Highlights

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!

Slow progress is still progress

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!

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