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May 24, 2015

May 2015 Lesson – Home practice vs. performance

Two of the cats use the organ console and speakers to get a closer look at the spider on the ceiling. Buster apparently didn't notice it.

Two of the cats use the organ console and speaker to get a closer look at the spider on the ceiling. Buster apparently didn’t notice it.

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.

The Recordings

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.

Home practice vs. performance

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.

The Next Lesson

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.

Assignment update

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?

October 9, 2014

October 2014 Organ Lesson: Correcting wrong practice

My cat Kilala decided to walk across the keyboard while I was practicing!

My cat Kilala decided to walk across the keyboard while I was practicing!

Last Saturday I met with Michael for an organ lesson. I would like to be able to say it was an epic lesson – a lesson where all pieces receive Michael’s approval. It had been about 3 months had past since my previous lesson. I wanted that to be enough time to perfect everything. I could make excuses or list why I was too busy to not practice more. However, my problem seems to be with how I’m practicing, not that I practice too little.

I had asked in the Facebook Organist Association Group if I should practice before my lesson. The answers I received varied. I didn’t have time to practice before my lesson, but even if I had, I’ve been practicing some of the pieces incorrectly for so long, one more run through would not have had much of an impact.

While thinking about my lesson on the drive home, I realized that I have a problem. My practice is wrong for weeks or months. The wrong way becomes such a habit that I have heard time recognizing the issues on my own (which is another problem). This makes it that much harder to correct. I need to find a way to change my mind so that I can make the corrections on my own.

My other issue which I’ve had consistently over the years is not feeling the tempo. I am going to try working more with the metronome in hopes that I can learn to feel it!

The Lesson:

My lesson started with the prelude from “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556). To overcome the page turning issues I had previously, I printed both the prelude and fugue again and attached them in sections to a heavier weight paper stock. Issue solved! No more page turning! I was feeling confident going into my lesson. I felt nervous though at the start but I calmed down by the second time through. It was not perfect and still had problems. Some of the problems I’ve had for more than one lesson!

“Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556)

“Prelude and Fugue in F Major” (BWV 556)

Flashback: This happened when I was learning “All Creatures of Our God and King” too. Michael told me I was not playing the pedal legato (connected) in a couple of measures. I had practiced it wrong so many times that it sounded okay to me. In my mind it sounded right! I was only able to make the correction after I came home and made a video and saw exactly where the issue was with my own eyes. (NOTE: I was not instructed to play the entire pedal line legato. There was phrasing and articulation. I just struggled with a few measures where the pedal part would sound better of played legato, in my opinion)

The fugue of “Prelude and Fugue in F Major” could have went better! With this and also “Draw Us in the Spirit’s Tether” I could play the correct notes for weeks. But then from some reason, I started to struggle again. Like I had lost the muscle memory. I will be writing in more fingerings to see if that will help going forward.

Bercuese was so close to being passable. I continue to not hold some of the notes long enough and had a few legato issues. Michael says “We don’t want to wake the baby!” as Bercuese means lullaby and it was not smooth and sounded a bit jerky. We discussed if it was “good enough”. I’m a little tired of playing it, but decided I should do it one more time to smooth out the kinks. I don’t want to leave it unfinished!

“By Gracious Powers” and “Crown Him with Many Crowns” went very well. I had to play them through a few times to demonstrate that I could play the pedal line legato and then Michael checked them off my list! That felt like a huge success as “By Gracious Powers” had been assigned at my previous lesson. This also shows that I CAN practice correctly. I just need to figure out how to make new habits and have better focus on the pieces I’ve been learning for many months.

I was assigned two new Hymns: “Christ, Might Savior” and “Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended”. Michael said he doesn’t know when of these hymns but he didn’t say which one. He picked that one for me for a reason! Also, assigned was “Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen” which in English is Ah Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended.

I am slowly but surely making progress!

Do you have any tips on how I can overcome my issues with practice something wrong without realizing it?

June 30, 2014

Heidi’s 5 made up rules for organ practice

Organ Practice

I have been practicing the organ for over four years at home. During this time I have developed some habits and made up rules. My made up rules do have to be logical to anyone else!

Rule #1: Do not turn the organ on during bad weather.

I imagine the organ exploding just as I play a dramatic chord if I were to play during a thunderstorm. That is extreme and probably very unlikely to happen. Perhaps, more logical is my fear of a power surge that could damage my old Saville. It’s plugged into a power strip so it should be safe, right? I’d rather be safe than sorry. Having to find a replacement practice organ makes it not with the risk!

Rule #2: Let the organ warm up while I put on my shoes.

I have a routine for when I begin each practice session. Since my organ is old, I feel like it should warm up before I start playing.  After rolling back the cover, I switch on the organ. Then I turn on the lamp that sits on top of the organ, if the natural light from the windows is low. Next, I put on my organ shoes.  To do this, I swing my legs to the small side of the bench as I keep my shoes on a small table next to the bench. I consider the organ “warmed up” after I have my shoes on!
Organ Practice

Rule #3: When the cats are asleep do not use the metronome.

Sometimes the metronome can be annoying! The constant and never ending clicking. When my cats are sleeping nearby sometimes I use them as an excuse to not turn on the metronome. I would not want to hear the metronome if I was sleeping. I figure my cats do not either! I have no evidence that the metronome has every awoken them from sleep. Therefore, this rule is probably really an avoidance habit.

Rule #4: Don’t get off the organ bench until done.

This is because, if I remove my organ shoes to do something else “quick” it increases the chance that I will end organ practice early. It doesn’t take long to put the shoes on or take them off. It’s more that taking of them off usually singles the end of organ practice. I also bring my phones (mobile + land line) to the bench so I can answer the phone or a text without getting off the organ bench.

Rule #5: Break rule #4 if a cat is in need

Sometimes my cat, Lina, will get her claws stuck in the window screen in the kitchen. If this happens while I’m playing the organ, I will get up to help her. Sometimes she can figure it out but I don’t want her to have to hang around in pain when I can see her from the organ bench! Other times, Buster will ask (with a meow) for a drink from the bathroom sink. He likes to drink from the faucet. In the past, he had some health issues from not drinking enough, so sometimes I give in and leave the organ bench to turn the water on for him.

These rules could also be considered habits. Often, our habits take place without even realizing it. In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg says “This is the real power of habit: the insight that your habits are what you choose them to be.” This book contains interesting stories about habits. The most useful part of the book is the appendix. It gives steps and explains how to identify routines that you’d like to change.

Perhaps, I could be intentional and develop better habits to increase the effectiveness of my practice time with tips from  The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business and reading The Bullet Proof Musician blog.

Do you have any made up rules? Have you purposely developed or changed any habits?

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