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WORKSHOP #16: "Hitting the Wall"

Marathon runners often experience a phenomenon known as "hitting the wall." It usually happens around the 20-mile mark in a 26.2-mile marathon. What these runners feel is a huge and sudden loss of energy that practically stops them in their tracks. Physiologically their bodies are switching over from burning carbs/sugars to burning fats. Here's why it happens:

At the start of the marathon, the runners are burning carbs for energy. Unfortunately, the human body can only store enough carbs for them to run about 20 miles. When runners run out of carbs after 20 miles, their bodies automatically switch over to burning fat. Fat, however, can only burn in the presence of oxygen which runners have very little of during a marathon. Consequently, the body starts to shut down because it isn't able to generate the necessary energy. Marathon runner Dick Beardsley once described the experience this way: "It felt like an elephant had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way in." Suggested solutions to avoid "hitting the wall" include training longer distances, dietary adjustments and cognitive strategies.

When I'm learning a piece on the organ, I sometimes reach a point where I'm overcome with frustration. The source is a measure or section of the piece that just seems so hard that I feel like I won't ever be able to conquer it. No matter how many times I play it, I just can't get it. I'm stuck. Welcome to the organists' version of "hitting the wall."

The easy solution would be for me to just walk away and come back later, tomorrow or next week. A fresh perspective and a little time for the piece to settle into my mind as well as my fingers is often all I need to get over these humps.

However, I can't always pursue the leisurely solution. Sometimes I only have a limited amount of time to learn a piece. In that case, the solution I use is one I call "Biting Off More Than You Can Chew." The way it works is that I put aside the "hard" piece I've been working on and take out another piece that I feel is much more difficult. After I work on this "difficult" piece for a while, I go back to the "hard" piece and it's suddenly much easier to play. You have to try it. Works like magic every time!

Struggling with the "difficult" piece for even just a couple of minutes has me scurrying back to my "hard" repertoire and my new-old comfort zone. Interestingly, the longer I work on the "difficult" piece, the easier the "hard" piece becomes. As a side benefit, I often find myself going back at a later date to the "difficult" piece and find that it's not as difficult as I once thought it was. Two for the price of one!

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Here are a few "difficult" pieces by Bach to get you past the wall:
Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor (BWV 542) - Complete Organ Works, Vol. 2
Toccata and Fugue in F Major (BWV 540) - Complete Organ Works, Vol. 3
Toccata and Fugue D Minor (BWV 565) - Complete Organ Works, Vol. 4



Complete Organ Works, Vol. I
By Johann Sebastian Bach. Kalmus Edition. Edited by Marty Winkler. Organ collection. Level: volume 1. 108 pages. Published by Warner Brothers.



Complete Organ Works, Vol. II
By Johann Sebastian Bach. Kalmus Edition. Edited by Marty Winkler. Organ collection. Level: volume 2. 108 pages. Published by Warner Brothers.



Complete Organ Works, Vol. III
By Johann Sebastian Bach. Kalmus Edition. Edited by Marty Winkler. Organ collection. Level: volume 3. 112 pages. Published by Warner Brothers.

Related Links
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For more info on The Wall, check out this amusing article by Michael Bane, originally published in Men's Fitness. At the end of the article are some suggestions for dealing with the runner's "wall" that apply equally to any kind of performing.
http://www.badwaterultra.com/training/bane.html

Also, here's a link to Chapter 5 of Bane's book, "Over the Edge: A Regular Guy's Odyssey in Extreme Sports." which chronicles, well, I'll let him tell it:
"A few years ago, after a wild day of windsurfing, pizza and beer, my friends and I created what we laughingly referred to as the list, 13 athletic endeavors that could kill you. In the time that followed, I decided to do all 13 things which involved morphing myself from a seriously overweight couch potato to something resembling an athlete. Some of the items on the purely arbitrary list turned out to be easy (rock climbing), some terrifying (cave diving), some (climbing Mt. McKinley) harder than I had ever imagined."
http://www.badwaterultra.com/stories/91bane.html

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