The first time I ever played a Hammond organ was at my first lesson at the Brooklyn home studio of organist Ondrej Pivec.
In order to test my knowledge of the keyboard, Ondrej asked me to play an Ab13 chord. I wasn’t sure how to do it, so he showed me. At that moment, my jazz organ knowledge went from zero to ‘something’, an improvement of infinity%.
I seemed to be improving at the speed of light, but then my progress flattened. I had hit a plateau where I ceased to see improvement.
I feel like I have been on this plateau for several years, for a couple of reasons:
1. I’ve gotten pretty good at the ‘basics’ such as scales and arpeggios. The basics are very well defined and are repetitive physical exercises for the most part. The longer phase then becomes how to use the basics to actually make music.
2. As soon as I think I might be getting good at a thing, I’ll realize that there’s some major part of it that needs to be changed.
3. Growth on jazz organ sometimes requires long time-consuming sidetracks into different subjects, e.g. classical technique, pedal technique, sight reading, theory books, etc.
4. Then there’s occasional practice burnout/not having time/having the flu etc. These can really kill my momentum.
Luckily I’ve overcome huge plateaus before. In 2000 I moved to NYC to be a jazz bass player. I was at the absolute bottom of the barrel, and it seemed like I wasn’t getting any better. But I kept at it. By 2008 or so (after playing bass for 18 FRIGGING YEARS), I just woke up one day and I realized that I was good at bass. Folks, that was a long plateau.
Three important things happened:
1. I realized I was on a plateau. As frustrating as that was, I didn’t give up.
2. I didn’t allow myself to be satisfied with my status quo, and I kept working hard.
3. At a certain point, and after years of patience, everything I had been working out clicked into place and I popped up to a much higher plateau.
And now I’m going through this same process with jazz organ. I really want to be better than I am right now. I’m channeling that desire into hard practice. I know that in the future I’ll be great- but I don’t know how long that will take.