Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist's Resource Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

Thanks for visiting!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Choosing Effective Fingerings in Hymn Playing

When your feet play the bass line, your hands are freed to split the soprano, alto and tenor notes. This article will help you learn the steps to choosing efficient fingerings that will simplify your hymn playing.

I apologize! This post is long overdue. In April I taught a class on this topic at the Super Saturday event sponsored by the Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. It's a subject I've always wanted to create a handout for, as I feel this topic isn't taught or focused on enough, and I finally did! Please note that this post will read differently from my other posts, as this information accompanied the class I taught. Please feel free to comment with any questions.

Choosing Effective Fingerings: Guidelines

Fingering is deciding which combination of fingers to use to play a group of notes. The goal of choosing fingerings is to utilize natural finger combinations, while minimizing awkward stretches and finger crossings. When you use good fingering, your hand will be balanced and in control. Taking the time to find a way to play each passage as efficiently as possible will greatly aid your hymn playing.

In some passages of music, notes are arranged conveniently for the fingers, moving within a narrow range with the same number of notes as there are fingers to play them. These passages can be played with direct fingering, without using complicated finger combinations or shifting of the hands.

Other passages are much more difficult to play, requiring finger acrobatics and many hand shifts. In these passages, there aren’t enough fingers to play all the notes, so other fingering techniques must be utilized. You may have to cross your thumb under your fingers or cross your fingers over your thumb. You might play a key with one finger and, while holding it down, switch to another finger. These techniques are covered on the next page of the handout. Whether a passage is easy or difficult to play, good fingering is always important.

Following are some general rules for good fingering:

1. Mark breaks in the hymn text first, to show where complete breaks (hand shifts) will naturally fall.

2. Place the fifth finger of your right hand on the highest note in the passage, and the fifth finger of your left hand on the lowest, then use the most convenient finger on each key as you play the notes leading to and leading away from that note, compressing and extending as needed.

3. If you run out of fingers, go back and try stretching your hands to distribute them over a wider area of keys. If you still cannot make direct fingering work, incorporate different techniques.

4. Never use your fifth finger before you arrive at the highest note in the right hand or the lowest note in the left hand, without planning for effective finger crossing, glissando, or finger substitution.

5. Try several different fingerings for complicated passages, keeping in mind efficiency and economy of motion. Choose the one that feels most natural to your hands. Sometimes you will need to work backwards, knowing how you need to land on a certain chord then figuring out how to get there.

6. Once you have chosen the best fingering for a passage, pencil the finger numbers above or below the notes on the page, also marking where redistribution of the inner part occurs.

7. Use the same fingering patterns for similar passages to facilitate muscle memory.

8. Always use the same fingering when practicing a hymn or a song, to build muscle memory. Good fingering will improve the smoothness of your playing, help you learn a song more quickly, and give you confidence against slipping or playing a wrong note.

(The above information is borrowed from Keyboard Course, pg. 133, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with additions and changes by Jennifer Morgan)

Additional Guidelines:

The best approach for hymn playing is a legato touch, while preserving independence of line. This means that the released repeated notes in one voice, such as the alto voice, cannot effect the legato of changing notes in another voice, such as the soprano voice. The ability to play one part legato while playing another part detached is one of the great challenges of organ playing.

• Lift repeated notes with precise releases (give them a consistent eighth or sixteenth rest)

• Connect non-repeating notes in each voice part

• The soprano line is king, and must be protected, even if the first two rules must be broken

• A repeating bass line can be connected, judiciously, as long as strong beats are accented

• Playing the bass line with the feet frees up the hands to play just soprano, alto, and tenor lines

Become very comfortable with independent movement, where one finger sustains notes while another lifts. Remember that different horizontal lines (soprano and alto, for example) operate independently, while being played by the same hand. Since the organ has no decay, the timing of a note’s release is as important as the timing of its attack. Repeated notes are a great place to shift fingering!

Legato organ fingering techniques to utilize:

Regular, or Direct Fingering
Placing fingers on adjoining keys, the fingers play and stretch or compress to play the notes without crossing or utilizing any other techniques—the notes fall naturally under the fingers.

Redistribution of the Inner Part (combines well with Direct Fingering)
Since the bass line is played with the pedals, the left hand only needs to play the tenor part. Many times the soprano and alto parts are difficult to finger with the right hand alone, so the left hand can grab the alto part, redistributing it to the left hand. As needed, the left hand can grab the soprano note as well, or the right hand can play the tenor note.

Finger Crossing
Finger crossing is utilized in scale exercises. Generally, a longer finger crosses over a shorter one, or a shorter finger crosses under a longer one, but exceptions can be made in different circumstances. A very common application is for ascending or descending thirds to be played by fingers 4/2, then 5/1, then 4/2, etc.

Finger Glissando
A finger glissando is when the finger or thumb slides from a black key to the adjoining white key.

Finger Substitution
In finger substitution, one finger is replaced by another during the same note so that finger is freed to play another note.

Thumb Glissando
This technique occurs from white key to white key, or white key to black key, and utilizes the thumb as if it were two fingers, one being the base of the thumb and the other the tip. While it’s a tricky technique to master, thumb glissando is an essential way to play certain passages of organ music.

Here are exercises illustrating these techniques from The New LDS Organist:

In the class I handed out paper keyboards and had those in attendance come up with some fingerings. Here are a few examples of effective hymn fingerings that I shared with the class:

In Conclusion

By placing the fifth finger of your right hand on the highest note in the passage, and the fifth finger of your left hand on the lowest, then redistributing the inner part as necessary and writing in the fingerings, you can make playing many of the hymns so much easier! It's amazing how much simpler the hymns become when your hands aren't trying to move all over the keyboard. Of course, learning to play the bass line in the pedals simplifies what your hands need to play.

I recommend playing through several hymns, then choosing one to work out fingerings according to these guidelines. See how this process works for you.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, November 9, 2018

In memorium: Dr. Parley L. Belnap

I regret to announce that Dr. Parley L. Belnap passed away Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 7, 2018, in the company of his family.

Dr. Belnap studied with many notable organists, including Marcel Dupré and Flor Peeters, and taught many notable organists including tabernacle organists Clay Christiansen, Linda Margetts, and Andrew Unsworth, as well as Ryan T. Murphy, the associate music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. Michael Ohman, another notable organist and former student shared an interview he had with Parley, which is a wonderful life history that I recommend reading.

In the words of Dr. Don Cook, "The BYU Organ Program is now enjoying the benefits of Dr. Belnap’s vision. For example, the group organ program with its organ lab and the Independent Study organ courses were his brain children. The wonderfully varied practice organs were designed and installed under his leadership. His Hymn Studies for Organists is still an excellent resource for hymn playing."

The Utah Valley Chapter of the American Guild of Organists is presenting a recital in his honor this Saturday, November 10, at 6:00 p.m. in the American Fork East Stake Center, 825 East 500 North, American Fork, UT. As part of this event, tributes from Dr. Belnap's former students have been gathered and will be shared. These tributes will also be made available on the UVAGO website in the near future.

 "I felt I wanted to bring scholarship, spirituality, expertise and excellence to BYU because it’s such a wonderful place. I wanted to share with good students what I’d learned from all my experiences...It’s an honor to serve in this great church, to train the talented people whom I’ve been privileged to train....I have a firm testimony of the restoration of the gospel, that God lives, and that Jesus is the Christ. I’m thankful for my wonderful years at BYU, and the wonderful students and faculty associates. I have much to thank the Lord for."  -- Dr. Parley Belnap

Friday, October 26, 2018

White Organ Shoes for Men

Max Walker, the sub-dean of the Salt Lake Chapter of the American Guild of Organists has shared information on how to obtain white organ shoes for men. I wanted to pass this information on to you, as I know many men end up playing in their stocking feet because they're unable to find white organ shoes.

Photo composite by Jennifer Morgan
 Hi folks. This is for those gentlemen who may be playing chapel organ in LDS temples and wish to have white organ shoes. The same info can be applied to any color organ shoe. Many, many colors are available as noted below. Similar options exist for the women's style shoes, in case you ladies are having trouble finding white (colored) shoes.

Organmasters, the go-to source for many organists, doesn't sell the men's Oxford shoe in white and doesn't make it to order.

My new friend, Bill Hesterman, pointed me to TicTacToes.com. They sell dance shoes, and have a category of organ shoes. They are the factory, so they will make a shoe in white even if it is not offered on the web site in white; one simply needs to call to ask for what one needs. 

There are two shoes at TicTacToes that would be attractive you gentlemen in that case: 
  1. "Applause." The Applause is like Organmaster's Oxford. It is listed only in black on the web site, but can be made in white (or any of the many colors they offer). Note that the heel will be black regardless. If one finds that unsuitable, but wants that style, one can paint that heel or have the cobbler do it. The toe is slightly more pointed than the Oxford, but not unnaturally so. It's just a nice looking shoe. The heel is the same as the Organmaster Oxford: 1.25".
  2. "Cameron." The Cameron is listed under Specialty Organ Shoes. Its heel is made to match, wrapped in the same color leather. This shoe has no shank. Its advantage is the white heel. It looks normal enough viewed straight on. I have a pair on order, but haven't received it yet, so I cannot comment yet on the shankless fit. The Cameron comes with a taller heel than the Applause: a 1.75" "Latin" heel. It can be ordered with a 1.25" heel if you prefer that; simply specify upon ordering. 
Artist's rendering by Jennifer Morgan of white "Applause" organ shoe

 A couple more things to note: 
  • TicTacToes' shoes run true to US sizing. If you're accustomed to Organmaster shoes, do not trust that sizing will match; it will not. Organmasters run short to size, and are more snug.
  • The white shoe is made to order and cannot be returned. If you are skittish about sizing, TicTacToes suggests that you order the shoe in black, which is returnable, confirm sizing, then return the black and order the confirmed size in white. Obviously, you will confirm all of that when you order and won't rely on my account of their policies. 
  • Pay attention to heel length. These vary. You can specify what you are accustomed to.
  • Finally, these are not kept in stock and are usually made to order. Plan on extra time to receive your shoes; they suggest 4-6 weeks, but my first pair came at about 3 weeks.
Happy Organing!

Friday, June 29, 2018

2018 BYU Organ Workshop

It's that time again! I've spoken many times on this wonderful workshop. If there's any way you can go, I highly recommend attending. It's a life-changing experience! Visit https://organworkshop.byu.edu/ for more information.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

New Hymnal Announced. Can we get one marked for the organ?

I'm sure most, if not all, of my readers are aware that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that they will be producing a new hymnal and children's songbook. I linked to the article on my facebook page.

The church has asked for input via a survey link.

Many of you are aware that Carol Dean created a trial version of the hymnal, meticulously marked for organ, that she worked on perfecting and tweaking until she passed away earlier this month. I have been tasked with furthering her work. With this announcement, can you think how wonderful it would be if the Church would publish an organ version of the hymnal? I can't believe how many members of the church contact me every week requesting Carol's markings, and most of you found out about it through word of mouth! There appears to be a huge need for a hymnal of this type.

I think a hymnal marked for organ, and a simplified hymnal for organists would be a very much needed addition to the church's publications.

If you agree please fill out the above survey and either under the "general difficulties experienced" or "other feedback" fields, state how difficult it is as a pianist to play the organ without markings, or request a hymnal with organ markings.

If enough survey takers request a version of the hymnal with organ markings, the church might make one available!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

In Loving Memory of Carol

Dear Readers,

Carol Dean passed from this life into the next this morning. In 2013 Carol said, "I know there are pipe organs in heaven, because I wouldn't be happy there if there weren't."

Play on, dear friend!

Funeral services will be held this Friday, June 8th at the Pioneer 2nd Ward Chapel, 1220 W. 450 N. Provo, UT, with the viewing at 9:30 a.m. and Funeral Service at 11:00.

If you'd like to share your memories of Carol here, I will pass them on to her family.

Edited to add the obituary:

Obituary for Carol Deanne Peine Dean

Carol Deanne Peine Dean, 70, of Provo, Utah, passed away from ovarian cancer June 5. Born November 4, 1947, in Durango, LaPlata County, Colorado, she was the daughter of M. Milton Peine and Mildred Dean Peine. Growing up in a farm town with five brothers Carol learned how to work hard. Carol loved riding horses and even just being around them.

Carol attended schools in Redmesa, CO, Durango, CO, and Brigham Young University, Provo, UT. At BYU in 1970, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree as an Executive Assistant major in the Business Department. In 1998, she received a Master of Music degree in Organ Performance and Pedagogy. Carol taught organ workshops and group and private organ lessons in Utah Valley for thirty years. Carol was a lifelong devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She fulfilled many callings in the church her favorite being the organist for the Pioneer 2nd ward. Carol was a very talented organist. She played for numerous recitals and musical events for many years. Carol had a very special place in her heart for her organ students and peers.

Carol married Dana D. Dean on November 21, 1970, in the Manti LDS Temple in Manti, UT. They had many adventures together traveling for Dana’s career. They were blessed with eight children. Carol is preceded in death by her sweetheart, Dana; her oldest daughter, Randilyn “Randi”; and two brothers Dean Peine of Weiser, ID and Robert Peine of Pleasant Grove, UT. Carol is survived by her son Dallin (Robyn) of Sandy, UT; son Rhett (Lisa) of Lehi, UT; daughter Danae’ of Snoqualmie, WA; son Robert of Draper, UT; daughter McKenna of Provo, UT; daughter Menolli (Brian) Quick of Saratoga Springs, UT; son Jonathon (Taylor) of Las Vegas, NV; and her Indian-placement daughter Tina (Cornell) Benally of Mesa, AZ. She is also survived by her 19 grandchildren.

Carol’s surviving siblings are Russell (Connie) Peine of Leeds, UT; Craig Peine of Prairieville, LA; and Kirk (Sharon) Peine, of Redmesa, CO. and her two sisters-in law, (Marlene Peine) of Weiser, ID and (Melanie Peine) of Pleasant Grove.

Funeral services will be held at 11:00 a.m., Friday, June 8, 2018 at the Provo Central Stake Center, 450 North 1220 West, Provo, Utah. Friends may call from 9:30-10:45 a.m. prior to services. Interment, Provo City Cemetery.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Anxiety and Nerves

I recently received a question from S.D.:

I just finished playing for my 3rd Stake Conference this weekend. I had practiced everyday for over three months.  I knew the songs well and felt much more confident in my pedaling.  

I was pretty calm on Saturday Night's meeting but on Sunday, I felt more anxiety at the amount of people and of course hands and legs stiffen with anxiety and I really had to concentrate to keep things going.  I was able to cover okay, yet I was so disappointed because I had prepared so well.

When I received the call the size of the crowd was the biggest intimidation to me.  I have played the piano for years and accompanied a lot of groups, yet the organ is new, I have felt less in control of sounds and adjustments, therefore, I am nervous of making mistakes and that brings about the anxiety.

Have you ever experienced this or have any suggestions on how to work it out? This past two weeks I have been listening to talks on overcoming fear and having faith and done all I could think of to prepare.  I know I did okay, but I was wiped out when I was finished just dealing with my stress.  I hope to learn a little more on how other organists might prepare to overcome this type of fear or stress, so I can deal better with the next conference.
Have any of you felt this way? I certainly have! I'll share some ideas here on what I do to work through anxiety, but I'd love to hear from my readers as well!

What you're experiencing is very normal, unfortunately. There are several things that I've used to try to get past those nerves! Here they are, not in any particular order:

  • Recognize that your body doesn't know the difference between fear and excitement. When you start to feel those nerves kicking in, tell yourself that you're really excited to be able to play: Either because you have a really cool registration, or you can't wait for the congregation to be able to be united as one voice, etc. Try to turn that potentially scary emotion into a positive one.

  • Play in front of people more often. This is a difficult one, as in our church playing the organ is something we can't really do unless we're called. You can get involved in your local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, or see if you can be a volunteer temple organist on a regular or semi-regular basis (if your local temple has organists, and is close enough for you to serve there). Playing in the temple every other week helped me more than anything else!

  • When your brain starts playing head-games with you, shut it down by saying, "I don't care!" I learned this one from tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth. "I don't care!" saved me when I took my CAGO exam.

  • Cut yourself some slack. It doesn't have to be perfect! There was only one perfect person to walk the earth, and it's not you. Making mistakes is okay! Figure out what you're the most nervous about, and see what you can do to circumvent that issue. It can be simplifying your first hymn introduction by beginning with the melody in octaves, or with just the melody stepping into the other parts.

  • Shrug off mistakes. Mistakes happen, but don't let them derail you. Don't give them any room in your brain. Always look forwards, never backwards when you're playing.

  • Worrying about your upcoming "performance" will make your anxiety grow. Now that you've learned some great coping techniques, try not to stress as the date comes nearer. I know that's hard to do! Also, don't just prepare for that one huge event, play and learn other pieces, too, and intersperse them as you practice to take some of the pressure off. 

  • Trust your preparation. I'm sure you're heard the saying, “When the time for decision arrives, the time for preparation is past.” Well, when the time to play the organ has arrived, your preparation is over. TRUST YOURSELF.
The Inner Game of Music is a great resource. I read it a long time ago, so I don't remember much about it, but it's definitely worth a read.

So, my faithful readers:  What do you do when your nerves kick up? Do you have any great suggestions to share?