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!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Song: All Creatures of Our God and King

"All Creatures of Our God and King" played by Alena Hall at the University of Utah Libby Gardner Concert Hall.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


There's a saying attributed to Berlioz and Stravinsky alike about the organ: "The monster never breathes!" Is this the case in your organ playing?

Let's consider Organist #1, who is afraid of silence. This individual takes great care during hymn accompanying to avoid any gaps in the music. Every moment of every hymn is filled with the sound of the organ, like so:

Organist #2, however, breaks without fail at the end of every line. When singing, about every two or four measures you'll hear a moment of silence.

Finally we have Organist #3, whom we should all strive to emulate. This organist reads through the hymn text, studies the message in each verse, and chooses where to breathe in order to best share the message of the text with the congregation. Every verse is different, and this organist reflects the text of each verse. In reading through "Silent Night," the organist notes the following phrasing:

Silent night!

Holy night!

All is calm,
all is bright round yon virgin mother and Child.

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace;

Sleep in heavenly peace.

"Silent Night!" is followed by a breath, as it's a complete phrase.

"Holy Night!" again is followed by silence.

"All is calm," is followed by a break in the right hand only, as it is part of a sentence but is its own phrase set apart by a comma. "All is bright round yon virgin mother and Child," is one complete phrase and should not be interrupted or the meaning is lost.

"Holy Infant, so tender and mild," is slightly set apart from the rest of the sentence by a break in the right hand. "Sleep in heavenly peace," completes the sentence and is followed by silence.

"Sleep in heavenly peace," completes the first verse.

Listen to the difference:

For the second verse, Organist #3 chose breaks in different places:

Silent night!

Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight!

Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia!

Christ, the Savior, is born!

Christ, the Savior, is born!

Finally, for the third verse Organist #3 chose these breaks:

Silent night!

Holy night!

Son of God,
Love's pure light radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth;

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

As organists, we are called upon to enhance the worship of our congregation. It is very important that we study the text of the hymns and strive through proper registration and "breathing" to share the spirit of these hymns with the congregation.

Instead of:

Hark, all ye nations! Hear heaven's voice

Thru ev'ry land that all may rejoice!

Angels of glory shout the refrain:

Truth is restored again!

Oh, how glorious from the throne above

Shines the gospel light of truth and love!

Bright as the sun, this heavenly ray

Lights ev'ry land today.


Hark, all ye nations!

Hear heaven's voice thru ev'ry land that all may rejoice!

Angels of glory shout the refrain:
Truth is restored again!

Oh, how glorious from the throne above shines the gospel light of truth and love! [no breaks]

Bright as the sun,
this heavenly ray lights ev'ry land today.

In Conclusion

My challenge to you is to study the hymn text and reflect this phrasing in your accompaniment. Your congregation as a whole may or may not consciously notice the change, but those individual members who strive to worship through hymn singing will appreciate your efforts. The hymns will also begin to mean even more to you, personally, as you strive to better share the message of the hymns with your congregation.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Lesson 3: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 2

Click here for Lesson 2: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 1

Now that we've covered the various lengths and sounding octaves of the pipes, including mutations and compound stops, it's time to cover the families of organ pipes.

Organ pipes are divided into two main categories: Flues and Reeds

Flue Pipes

The sound of a flue pipe is produced in a manner similar to a recorder. Without moving parts, air blows across a sharp lip.

Flue Pipe

Within the flue pipe category are three families: flutes, diapasons (or principals), and strings.

The tone of a flue pipe is affected by the size and shape of the pipes as well as the material out of which it is made. A pipe with a wide diameter will tend to produce a flute tone, a pipe with a medium diameter a diapason tone, and a pipe with a narrow diameter a string tone. The pitch of a flue pipe is determined by the length of the pipe from the mouth to the open end of the pipe.


Hybrid stops contain one rank of pipes which attempts to combine the tones of two other classifications of stops, such as the Gemshorn which has a sound combination of Flute + String.

To which family do mixtures belong? There are two types of mixtures: chorus mixtures and solo mixtures. Chorus mixtures are generally voiced as principal stops, while solo/swell mixtures are often voiced as flutes.

Chorus mixtures are used to add brilliance to larger chorus-type registrational combinations (which we discuss in the next lesson), such as principals 8’, 4’, and 2’.

Some common chorus mixtures include:

Mixtur(e) V
Fourniture IV
Plein jeu VI
Cymbal III
Scharf IV
Acuta III

Solo Mixtures are intended to be used in combination with at least an 8’ stop, unless one is included in the mixture itself, as with Cornet V. Their main function is to add color to solo combinations (where only one voice is played on one manual, and the accompaniment voices are played on another).

Some common solo mixtures include:

Sesquialtera II
Cornet II
Cornet III
Cornet V

Reed Pipes

The sound of a reed pipe is produced in a manner similar to a clarinet. Wind is directed towards a curved piece of brass (the reed) which has a flat piece that vibrates, or beats, to create sound. The longer the vibrating portion of the reed, the lower the pitch. The shorter the vibrating portion, the higher the pitch

Reed Pipe

Unlike the flue category, within the reed pipe category there is just one family--the reed family. However, reeds are further classified as either solo or chorus reeds, depending on their blending characteristics.


Pull our your stop list--it's time to get to work! Using The Encyclopedia of Organ Stops and/or The New LDS Organist Packet, page 11, go through the stops on your organ and jot down which family they belong to. With the reeds, additionally classify them as solo or chorus reeds. If you are using an organ in an LDS chapel, its online manual may also provide some stop information for you.

Location of reed stops

On some organs, the reed stop names are red while the flue stops are written in black. Traditionally, all flue stops are listed from lowest-sounding to highest, followed by the reed stops in the same order.

In Conclusion

Instead of beginning these lessons with pedaling and fingering techniques, I chose to provide a broad foundation for you to draw from. Now that you have classified your organ's stops, in the next lesson we can continue on to Lesson 4: Hymn Registrations, which will teach you how to register a full organ and allow you to successfully "cheat" at the organ.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Song: Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee

Robert Cundick's setting of "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee," performed by Rob Stefanussen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Review: Nine Hymn Studies by D. Kim Croft

Nine Hymn Studies

Nine Hymn Studies by D. Kim Croft is often recommended for beginning organ students. Each simple arrangement has complete fingerings and pedaling already marked.

Israel Israel God is Calling

According to the publisher, Jackman Music:
The nine hymns included in this book have very easy pedaling. The pieces range from medium easy to easy to play. Fingerings and pedal markings are also included.

Hymns included are:
"A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief"
"Abide With Me"
"How Gentle God's Commands"
"How Great the Wisdom and the Love"
"In Humility, Our Savior"
"Israel, Israel God Is Calling"
"Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee"
"Oh How Lovely Was the Morning"
"Sweet is the Work"
I have always loved these hymn arrangements. As a beginning organ student, they were simple enough for me to play well. As a more accomplished organist they are beautiful enough that I still include them in my prelude music.

"A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief"

While I enjoy all of these arrangements, of the nine this arrangement is my least favorite. With a time signature of 6/8, the pedaling is very simple, alternating between an Ab and Eb throughout the piece. The right hand plays the melody and left hand provides a nice counter-melody. I would like to see something slightly different in the pedals, but it is a nice, simple piece.

"Abide With Me"

With long sustained pedal tones, this arrangement only changes the bass note three times. A very reverent piece, the counter-melody beautifully balances the melody and pedal and provides a wonderful prelude piece.

"How Gentle God's Commands"

With only four pedal changes, this piece is simple and beautiful. This piece uses the heel on one beat, and, again, has a beautiful counter-melody.

"How Great the Wisdom and the Love"

I would classify this arrangement as one of the more difficult pieces in this collection, but it is by far my favorite. The pedaling is just slightly more advanced than the previous pieces, but it also has a beautiful manual-only section with tied notes that can be a bit tricky to properly execute on the organ. This piece also contains a key change.

"In Humility, Our Savior"

With the melody bouncing from right hand to left, this piece requires hands to change manuals three times. The bass is a sustained note for over half of the song, then moves around a bit during the latter-middle section.

"Israel, Israel God Is Calling"

This piece is another of my favorites. The bass note changes almost every measure (see photo above), and the counter-melody is beautiful.

"Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee"

Again, this piece has very simple pedaling which is balanced by a moving counter-melody in the left hand. It's a lovely reverent, reflective piece.

"Oh How Lovely Was the Morning"

This is another of the more difficult pieces in this collection. The melody is played by the left hand while the right hand plays a moving line peppered with staccatos. The bass line moves around a little bit as well.

"Sweet is the Work"

With simple pedaling and a moving counter-melody, this arrangement is fun to play and beautiful to listen to.

In Conclusion

You can't go wrong with this book of arrangements. They are beautiful in their simplicity, and with fingerings and pedaling already written in, this book is ideal for a beginning organist.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lesson 2: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 1

Click here for Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ

This lesson covers one of my favorite topics--the stops of the organ. Today we'll cover the nitty-gritty of the stop numbers and Roman numerals, and next lesson we'll cover the beauty of the different tonal families.

Before we begin, however, it's important for you to familiarize yourself with the action of your stops. Some stops are simple tabs, like my older home organ. You push them down to select a stop, then lift them back up to deselect a stop:

Stop tabs

Other organs may have rocker tabs or draw knobs. Most rocker tabs are selected by pushing on the bottom of the tab and deselected by pushing on the top, however some will select or deselect in either place. Draw knobs are pulled out to select a stop and pushed in to deselect a stop. Your organ may function differently, so take the time and learn how your organ works.

Once you are familiar with your organ's stop action, it's time to pull out the stop list you compiled in Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. You'll notice that in addition to the names of the stops, two different kinds of numbers are also present. Almost every stop has a number such as 16, 8, or 2 2/3. Some stops may also have a Roman numeral, such as II or IV.

Traditional numbers

All electronic organs herald back to pipe organs and lengths of pipe. A rank of pipes with the longest pipe being 8 feet long will sound at unison pitch, like a piano. 8' stops are the foundation of organ playing. A rank of pipes with the longest pipe being 4 feet long will sound an octave higher than a piano. (The exception to this rule is a rank of stopped pipes, where the lowest pipe is 4 feet in length but sounds at unison pitch, so it is known as an 8' stop. Fortunately, you don't need to worry about stopped pipes--just the numbers on the stops which tell us the pitch they sound.)

The lowest stop on some church organs is a 32' stop. This stop sounds two octaves below the 8' foundation and is found in the pedal division. While the 32' stop adds powerful, rich bass tones to a full organ, it should rarely be used in hymn accompaniment.

16 foot

The 16' stop, which sounds an octave below unison, is the foundation of the pedals in congregational accompaniment. When paired with an 8' stop, the 16' provides the substantial bass sound the organ is known for.

8 foot

As mentioned before, the 8' stop is the foundation of the organ, as this "unison pitch," or fundamental pitch, is in the same octave as the piano. However, it must be paired with a 4' principal or flute stop in order to support congregational singing.

4 foot

The 4' stops sound an octave higher than the fundamental pitch.

Yes, there is a pattern here! A 2' stop is two octaves higher than the fundamental pitch, and a 1' stop, which you may or may not see on your organ, sounds three octaves higher.


Along with these stops that represent various octaves, are mutation stops with fractions that produce non-octave tones of the harmonic series. Stops with 3 as the denominator of the fraction always produce a perfect fifth above the fundamental note, so 2 2/3’ produces a pitch that is an octave (since it's shorter than 4' but longer than 2') and a fifth higher than the fundamental pitch. 1 1/3' is two octaves (shorter than 2' but longer than 1') and a perfect fifth above the fundamental pitch. Stops with a 5 as the denominator will produce a major third above the fundamental, so 1-3/5’ sounds two octaves and a major third above fundamental pitch.

Here's a visual from the Pipe Organ Education Project that may help with understanding mutations:


Since mutations feature a tone between the octave-sounding pitches, their addition adds an additional timbre to the bright, full organ sound. They are also useful in building solo registration when coupled with 8' stops. We'll discuss them more when we cover various registrations.

Roman numerals

Roman numerals mean a very different thing than the numbers we just covered. Roman numerals represent compound stops, or stops that pull more than one rank, or simulated rank, of pipes. The Roman numeral tells you how many ranks of pipes sound on that particular stop. If it's II, two ranks sound. If it's IV, four ranks sound.

A common compound stop is a Flute Celeste II 8'. A celeste rank is pitched slightly higher than a regular rank. Combining it with a rank of the same family (such as Viole 8' and Viole Celeste 8') produces a warmer sound similar to the string section of the orchestra where all the players are using vibrato. This Flute Celeste II 8' stop will pull both a Flute 8' and a Flute Celeste 8'.

Mixtur IV

Another common compound stop is a Mixture IV, which includes four different principal ranks. Most mixture stops include only octave and fifth pitch levels, such as 2 2/3′, 2′, 1 1/3′, and 1′. (Often the pitches in a mixture may change, or break, depending on where you play the keyboard. Breaking simply means a higher pitch drops out and is replaced with a lower pitch.)

In Conclusion

At your organ with your stop list in hand, play middle C while selecting different stops. Make notes next to the stops on your list if you like. Familiarize yourself with your mutations and compound stops.

In Lesson 3: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 2 we will cover the different organ tonal families and there will be a lot of listening hands-on activities which continue into Lesson 4.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Song: Prelude in C Major

J.S. Bach's Prelude in C Major, played by Brian.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Which organ is best--Johannus, Allen, or Rodgers?

August 7, 2010 Update: Please be aware that the organs are changing soon, so I believe this information will be out of date within the year. However, for general information, these reviews may still have some value to you, so I will leave this post up.

If your LDS church organ is quite old, or if you are getting a new building in your area, someone needs to choose an organ for the chapel. A couple of years ago I, too, had the opportunity to choose an organ when two of the chapels in my stake were approved for a new organ. Three of us, all organists, went on a tour of chapels in our area so that we could decide from experience which organs to choose.

Here is my review of the three organs that were available two years ago from the Church:


Allen has long been my favorite brand of organ. I even own an older Allen in my home. As of this writing, the model that is being installed is the AP22. Here's a link to the owner's manual: http://www.lds.org/cm/pdf/OrganManual_Allen_Model_AP22_eng.pdf

Allen AP22

Prior to my initial trial of the organs, this one was by far my favorite. The Swell 2nd voices, Great 2nd voices, and Pedal 2nd voices give many different registration options. I had grand visions of my prelude and postlude pieces--they would be varied and beautiful.

Unfortunately, the standard installation settings left a lot to be desired. After installation, the sound was far too soft. Additionally, the balance between the great and swell was so far off that even with the swell volume all the way up and the great all the way down, I still could not solo on the swell, as the great was much louder. Coupling the swell to the great had no effect whatsoever in hymn accompanying. Fortunately, in my new stake center we were able to have the installer back out to bump up the volume quite a bit, and to better balance the swell with the great. Now the organ balances the congregation beautifully.

As far as the second voices are concerned, instead of two separate Flute Celeste II stops, I would much prefer another Flute 8' option, as the flutes are limited on this organ. I would love to see an octave coupler on the Great and/or Swell. Another concern I had was that these voices might be confusing to a beginning organist who doesn't have access to a trained organist to show him/her the ropes.

My overall opinion is that this is a good organ when properly installed. It really has a beautiful sound and two different voicings to choose from: American Classic or Classic. A trained organist will probably have fun with this organ, and I feel that this organ is best suited in a building with a trained organist who can teach beginning organists how to use it to its fullest. Otherwise, all the bells and whistles will go unused. However, if you choose this organ, it's very important to make sure that your installer will adjust the volume and balance to your satisfaction, as mine did.


I will admit that I was never a Rodgers fan. The model that was installed in one of my former stake centers around 2000 sounded off to me. I didn't like the sound of the various stops and had a hard time finding registrations that I liked. Imagine my surprise when I fell in love with the sound in a new chapel! http://www.lds.org/cm/pdf/OrganManual_Rodgers_Model_788L_eng.pdf It was beautiful, rich, and filled the chapel. I learned later that the installer tweaked the settings for the chapel it was installed in. This is key, I think, with any of the organs, as I'm mentioning in each review.

Rodgers organ

This organ is pretty basic--it doesn't have a lot of fancy bells and whistles, but has a nice solid sound for regular hymn accompaniment. There was a lack of nuance in the reeds, but overall I was pleasantly surprised.

I'd recommend the Rodgers for most chapels, especially if your stake lacks a trained organist, but I would not recommend it for a stake center--I like more bells and whistles for stake center installations. It would work just fine if that is your decision. If you have an accomplished organist they may feel the stop selection is the most limited of the three.


The Johannus is a newcomer to the organ world. http://www.lds.org/cm/pdf/OrganManual_Johannus_Model_WM44_eng.pdf I've actually had the opportunity to play model WM44LDS the most of these three. Initially, the installation was much too soft (a common theme, I'm learning) and I was not a fan of it in a chapel, thinking the organ was small, cheaply made and better suited for home use. After having the installer back to make some adjustments (that are now standard on their installations) it quickly became my favorite of the three. It even comes with an instructional DVD.

Johannus WM44 series

This is a smaller organ, but it packs a big sound when properly installed. I like the variety of stop colors, but my very favorite feature of this organ is the Octave (Swell to Swell 4') coupler. Another great feature is that unlike most organs where you push the bottom of the rocker tab to select a stop and the top to deselect it, the Johannus will select or deselect in either place.

Overall, I think the Johannus is essentially a good blend of the Allen and Rodgers. The stop list is such that with the octave coupler it has a great range of voicings to choose from, both for prelude/postlude and hymn accompaniment. As always, proper installation is key.

Although it wasn't my favorite at first, the Johannus is now my number one recommendation for all chapels. It's not too confusing for a beginning organist, but has enough bells and whistles to keep an accomplished organist happy. You can't go wrong with this little organ.

In Conclusion

What did I choose and why? For the retrofit in my old stake center we chose the Allen. It is located in the center of town and is used for many cultural events, so we wanted an organ with the most variety of stops. The Allen, with all of the second voices, fit the bill. The other building houses long-established congregations from the center of town. We felt the Rodgers best suited their more traditional needs. For my new stake center, I was waffling between the Johannus, which I love, and the Allen, with all the voices, but before I could make my recommendation our stake presidency learned that the decision for an Allen had been made before the stake split.

You really can't go wrong with any of these organs. It all comes down to personal preference and proper installation. My recommendation is to see which installer will be the most willing to work with you and choose that organ.

Good luck!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ

Before we can delve too deeply with our lessons, it's important to know the different parts of the organ.

The Organ Console

The organ console consists of the keyboards, the pedals, and the associated stops of an organ. It is what most of us think of when we picture an organ.

The Organ Console with attached pedal board

Power Switch

Unlike pianos, organs will not work unless they are turned on.

Power switch

The location of your power switch may vary, but it is very important to know where it is.

The Manuals

The organ may be best known to the average person for its multiple keyboards.

Swell and Great

Generally, the organ in a chapel will be equipped with two keyboards, or manuals. The upper is called the Swell and the lower the Great. If a third manual is present, it is generally called the Choir and added at the bottom, below the Great.

The Pedal Board

The large keyboard along the bottom of the organ is called the pedal board, and is played with the feet.

Pedal Board

Pedal boards in the United States generally conform to AGO specifications, consisting of 32 keys arranged in a concave/radiating pattern. This simply means that the outer pedals are slightly higher than the middle pedals (concave) and that the pedals are closer together at the far end than at the end closest to the organ console (radiating).

The lowest note on this pedal board is C two octaves below middle C, also known as C2, to distinguish it from the other Cs on the keyboard. The highest note is G above middle C, also called G4. (Some pedal board end with F4 and only have 30 keys.)

Expression, and Crescendo Pedals

Not to be confused with the pedals of the pedal board, organs also have one or more pedals classified as expression and/or crescendo pedals.

Expression pedals can control the volume of just the swell, individual divisions, or the organ as a whole.

The crescendo pedal incrementally activates stops as it is pressed forward and removes stops as it is depressed backward, starting with the softest stops and ending with the loudest.

When an organ has only one pedal, it generally controls the volume of the entire organ. However, on pipe organs this expression pedal opens and closes the swell box, allowing control over the dynamics of just the swell division.

One Expression Pedal

When an electric organ has two pedals, they are usually expression pedals, with the one on the left controlling the volume of the swell manual and the one on the right the volume of the great and pedal. However, sometimes one pedal controls the volume of the entire organ and the other is a crescendo pedal. Generally speaking, when a third pedal is added, it is to the right of the expression pedals and is a crescendo pedal.

Expression and Crescendo Pedals

You may need to experiment on your organ to identify the function of your pedals.

Stops and Couplers

I discussed stops a bit in the Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials post. Stops are the tabs, rocker tabs, or drawknobs on the organ that have numbers and names on or above them. They are divided into sections that correspond with each keyboard, perhaps with an additional General section, and are located either above the manuals and/or in stop jambs on both sides of the manuals.


Each manual or pedal usually controls a separate division of the instrument with its own stops. Through couplers, keyboards can play stops from different divisions of the organ. The couplers you will most likely see on your organ are Swell to Great, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, Bass Coupler, Melody Coupler, and possibly one or more Octave Couplers (such as Swell to Swell 4').

Couplers are fairly self-explanatory. If you select "Swell to Great," any stop that you have selected on the Swell will play on the Great. If you have both "Swell to Pedal" and "Great to Pedal" selected, all of the stops selected on the Swell and Great will also be played on the Pedal, in addition to any of the Pedal stops selected.

The Bass Coupler and Melody Coupler are related. The Bass Coupler adds the selected pedal stops to the lowest note currently being played on the Great. It's a "cheater's way" of achieving a full organ sound without use of the pedals. The Melody Coupler adds the selected Swell stops to the highest note being played on the Great, accentuating the melody of the piece being played. This can be a good way to help the congregation hear the melody when they're singing an unfamiliar hymn, or to help add interest to prelude or postlude music.

Octave couplers work within a manual to double the stops up or down one or more octaves. For example, if you have one 8' Swell stop selected, select "Swell to Swell 4'" or "Octave Coupler," and play middle C on the Swell, it will sound as though middle C and the C one octave up are being played at the same time. If you instead select "Swell to Swell 16'", if will sound as if middle C and the C one octave down are being played at the same time. (We'll explain 4', 8', and 16' in the next lesson.)

As I mentioned, stops will be explained in detail in the next two lessons, but here's a quick overview. In a pipe organ, a rank is a row of pipes in one tone color, with one pipe dedicated to each key. Each stop turns a rank of pipes on or off. In electric organs, each stop selects a certain sound based on a pipe organ's rank of pipes.

Pistons and Combination Action

Pistons are part of the combination action system, which allows the organist to capture certain registrations and recall them instantly through the thumb pistons or toe studs.

Thumb Pistons

Some organs only have general pistons, which remember information for the entire organ. Others have general and divisional pistons, so that additionally a keyboard or division can be programmed independently of the others.

Toe Studs

Most organs have both preset and programmable pistons, and some of the couplers are conveniently repeated as pistons or toe studs. Many even have a "Cancel" piston that removes every stop that has been selected on the organ, which allows for faster manual registration changes. A "Tutti" piston functions like a crescendo pedal that is all the way down--selecting practically every stop of the organ.

Newer organs have multiple levels of memory, which allow each piston to be programmed more than once so that each organist has access to his/her own unique memory.


The organ bench is an essential component of the organ. The best benches are adjustable. Some have a knob that turns to raise and lower the bench. Others have removable and flippable blocks that can be adjusted for three separate heights. There are other adjustable options as well.

Organ bench

In conclusion

Please take the time to familiarize yourself with your organ. If you have any questions about components that I haven't covered here, please let me know. After you are familiar with all of these components and how they relate to your organ, continue on to Lesson 2: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 1.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Song: Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Every Sunday I'm going to try to post a Sunday Song for your enjoyment. Today's is a fun one, performed by Richard Elliott, a Mormon Tabernacle organist.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Importance of Proper and Consistent Tempo

Off the top of your head, can you beat out a tempo of 90 beats per minute? 79? 118?

Whether or not you are a human metronome--or just think you are--it's important to note the suggested metronome markings at the top of each hymn and practice and accompany at the proper tempo. If you don't own one, it is time to purchase or borrow a metronome.

Meeting with the music leader in advance of services to run through the hymns is also very important, so that any tempo inconsistencies can be worked out before it's too late, and to make sure you both are on the same page, musically speaking.

Why is tempo such an issue?

In my opinion, one of the most dramatic examples of improper tempo is in the Easter hymn, "That Easter Morn," hymn number 198.

Here I am playing it at 82, which is the approximate tempo that I've heard it played most often.

It sounds like a funeral dirge or a hymn tune to reflect on Christ's death. Yet if you read the words, this song is celebrating His resurrection. The suggested metronome marking is 92-108, so I set the metronome at 100. Listen to the difference.

This hymn now sounds full of hope, and the music now matches the words.

It's also important to keep a consistent tempo throughout the entire hymn. I was amazed when I began practicing the organ to learn that "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," hymn number 136, is almost always played with a ritardando in the final stanza on each verse. Save the ritard for the final verse, and see how your congregation responds.

My challenge to you is to start practicing with a metronome (if you aren't), so you can see where your tempos are inconsistent, or where they are too slow or too fast, and see what difference it makes in your congregation.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials

Welcome to The Latter-day Saint Organist blog! I hope these lessons are helpful to you. Before beginning serious study of the organ, it is important to have these correct tools. (If you're a pianist who simply wants to learn how to "cheat" better, you'll only need #3.)

Essential #1: Proper Organ Shoes

Purchase shoes that will work for the organ. I use OrganMaster shoes.

My Organmaster Shoes

As you can see, these are the criterion for organ shoes:
  • A heel of 3/4" to 1 1/4" in height, wide enough to not easily fit in the space between the natural keys, and surfaced so that it slides easily forward and back on the foot pedals without leaving marks. Leather is best.
Wide heel
  • A sole made of thin leather--the softer the better--that does not to protrude beyond the sides of the foot. As with the heel, the sole should also slide easily up and down the keys, and from black pedals to white.
  • The heel and sole should not be connected with a bridge. The instep should allow you to straddle one natural to another.
Lack of bridge
  • The uppers should be flexible and lightweight. They should not stick to each other, but slide without sticking.
  • The shoes should fit well, with laces or a strap that holds the shoe snugly to the foot.
I use OrganMaster shoes:

Tic-Tac-Toes also sells organ shoes:

Alternately, you can use dance shoes, as long as they aren't too stiff. Other shoes that meet the above criteria can also be used. It is possible to alter a pair of shoes to make them suitable for organ use.

Essential #2: Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean

Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean

This book isn't totally essential, but I firmly believe it is worth its weight in gold. To order this book, which is priced at cost, contact Carol Dean at carolorg1111 @ gmail . com ldsorganistblog @ gmail (dot) com. If you absolutely cannot purchase this book, that's okay--I'll teach you how to mark up your own book. It's just a lot easier and much less time consuming to use Carol's markings. My copy is very well-loved, as you can see.

Essential #3: A stop list from the organ you will be playing

A stop list? What are stops? Stops are the tabs, rocker tabs, or drawknobs on the organ that have numbers and names on or above them. They are divided into sections and located either above the keys:

Location of organ stops above keys

To the left and right sides:

Location of organ stops on either side of manuals

Or both:

Location of organ stops above and to the right of keys

If possible, identify the organ brand and model that you will be using. If your organ is located in the chapel of an LDS church, the manual may be available online at this location, complete with stop list: http://www.lds.org/cm/display/0,17631,8549-1,00.html

If not, or if you choose to create your own, you can use this example to guide you:

Principal 8
Gedackt 8
Viola Celeste II 8
Octave 4
Koppel Flote 4
Super Octave 2
Blockflote 2
Mixture IV
Swell to Great
Midi to Great

Bourdon 16
Gedackt 8
Viola 8
Viola Celeste 8
Spitz Prinzipal 4
Koppel Flote 4
Nasat 2 2/3
Block flote 2
Mixture III
Basson 16
Trompette 8
Clairon 4
Midi to Swell

Bourdon 16
Lieblich Gedackt 16
Octave 8
Gedackt 8
Choral Bass 4
Mixture II
Basson 16
Trompette 8
Great to Pedal
Swell to Pedal
Midi to Pedal

Melody Coupler
Bass Coupler
Alternate Tuning
Tremulants Full
Console Speakers OFF
External Speakers OFF

In conclusion
Once you have placed an order for organ shoes and Carol Dean's book, place your stop list in a safe place and continue on to Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ.