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, February 28, 2010

Sunday Song: On Eagle's Wings

"On Eagle's Wings," played by "Lance Church Organist" on his Viscount Vivace Model 20 organ (made in Italy).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Confidence and Preparation

"[I]f ye are prepared ye shall not fear."
Doctrine and Covenants 38:30

In order to accompany with confidence, organists must put in the time to be prepared.

As the organist

I had the wonderful opportunity to play for Stake Conference this past weekend. I played for the general session and had prepared quite extensively. When the time came, I was not nervous, but excited, and my accompaniment was full of confidence. I knew that I had put in the necessary time, and my playing reflected this preparation--following the music director was effortless, as were my registration changes, and the congregation sounded wonderful.

I also accompanied a small group the evening before. I was asked to play at the last minute and only had one day to prepare. I practiced that afternoon, evening, and the next morning and could play the music almost flawlessly, but when the time came to accompany the group I was not as confident or prepared as I would have liked and made some errors.

Although I prepared as much as possible in both instances, the importance of adequate preparation was reinforced in my mind because of these incidents.

As a listener

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to participate in "A Festival of Hymns," listening and singing while an accomplished organist regaled us with organ solos, accompaniments, and variations as we alternately sang and listened to his mastery.

His preparation was flawless. The organ was confidently played, and as listeners and participants, we had no fear as we sang through key changes, singing hymns to both traditional and free accompaniments. We knew he was prepared, and we had nothing to fear as we sang along.

The unprepared organist

How does an unprepared organist play? Hesitantly, disjointedly, below tempo, and inconsistently. The hymn introduction sets the tone for the congregation. If there's a pause as the organist frantically searches for the last half of the introduction, or an inconsistent tempo as the organist attempts a difficult fingering or pedaling, the congregation will sense hesitation and will sing in a like manner. Even if the organist believes that their skill does not necessitate any weekly preparation, at the very least the introductions and hymns need to be played through prior to the service with the planned registration changes, to ensure that proper legato technique is observed, proper tempo is retained, and registration changes are fluent and appropriate.

An unprepared organist will accompany a hesitant congregation:

Contrast that example with this prepared introduction, where the congregation can sing with confidence:

In Conclusion

There is no substitution for preparation. When I was first called as ward organist after a long break, I ended up practicing for 30 hours a week and still didn't feel adequately prepared. After a couple of months my skill level increased and I was able to reduce that practice time while increasing my preparation level.

As a new organist, you may feel completely inadequate. This is normal. You may not have 30 hours to practice each week. That's okay. Through prayer and diligence with the time you can make to practice, the Lord will bless you. Instead of praying to play the hymns flawlessly, pray for guidance and for the Spirit to be with you so that you can enhance the worship of your congregation. Over time, you will find that playing the organ becomes easier and eventually you will play with the confidence you desire.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lesson 7: More pedaling

Click here for Lesson 6: Breaking in Those Shoes.

A Quick Review

How is your balance at the organ? Your seat and base of legs have to provide your stability at the organ, as your feet must be free to move and play.

Adjustable bench and pedals

First, ensure that the organ bench is properly adjusted, both up/down and forward/backward, and that you are centered on D. Sit up straight, but be relaxed.

Knees and ankles should be in contact through the intervals we covered last time, and knees should remain together through the intervals of an octave. Your feet (heels and soles) should always touch, or practically touch, the surface of the pedals. Ankle motion, not knee motion, should be used when playing the toes. When scissoring out, divide up the angle so that each foot is equally parallel to the keys.

Do not cover more than half of the black, or sharp, key. Play with the ball of the foot, or just forward of the ball of the foot--do not play with the outside of the foot.

When playing on the naturals, play just clear of the black keys: do not play in the gaps between the black keys, but keep the toes very close to the bottom of the sharps.

Do not peek! Just as it is much faster and easier to type without looking at the keyboard, it will be much faster and more accurate to learn to play the pedals without peeking.

When practicing just the pedals, use 8' and 4' principal stops.

Larger Intervals

You should be very familiar with intervals through a fourth after the last lesson. It's time to practice intervals through an octave.

To play the interval of a fifth, find a fourth, then separate the ankles just enough to play the fifth, keeping the knees together. Bring the ankles back together to play the smaller intervals. Remember to keep your knees and ankles together for intervals through a fourth. Keep your knees together for intervals through an octave.

When playing the far upper or lower pedals, pivot the knees around with the feet. Also, keep the feet reasonably parallel with the keys by rotating your ankles. It will be difficult to play on the inside of the left foot when it's playing the higher pedals and the inside of the right foot when it's playing the lower pedals. If necessary, you my play on the outside of the foot in these circumstances. Never play flat-footed--either play with the ball of the foot (which is preferable) or play with the outside of the foot (only when you cannot play on the ball).

Heel Playing

Remember: Organ shoes make playing the organ much easier!

organ shoes

When playing with the toe, the ankle moves, not the knee. Heel playing, of necessity, moves the entire leg, but try to minimize the movement by keeping the heel touching, or very close to, the pedals. Playing with the heel is always secondary to the toe. If the pedal can be played with the toe, the toe should be used.

When playing with the heel, center the heel over the key. Try playing a C with your left heel, a C# with the toe, and a D with the heel. Work on playing smoothly with no silence or overlap between notes. Start with the D and play down to the C.

Switch feet and play D, D#, and E with the right foot. Again, work to play smoothly with no silence of overlap. Change direction starting with the E and playing down to the D.

Now play a B with the left toe, a C with the heel, a D with the toe, the C with the heel again, and the B with the toe again. Work for a legato sound. Play as slowly as necessary to play perfectly.

Play the F with the right toe, the E with the right heel, the D with the right toe, the E with the heel again, and the F with the toe again. Work for a legato sound.

Now play a B with the left toe, a C with the heel, a D with the toe, then substitute the right toe just in front of the left foot (release the left toe but keep it over this pedal), the E with the right heel, and the F with the right toe. Play this sequence in reverse, starting with the F, E, D (substitute the left toe behind the right, release the right but keep it over the pedal), C, B, and back again. Play it as quarter notes, smoothly. The substitution will need to occur quickly but soundlessly.

Play this same 5-note scale but play from C to G back to C. Now play from A to E back to A.

Play the Bb with the left toe, C with the heel (when releasing this note, keep the heel over it), D with the right heel, Eb with the right toe, and F with the right heel and back down.

Feel free to move up and down the keyboard, playing with the toe and heel, always with a smooth legato.


When possible, prelocate upcoming notes with the non-playing foot. We'll discuss this more in a moment.

Releases and Note Value

On the organ, it is very important to be precise. Unlike on the piano, there is no decay of the sound on the organ. There is no sustain pedal to keep the sound going as you play the next note. The technique we'll cover in these lessons is a legato technique.

In Carol Dean's book, turn to hymn 285, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." We'll only cover the pedal technique of this hymn in this lesson.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way Eb

In this hymn, the Eb repeats. It is impossible to give a note its full value while lifting and playing it again--no matter how quickly you lift, the first note will be robbed of some value. So instead of trying, today we will cut the value of the note by one beat, or in half, and add a rest for the remaining value. Instead of rehearsing in 3, we will rehearse in 6.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way Bb

As marked, place your right toe over the Eb. Prelocate the first position of your left foot--the toe over Bb, and gently set your foot in that position. This interval is a fourth, so maintain knee and ankle contact.

Play the first Eb for one beat, rest for one beat, then play for 1/2 beat, rest for 1/2 beat, play, rest, play--then the next note is an F. Since we don't repeat another Eb, this Eb will receive full value. Break ankle contact (keep knee contact) and play the F with the heel for full value, the Eb with the toe for full value (making ankle contact again), and the Bb with the left toe. Hold this Bb for three counts and rest for one, since it repeats. Play it again for one beat and rest for one beat. Play for 1/2 beat, rest, play, rest, play for a beat, rest, play for two beats then smoothly play the Eb with the right toe.

It should sound like this (with the first note on the next line played to show the timing):

Now look at the next line. Do you see the toe glissandos? We covered this marking last lesson:

Toe glissando

To play a toe glissando, play the first note with the outer side of the shoe and the second note with the inner side, moving the heel over quickly. Here is how to play the second line: Begin the same way as the first line, with the left foot pre-located on Bb and with knee and ankle contact maintained. Play the first Eb for one beat, rest for one beat, then play for 1/2 beat, rest, play, rest, play--then the next note is an Bb. Since we don't repeat another Eb, this Eb will receive full value. Play the Bb with the left toe, play the Eb with the right toe while pre-locating the Ab with the left toe. Play the Ab with the outside of the foot, bring the heel over quickly as you play the Bb with the inside of the foot. Play the Eb with the right foot and pre-locate the Ab again. Play the Ab to Bb as outlined above. Rest. Bb to Eb. It should sound and look like this:

Put the entire hymn together and practice as slowly as necessary in order to play it perfectly each time.  


Practice intervals with your toes through an octave throughout the pedal board, remembering when to maintain ankle contact. Keep knee contact at all times. Try to familiarize yourself with the feel of all the intervals, and use ankle motion, not knee motion. Practice keeping a legato sound when moving from heel to toe. Practice hymn 285 "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" until you can play the pedal part flawlessly with proper rests at tempo.  

In Conclusion

Learning to play the pedals can be very challenging. You'll be developing muscles that you probably have not used before. Don't get discouraged! Practice slowly and deliberately. Use a metronome. The examples I played were with the quarter note at 80. You can do it!

Continue on to Lesson 8: The Manuals.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Song: Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Richard Elliott playing Dale Wood's arrangement of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Articles and the AGO

My plan for the Thursday articles is to cover a variety of topics that will appeal to both beginning and advanced organists. I'm also planning on featuring articles from guest bloggers.

If you have a topic you'd like to see covered, feel free to post suggestions here, or email musicalmom at gmail dot com.

Also, if you are interested in writing an article for this blog, please let me know!

The American Guild of Organists

Have you taken the time to visit the American Guild of Organists' website which is linked on my sidebar? Here you can find a chapter near you (enter your zip code on the home page) or browse numerous other resources. I highly recommend you take the time right now to explore the site, then find your local chapter's website and see what activities are going on around you.

Have fun!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lesson 6: Breaking in Those Shoes

Click here for Lesson 5: Interpreting the hymn text

Hopefully by now your organ shoes have arrived! We'll use them in this lesson.

Proper Bench Positioning

Before playing the foot pedals, it's important to properly adjust the bench, if possible.

Sitting at the organ, center your body on the D of the pedal board. Some recommend centering on the C#, D#, or even E, but most prefer D. Whichever you choose, keep it consistent. While sitting squarely on the bench, let your legs hang directly in front of you. Your toes should just graze the black keys. If they don't, move the bench forwards or backwards until they do.

Again sit squarely on the bench. If the bench is at the proper height, your feet should lightly rest on the pedals. By moving your ankle, you can play with your toes (on the ball of your foot) or with your heel. You should not have to physically hold your legs up to prevent playing, nor should you have to lean forward or sit forward on the bench in order to play the pedals. Many newer organs have adjustable benches. For example, the Johannus has a knob that raises or lowers the seat. The Allen bench comes with a set of blocks. These blocks can be removed or flipped to provide three different heights for the bench. One or two 1"x4" boards or a 2"x4" board can alternately be used. If the bench is too high it can be cut down 3/4". Try to find a solution, or playing the pedals may be uncomfortable and more difficult that it should be.

The Importance of Clean Pedals

The pedal board of your organ should be clean. The sole of your shoes should slide easily up and down the keys, but this will not happen if the pedals are not clean. If you're encountering resistance, use a soft, clean cloth to polish the pedals and/or consult your owner's manual or local organ dealer for more information on cleaning the pedal board.

Never wear your organ shoes as "street shoes," or you will transfer dirt and grime onto the pedals. Additionally, playing barefoot will transfer body oils to the keys. If you are choosing to play without shoes, make sure you wear socks.

Pedaling Basics

Now that the bench is adjusted properly and the pedals are clean, it's time to discuss pedaling technique.

When playing do not let the knees bob up and down--the motion should be in your ankle. Play with the ball of your foot and your heel. Generally, your right foot should be slightly in front of your left foot--so that your right heel is lined up with the arch of your left foot. Keep your knees together. It's also very important to practice playing without looking at the pedals.

Pedaling Symbols

In hymn playing, the bass is generally played by the feet. When the marking is placed above the notes, use your right foot, and when it's placed below the notes, use your left foot. The caret means you play with your toe, and the circle means you play with your heel.

Here is a visual explanation of the symbols:

right toe
Here the caret is placed above the notes, so you would play the C with your right toe.

right heel
Here the circle is placed above the notes, so you would play the G with your right heel.

left toe
Here the caret is below the notes, so you would play the B with your left toe.

left heel
Here the circle is below the notes, so you would play the A with your left heel.

Here the note doesn't change. This mark is a substitution. You begin the note with your toe and substitute with the heel, in preparation for the next note.

This is also a substitution, but between feet--from the toe of the left foot to the toe of the right foot.

This is also a substitution--from the toe of the right foot to the toe of the left, in preparation for playing the A with the toe of the right foot.

These marks indicate a glissando--the notes are smoothly played with the toe of the same foot.

Intervals up to a Fourth

It will be helpful to print this next section, bring a laptop with you to practice with this saved webpage, or jot down notes to take along.

For these pedal exercises, select the 8' (and 4' if desired) principal stop(s). In this lesson we will be playing with the toes. The heels will be covered in a future lesson.

To start, at the organ place your left foot over C#/Db and your right foot over D#/Eb. Make sure that your right foot is slightly forward and your right heel is nestled next to the arch of your left foot. Do not cover more than half of the sharp key with your foot.

DO NOT PEEK at your feet! You should be centered on the D, and your feet will be right in front of you. Practice half notes followed by half rests. Play the C#. Rest. Play the D#. Rest. Play the C#. Rest. Continue and get a feel for playing with your feet. Keep your knees together. Use ankle movement to play.

Change the rhythm and note lengths. Try playing quarter notes followed by quarter rests. Repeat the notes. C#. Rest. C#. Rest. D#. Rest. Etc. Take this opportunity to really familiarize yourself with the feel of the pedal board. If you'd like, play Exercise 1 from page eight of the New LDS Organist packet, paying careful attention to attacks and releases. Make sure you hold the notes for their full value, and release precisely on time so that the rests also receive full value.

Second: Now place your feet over the C and D, with the right foot slightly forward as covered earlier. Feel free to practice playing this interval, inserting rests between every note.

Third: Scissor out your toes slightly, keeping your ankles touching, so that your left toes are still over C but your right toes are now over E. Are you knees together (or comfortably close)? Practice playing this interval, then the Second, then back to this Third.

Fourth: Scissor your toes out more, keeping the feet touching, so that you can play the F with your right toe. Remember that "toe" really means the ball of the foot. Keep your knees together. Practice this interval of a fourth and the previous intervals. DO NOT PEEK! It's very important to learn to play the pedals without looking.


Practice intervals through a fourth, keeping your knees and ankles together.

Practice Seconds, Thirds, and Fourths throughout the pedal board, including the natural keys and sharps, always inserting a rest between notes.

Keep your soles in contact with the keys (or very, very close) and your heel close as well.

Generally your right foot will be forward, however when your left foot plays the sharps, it will, out of necessity, move forward.

Use only ankle motion as you play with your toes, and keep your knees from moving up and down as you play. Your knees will pivot left or right as the ankles move up and down the pedal board.

Don't allow just one foot to scissor out--divide up the angle so that each foot is equally parallel to the keys. For now only play with your toes (the ball of your foot).

Learn how to feel each of these intervals through scissor motion without peeking.

This assignment is all about learning to feel the intervals without peeking. There is no prize for speed. Rather, practice slowly and deliberately. Do not play any faster than you can play perfectly.

In Conclusion

Taking the time now to internalize proper posture and technique, along with locating intervals by feel and not sight will give you a large advantage as you continue to play the organ. We will cover larger intervals and playing with the heels in the future.

Click here to continue on to Lesson 7: More Pedaling.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Song: Postlude on "National Hymn"

John Longhurst performs his arrangement of hymn tune "National Hymn," also known as "God of Our Fathers Whose Almighty Hand."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Organ Tour: The John Wanamaker Grand Organ

According to TheaterOrgans.com, the Wanamaker Organ was built by the Los Angeles Art Organ company for the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The cost reached $105,000 and bankrupted the builder.

In 1909, John Wanamaker bought the instrument for his Philadelphia emporium and it was freighted from St. Louis where the installation took two years, after which it was greatly enlarged to fill the large space it occupied.

Virgil Fox on the Wanamaker organ:

Read more at Wikipedia.

Read more at Friends of the Wanamaker Organ.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lesson 5: Interpreting the hymn text

Click here for Lesson 4: Hymn Registrations

In my opinion, this topic is one of the most important aspects of hymn accompanying, but it is so often overlooked.

As organists, we can inspire more congregational singing through our actions.


Have you ever been in the congregation when the hymn plodded along so slowly that you ran out of air after just a few words? Or where the hymn proceeded so quickly that you felt like Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance?

It's very important to play hymns at their proper tempo. In the hymnbook, a range is given. Open to hymn number 6, "Redeemer of Israel." The range given is 84-100. (If you're referencing Carol Dean's book, she recommends the tempo 108.) Congregations made up of younger singers generally prefer to sing the hymns at a faster tempo, while older individuals generally prefer to sing the hymns at a slower tempo. With large congregations, it is difficult to maintain a rapid tempo, so for stake conference the hymns will need to be played slower than for ward meetings, but the tempo needs to remain consistent.

Introductions should set the tempo of the hymn, and introduce the style and mood of the hymn. Avoid retarding at the end of an introduction, or your congregation will begin singing at that slower tempo. Keep the tempo consistent until the final verse, where a ritard at the end is appropriate.

Rehearsing with the music leader prior to the meeting will allow you to determine the best tempo for the hymns. This rehearsal will also allow the appropriate time for registration changes between verses, something we'll discuss in a minute.

Registration guidelines

As I mentioned in the last lesson, generally the 8' on the manuals and the 16' on the pedals should be from the principal family. Some organists feel that all hymns should be registered with a foundation of an 8' and 4' principal on the manuals and a 16' and 8' principal in the pedal. Others believe that any strong, non-reed 8' and 4' stops on the manual and 16' and 8' stops in the pedal will suffice. My philosophy is that since the principal chorus is the foundation for congregational singing, the 8' on the manuals and the 16' on the pedals should be from the principal family, but other stops that balance the principal can be used as the 4' and 8' stops.

The message of the hymn

Read through the text and message of the hymn to best decide on proper registration. What is the mood and message of the hymn? What does each individual verse convey?

Contents page

Let's refer again to "Redeemer of Israel." Turn to the Contents page at the beginning of the hymnbook. This hymn is found in the Restoration section and has a moving tempo. It speaks of Christ, delight, and praise.

Redeemer of Israel Hymn

Verse one reads:

1. Redeemer of Israel, Our only delight,
On whom for a blessing we call,
Our shadow by day And our pillar by night,
Our King, our Deliv'rer, our all!

I think of this verse as a joyful, worshipful piece. It references Exodus 13:21 when the children of Israel were led and guided, day and night, through the wilderness. Christ's constant presence is made known.

2. We know he is coming To gather his sheep
And lead them to Zion in love,
For why in the valley Of death should they weep
Or in the lone wilderness rove?

Again referencing the children of Israel, this verse expresses firm faith that Christ is coming. There is no need to weep or wander about aimlessly, without direction, for Christ has shown us the way.

3. How long we have wandered As strangers in sin
And cried in the desert for thee!
Our foes have rejoiced When our sorrows they've seen,
But Israel will shortly be free.

I interpret this verse as one of confusion and sorrow. The mood I feel when I read this is of longing--longing for the light of Christ which has been lost.

4. As children of Zion, Good tidings for us.
The tokens already appear.
Fear not, and be just, For the kingdom is ours.
The hour of redemption is near.

In this verse what was confused is now grounded with faith. This is a verse of knowing and looking forward to redemption.

Verse 5

5. Restore, my dear Savior, The light of thy face;
Thy soul-cheering comfort impart;
And let the sweet longing For they holy place
Bring hope to my desolate heart.

In this verse, a plea for the light of Christ to return is implored. Something missing needs to be regained.

6. He looks! and ten thousands Of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for his word;
He speaks! and eternity, Filled with his voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

The culmination of all the faith, sorrow, longing, and pleas is realized. Christ makes his presence known, and all heaven rejoices.

Registration for each verse

Now that we've established my interpretation of the overall mood of this hymn and the message found in each verse, it's time to choose the registrations that will best convey this message to the congregation.

In our registration decisions, we need to always ensure that the organ is at a good volume for the congregation—not too soft or too loud.

We will use text-directed changes of registration at ends of verses and/or before a chorus, but recognize that one is not necessary following every verse of a hymn. If the text fails to suggest a direction, it is common to either build upwards as the hymn progresses, or diminish the organ after the congregation gains strength, then build again for the final verse. One way to do this is to use manual-only playing as a contrast on the second-to-last verse, to heighten the impact of the pedal entrance on the last verse.

Since this hymn sings of the Restoration and has a moving tempo, I chose to begin with a Principal chorus, using 8', 4', and 2' stops on the Great and 16', 8', and Gt-Ped on the pedal. I set 8', 4', and 2' flutes on the Swell, but I'm not coupling them yet.

Verse 2 speaks of perfect faith. I want to ground the principal and fill out the sound, so at the end of verse 1, I grab the D in the right hand with my left hand so that as soon as the verse cuts off, I can quickly couple Sw-Gt and Sw-Ped, adding the flute chorus to the principal chorus. If possible also adding 16' flute in the pedal will help balance this sound--it might be easiest to set a general piston with this registration.

Verse 3 talks of wandering lost. I want to remove some stops to signify losing the guidance of Christ that we've felt throughout the previous two verses. The flutes I'm using on my organ are strong and loud, so I'm going to remove my 2' and possibly my 4' principal stop(s) for this verse.

Verse 4 is again strong and full of faith, so I'll re-add the stop(s) I removed for verse 3.

Verse 5 prays for Christ's presence, so I again remove the 2' principal stop. Another option is to play the verse entirely on the manuals (or remove the bass coupler if you don't play the pedals), then re-add the pedal or coupler on the next verse.

Verse 6 is the culmination of all the desires of the hymn, so I add the 2' principal and the principal mixture for this final verse.

I've accompanied my ward with these, or a similar, registration changes. However, I will be playing this hymn for stake conference, and these registration changes will not adequately support that large of a congregation. For stake conference, I'll probably do something like this:

Verse 1: Principal 8', 4', 2', Pedal 16', 8', Gt-Ped
Verse 2: Add Mixture
Verse 3: Add light reed
Verse 4: Remove reed, couple flute 8', 4', 2' and Sw-Ped
Verse 5: Remove mixture, and/or remove 16' from pedal
Verse 6: Full organ--Gt mixture and Sw mixture, stronger chorus reed, re-add 16' pedals if removed

A softer hymn

God, Our Father, Hear Us Pray hymn

Let's choose a hymn from the Sacrament section of the hymn book. Turn to hymn number 170, "God, Our Father, Hear Us Pray." The suggested tempo is 69-84, and Carol Dean recommends 84. This hymn of one of supplication.

1. God, our Father, hear us pray;
Send Thy grace this holy day.
As we take of emblems blest,
On our Savior's love we rest.

This verse is a prayer in song, asking for grace as we partake of the sacrament and enjoy the love of our Savior.

2. Grant us, Father, grace divine;
May Thy smile upon us shine.
As we eat the broken bread,
Think approval on us shed.

This verse is very similar to the first, as we ask for His approval.

3. As we drink the water clear,
Let Thy Spirit linger near.
Pardon faults, O Lord, we pray;
Bless our efforts day by day.

Again, this verse is very similar to the previous two, asking for His blessing.

As this is a Sacrament hymn, I like to use a softer registration, built in a pyramid registration:

Verse 1: Great--Principal 8', Sw-Gt Swell--Flute 8', String 8', String 4', Flute 4' (or octave coupler instead of 4' stops) Pedal--Principal 16', Flute 16', Sw-Ped, Gt-Ped
Verse 2: Add 2' Flute
Verse 3: Add 4' Principal

This hymn is a good example of building upwards as the hymn progresses.

Pure and clear

We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet hymn

Sometimes I like to keep the registration simple, pure, and clear. Turn to hymn 19, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet."

One registration option is to begin with the basic principal registration: 8', 4' on the manuals and 16', 8' on the pedal with the Gt-Ped coupler. For verse 2 add the 2' principal, and for verse 3 add the mixture.


Many beginning organists are uncomfortable making registration changes. One option is to only change the registration before the final verse. This registration change could be adding a 2' principal to the basic principal registration for the final verse, adding the mixture to the 8', 4', 2' principal stops, or adding a chorus reed to the 8', 4', 2', mixture principal chorus. Alternately, the Sw-Gt coupler can be used to add flutes.

Start slowly, and before you know it changing stops will become second nature in your organ playing.


Choose the music for a real or imaginary Sacrament meeting service. Begin with a "call to worship" hymn of praise. Select a Sacrament hymn. Close with a hymn that invites reflection. Study the message and mood of each hymn and each verse. Refer to Lesson 4: Hymn Registrations, and use the Spirit to guide you as you strive to inspire more congregational singing through proper hymn registration.

In Conclusion

As we cover organ technique we will study the hymn text in more depth. For those of you who will not be continuing on with the organ lessons, you now have almost all of the tools needed to successfully cheat on the organ. The last (and very important) component is covered in this Breathing article. Thank you for journeying with us! I hope you'll continue to visit to hear the Sunday Songs and to read the articles.

For those of you who wish to learn proper organ technique, continue on to Lesson 6: Breaking in Those Shoes.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Song: To the Name of Our Salvation

Chris Thompson playing the hymn "To the Name of Our Salvation" to the tune "Regent Square" at St John's Methodist Church, Bloxwich.

Edited 05/25/2010:
Unfortunately, this video has been removed since it was featured here. Stay tuned every Sunday for more Sunday Songs.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Seek the Good

Growing up, I lived and breathed music. Throughout high school I played music for hours every single day, switching between the piano and my wind instrument. I was accepted into the music program at a large university, where the atmosphere was very competitive. Unfortunately, the professor was also very "elitist," to the point that she told one of her students, "I have seventh graders who play better than you." Needless to say, that experience soured me on my principal instrument, and to this day I can longer play it with the joy I once felt.

Many of the professors and students in the music department spoke negatively about certain "pop" and "non-classically trained" composers. Often the attitude was very judgmental. Unfortunately, this is a common attitude among many trained musicians.

A doctrine we learn in the Scriptures applies very aptly to musicians:
When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. -- 2 Nephi 9:28
Fortunately, during those years I discovered the organ. My organ teacher was also in my stake and I was able to study under her for some time. I knew I was learning and struggling, yet one day she told me, "I love listening to you play prelude." Now, the prelude I was playing came from Nine Hymn Studies by D. Kim Croft. These arrangements are about as simple as they get, and this accomplished organist loved listening to me play them? She has probably long since forgotten that compliment, but it has stayed with me for many, many years.

My music professor was elitist and demeaning, but my organ teacher looked for, and found, the good in all students regardless of proficiency. She inspired me, and every day I strive to emulate her example in my musical interactions with others.

Different schools of thought

I'm sure many of my readers have experienced a ward choir director who only wants people in the choir who read music and sing well. Just recently I had a ward choir director tell me that, "It's just easier that way." Others may have experienced a choir director who welcomes all--even children. There are many different schools of thought:

Leader 1 is called as stake music chairman. While she is only trained in one discipline, she is unwilling to continue to learn and will not allow others to also participate in any stake capacity. She trains new organists to play the organ incorrectly for hymn accompanying (with one hand on the great and the other on the swell) and is unwilling to listen to other suggestions. She regularly has stake choirs perform her own arrangements of hymns.

Leader 2 is not a trained musician, and while she loves music, she knows nothing about it. Instead of embracing her current level of knowledge and striving to learn more, she chooses to make a presentation to the sisters in Relief Society justifying her current level of knowledge and stating that knowledge of music is completely unnecessary in order to serve in the Church.

Leader 3 is called as stake organist, yet he does not play the organ. He chooses to study all he can, joins the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists, continues to grow and learn throughout his years of service in this capacity, and shares this information in regular stake training sessions. When he learns of trained organists in the stake he immediately befriends them and seeks an exchange of knowledge. When he moves out of state, he truly is an organist.

Leader 4 is a skilled organist and even teaches at the college level. She offers free lessons to all organists in her stake, and uplifts and inspires those around her to become better. When these students make a suggestion she weighs it carefully and thanks them for their input--she's open to continual learning and growth, regardless of the source, and freely admits when the student teaches the teacher.

I've had the opportunity to work with all four types of leaders outlined above. I also had the great privilege of residing in a stake with numerous skilled musicians. The music performed there was inspiring and beautiful. (For an example of this music, follow this link: Christmas with the Provo, UT Central Stake.)

In my experience with that stake, non-musicians were embraced and trained to become musicians. Everyone was welcome to participate, and those who did walked away richer for the experience.

Inspiring Others

Music in the Church should not be elitist. Music is for everyone.

In my life, I have heard many technically difficult pieces performed that were all about technique--they lacked heart. While the music was beautiful and technically perfect, that's all it was. The music was self-contained and didn't draw the listener in.

In visiting a relative's ward, I had the privilege of sitting a few rows in front of a developmentally delayed individual. When it was time for the hymns, she sang in full mono-tone voice, drowning out most of the other ward members in her exuberance. The Spirit filled my heart, for her singing was that of worship and was full of the Spirit.

Music doesn't have to be perfect to be moving. In fact, I often tell my choirs that singing the right notes is secondary to singing with the Spirit. For without the Spirit, we cannot touch the hearts of the congregation, and that is the purpose of music.

The First Presidency Preface to the Hymnbook states:
Inspirational music in an essential part of our church meetings...

Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns...

We hope to see an increase of hymn singing in our congregations. We encourage all members, whether musically inclined or not, to join with us in singing the hymns.
For our stake conference later this month we will have members from our deaf branch provide the musical number at the adult session. Even people unable to hear can sing hymns--sometime with even more feeling that those of us who can.

This video is very moving:

In Conclusion

My challenge to you is to listen to music and musicians in the Church with your heart, not just your ears. Strive to emulate this counsel in Proverbs:
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels. -- Proverbs 1:5
Search for the good and speak only complementary thoughts. Everyone, no matter how unlearned, has something to teach you.

I was hesitant to start this blog, for despite my training I fully acknowledge my limitations. However, my hope is that through my articles and lessons I will help inspire my readers to greater musical experiences. I pray that I can touch the lives of my readers in some small way.

Thank you for allowing me this opportunity.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lesson 4: Hymn Registrations

Click here for Lesson 3: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 2

Now that you understand the different parts of the organ and the family of each of your stops, it's time to cover hymn registrations. When you accompany the congregation, there are some hard and fast rules that need to be observed.

Different Types of Organ Registration

The three primary types of organ registration are chorus, solo and accompaniment, and trio/duo.

If there are two or more parts*, and no part is prominent or more melodic in nature, then use Chorus registration. Some examples are:
• Hymns on manual only (i.e., "I Know My Father Lives")
• Hymns with pedal playing bass (almost all hymns, including "Joy to the World," "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," and "Jesus of Nazareth, Savior and King")
• Preludes and Fugues

If there are two or more parts and one part is prominent, or more melodic in nature, then use Solo and Accompaniment. Some examples are:
• Hymns with soprano or tenor solo (generally found in arrangements)
• Some simple hymn preludes

If there are only two manual parts, with or without pedal, and both of the manual parts are prominent or melodic in nature, then use Trio/Duo registration. Examples include true trios and duos, often in music of the Baroque era (e.g., fugues) or in specific hymn prelude arrangements.

* “Parts” is defined as the vocal equivalent of a choral part such as soprano, alto, tenor, or bass,or a line that includes a series of chords.

Chorus Registration

This it the most commonly used registration of the LDS church organist, as it is used in congregational accompaniment, and the one we will cover in this lesson. Both hands play on the same manual, with the bass usually played in the pedals.

Build upwards from a foundation of 8’ pitch on the manuals and 16’ on the pedals, using at least two stops of different pitch (a minimum of one 8’ and one 4’ on the manuals and one 16’ and one 8’ on the pedals). Generally, at a minimum, the 8' on the manuals and the 16' on the pedals should be from the principal family.

Economy is very important. When you need clarity, only use one stop at each pitch level (such as 8’, 4’, and 2’ principals on the Great, and 16' and 8' principals plus Great to Pedal on the Pedal.)—the fewer stops the better. For a fuller organ, build in a pyramid configuration, such as three 8’ stops, two 4’ stops, and one 2’ stop on the manuals, with a similar configuration on the pedal.

Avoid gaps between octave pitches as you build. Don’t use 8’ and 2’ without the 4’. Chorus reed stops may be used, sparingly, to augment a chorus of flue stops, especially during the last verse of a hymn. For better blending, use a mixture in your registration. Do not use solo reeds in chorus registration.

Mutations add strength and gravity to chorus-type combinations. They are particularly useful, however, for the color they add to solo combinations. For example, the Cornet (cor-NAY) consists of 8’, 4’, 2 2/3’, 2’, and 1 3/5’.

What not to do:

Avoid soft stops which make little or no difference in the sound--if you can't hear it when you add it, you don't need it.

Never use celeste stops, which are detuned and destroy the clarity of the ensemble.

Avoid using 16' stops in the manual, which muddy and darken the sound.

Finally, never, ever, ever use tremolo to accompany the congregation!

Important Things to Remember

The registration should be the appropriate volume for the music being played. Hymns such as "Glory to God on High," "All Creatures of our God and King," or "Now Let Us Rejoice" call for a bright and loud chorus, including higher stops, mixtures, and possibly chorus reed(s), but do not overpower your congregation.

Hymns such as "Jesus Once of Humble Birth," "How Gentle God’s Commands," and "Nearer My God To Thee" call for a softer chorus, consisting primarily of 8’ and 4’ principals, flutes, or strings, but make sure you adequately support your congregation's singing volume.

Balance between the manuals and pedals is important, as is balance within the chosen stops. A chorus registration made up of flutes in the manuals and principals in the pedals will allow the manual parts to be swamped by the pedal part. A chorus of 8’ flute, 4’ flute, and 2’ principal will be top-heavy, while a chorus of 8’ principal, 4’ flute, and 2’ flute might be bottom-heavy.

Clarity is critical, since all the voice parts will be played with the same sound and the congregation will be relying on the organ to play their parts. Listen carefully to ensure that all parts can be heard clearly.


It's time to pull out your stop list again, sit down at your organ, and break open Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ by Carol Dean, or your hymnbook.

Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ

On the Great, identify your principal stops, and select an 8' and 4' principal. On the Pedal select a 16' and 8' principal along with Great to Pedal. Since we haven't covered playing the pedal board yet, also select the Bass Coupler.

Identify a hymn that you believe should have a bright chorus. Play a bit of it to get a feel for the sound of your registration. Add a 2' principal to the Great and try it again. Add the mixture. Now add a chorus reed (if you want to use a stop from the Swell, also add Swell to Great and Swell to Pedal). Now is the time to get a feel for the way the stops on your organ work together. If you have other options for the above stops, try them out. Feel free to experiment with all of the "no-no's" and try to train your ear to understand why they don't work. If your organ lacks a 16' principal in the pedal, try the 16' stops that it does have and see if you can use them together to balance the manuals.

Now identify a hymn that is much more reflective or reverent. Go back to the original registration I suggested (8',4' and 16', 8', w/coupler). Play a bit of this new hymn to get a feel for the sound of the registration. Try swapping the principal registration for flutes and/or strings. Add a 2' flute. Try an 8' principal with a 4' flute and listen to the balance. Experiment with different combinations and see how many different colors you can find on your organ (keeping in mind the "no-no's").

In Conclusion

Proper registration is vital to congregational accompaniment. As the organist, it is your responsibility to paint the proper mood for the hymn. If a call-to-worship song, such as "Glory to God on High" is played with soft flutes and strings, the message is lost. Similarly, if a reverent hymn such as "Upon the Cross of Calvary" is played with a full principal chorus with mutations, mixture, and reeds, important reverent reflection will be lost. Become familiar with your organ, so that you will know approximately what different registrations will sound like before you ever select a stop.

In Lesson 5: Interpreting the Hymn Text we will learn how to choose the best registration options for a few different hymns. Plus, dust off your shoes--in Lesson 6 we'll take them for a spin!