Welcome to The LDS Organist 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.

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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!


  1. I would have to disagree with the idea that 16' stops don't add to the plenum. Being that men sing at 16' pitch in hymns (when the hymn is sung in unison), the pitch level must be represented, or else they will drift from tune. A soft 16', even if not clearly audible, will give support to the men in the congregation, and they will be quite happy. In large registrations, a 16' reed will accomplish the purpose well; occasionally, a verse with only flues and a 16' reed is effective, at least to get the men singing louder.
    Generally, registrations without manual sub-octave tone lack gravity, and gravity is a very useful thing in hymn playing.
    The primary objection to 16' stops is that they muddy the sound. If they are not too loud, they don't. Of course, if they are too loud, they will, so restraint must be used, especially on digital organs, whose 16's tend to be a bit opaque.

    1. Opps. We have some interesting ideas here. First, I agree with Jennifer and the many other books and teachers I've learned from--do NOT use 16' stops in manuals. My one exception is for that grand last line of "The Spirit of God" or some other "biggie" when it calls for POWER.

      Using a 16' stop puts ALL the parts down an octave. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it were just the soprano line, but when you get that alto and tenor line down an octave, it is "muddy." That is because of the harmonics. A study of physics teaches us about how waves interact. A major 3rd up high sounds fine. A major third in the bottom of the bass clef staff clashes as it produces the difference and additive tones. That's made even worse when the alto/tenor parts have suspensions.

      I'd like to see more men singing parts anyway.

      By the way, some of the Men's hymns are supposed to be played in the octave they sing in--#325 through #327. See the clef sign for the right hand--that's C clef, the movable clef. The little arrow in the middle points to middle C. So in this case it is Treble clef down an octave. Don't use a 16' stop here either. Just play with your hands on top of each other.

      Back to wanting to support the men singing melody in hymns. If you feel strongly about it, play just the soprano line with your right hand adding a 16' stop to that registration, and play alto and tenor with your left hand--with a normal registration. I do this often for prelude, using a nice solo stop for the melody and an accompaniment registration for the alto/tenor.

  2. Hmmm...for the want of a stop. Our piano/organ is digital w/o any stops. We have a choice of soft strings, mellow flutes, and three multiple mixed settings, each adding more than the one before it until you reach full assembly, all predetermined. Now the one at home is different

  3. I was wondering about mutations? I've heard that when accompanying congregations you shouldn't use mutations because it confuses the singers as to what pitch to sing. Any thoughts?

  4. i"ve been playing the organ for quite a while now, say 3years. I have been having problems on setting the stops correctly. I dont really have so much time to practice on the organ as it is full of faults. It's a viscount jubilate 332 digital organ. Please can you sent me some registrations on the organ for a variety of hymn moods. It's a catholic church though. Thank you......Hope a favorable reply.

  5. I have a question for anyone who’d like to answer—I was taught not to use the chimes/bells with other stops on the same manual, and never with congregational singing —to only use them as solo accents or an instrumental piece. However, I was wondering about your thoughts about it. Thank you!!