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!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Lesson 12: Prelude and Postlude

Click here for Lesson 11: Prelude Registration.

"Quiet prelude and postlude music creates an atmosphere of worship that invites the Spirit into Church meetings. The organist or pianist usually plays hymns or other appropriate music for five to ten minutes before and after a meeting. Playing hymns helps members review gospel teachings in their minds."
--Church Handbook of Instructions


In our last lesson we learned prelude and postlude registrations from Dr. Don Cook's new handout. This lesson we will cover the importance of prelude and postlude, and touch on what types of pieces are appropriate. In future articles I'll go into more specifics, but the purpose of today's lesson is not to teach technique, but to bear testimony of the importance of prelude and postlude music.

Prelude Aids Revelation

Boyd K. Packer has said, "Prelude music, reverently played, is nourishment for the spirit. It invites inspiration. That is a time to, as the poet said, 'Go to your bosom … and ask your heart what it doth know.' Do not ever disturb prelude music for others, for reverence is essential to revelation. 'Be still,' He said, 'and know that I am God.'"

This statement echoes my own feelings on prelude music. With my young, large family it rarely happens, but my favorite thing to do is to arrive to Sacrament meeting fifteen minutes early to sit and ponder as I listen to the prelude music. It doesn't have to be complex; in fact, as long as the music is well-prepared and appropriate, even the simplest pieces have the power of the organist's testimony within them.

Robert C. Oaks shared:
"[W]e should be able to sit quietly during prelude music and meditate on the beauty of the restored gospel, prepare our hearts and minds for the sacrament, and ponder the majesty of our Heavenly Father and the splendor of the Savior’s Atonement. Where better to consider such sacred and weighty matters? These manifestations of our worship will naturally be accompanied by an attitude of reverence.

"...[O]ne Sabbath day as I sat during the prelude music...[m]y wife and I had been seeking spiritual instruction on a particular question in our lives. Thankfully, the answer came through the particular prelude hymn selected. In response to the sweet melody, the Spirit clearly indicated the appropriate course for us....From this experience I gained a special appreciation for the sanctity of a quiet prelude moment."

empty chapel

What to Play

The Church Handbook of Instruction states that prelude music should be "quiet" and consist of "hymns or other appropriate music." Merrill J. Bateman has recounted an experience where the organist at stake conference was "absorbed in presenting a Bach concert," and due to the volume level of the organ and corresponding irreverence of the congregation, President Boyd K. Packer told the organist that he "had a special responsibility to bring the Spirit into the building and prepare the members for the meeting." He then asked that organist to continue his prelude from the hymnbook.

Does this experience mean that all prelude must be from the hymnbook? It does not. However, it illustrates the importance of an organist who is sensitive to the Spirit.

Boyd K. Packer has shared, "An organist who has the sensitivity to quietly play prelude music from the hymnbook tempers our feelings and causes us to go over in our minds the lyrics which teach the peaceable things of the kingdom. If we will listen, they are teaching the gospel, for the hymns of the Restoration are, in fact, a course in doctrine!"

I love to play reverent hymn arrangements for prelude music. As I play, I recall the words to the hymns. I register the organ according to the message shared, and bear testimony through song. Generally, the topic of the meeting is known to me in advance and I strive to choose hymns and other sacred pieces whose message reflects that of the upcoming meeting. Sacrament songs are also very appropriate, as they allow the congregation to reflect on Jesus Christ and the upcoming Sacramental ordinance.

When to Start

Russell M. Nelson has stated, "Those participating should be seated at least five minutes before the meeting begins so they can be spiritually prepared for a worshipful experience. During that quiet interval, prelude music is subdued. This is not a time for conversation or transmission of messages but a period of prayerful meditation as leaders and members prepare spiritually for the sacrament."

The Church Handbook of Instruction states that prelude should begin five to ten minutes prior to the meeting. I, personally, believe it should begin no later than 15 minutes prior. However, for stake conference my rule of thumb is 30 minutes before, sometimes even sooner, depending on attendance. Prelude provides the Spirit for the meeting, so as soon as members begin to arrive, I begin my prelude.



While prelude music is often spoken of, not much is shared about postlude music. Often it is included as an afterthought--since we have prelude, we've gotta have postlude, right? It's the bookend to the service.

In the Ensign, Jay E. Jensen wrote, "[P]ostlude music ... extend[s] the spirit of the meeting."

What a simple, profound statement. Postlude music is not exit music. It's not celebratory music that signifies the meeting is over and it's time to stretch our legs and visit.

Just because every one is leaving doesn't mean no one is listening.

Postlude music should reflect the spirit of the meeting. If the meeting was quiet and reverent, the postlude music should also be quiet and reverent. If the meeting was jubilant and full of praise, the postlude should also reflect jubilation and praise. It's a good idea to prepare two contrasting moods for postlude, then play the one that is most appropriate.

While prelude is a time when I, personally, prefer to play simple and reverent arrangements, during postlude I don't mind playing more complex hymn arrangements or even classical pieces. However, I always strive to listen to the Spirit--for without the Spirit, what is music?

In the New Era, Eric D. Snider shared a special experience he had with playing postlude music:
After the closing prayer, which built upon the Spirit we already felt, I played some quiet postlude music as people talked and began to filter out. I played “The Spirit of God” (Hymns, no. 2) very softly on the upper keys. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes just believing in the words of the song you’re playing, and having the Spirit with you, causes you to play so that the people listening feel what you’re feeling. You can actually express your emotions through the way you play the song. It doesn’t always happen (at least not to me), but it happened this time. I really felt what I was playing, and I really wanted to convey a message by the way I played it.

"As I played, I noticed that someone was behind me watching and listening. I finished the hymn and quickly glanced to see who it was. It was Elder Smith, someone I didn’t know very well. He was standing there, crying.

"He had already felt the Spirit during the meeting, like the rest of us, and now the music was helping to intensify it. So I kept playing.

"That’s when it struck me. For perhaps the first time, I was playing the piano, not for my own enjoyment and not to receive praise, but to help someone feel the Spirit. I actually, truly wanted to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands and serve him. In this case, the best way I could serve him was to help convey the Spirit to one of his children through music."


When to begin postlude

At the end of the closing prayer, the congregation audibly voices "Amen," which is followed by just a beat of silence before everyone starts to stand up, gather things together, or chat with a neighbor.

In my opinion, that beat of silence is extremely important in solidifying the mood of the meeting. Often times the organist is busy shuffling music and setting stops while the first members of the congregation head out of the chapel and other members begin chatting, causing this precious time to be lost. However, if the organist begins postlude during that one beat of silence, the congregation intuitively feels the Spirit of the music and members are guided to be more reverent and reflect on the music that is being played--in effect, the music allows them to reflect on the Spirit of the meeting they just attended. It is very important to seize this precious moment; waiting causes the congregation to move on to thoughts of the next meeting or to thoughts of home.


If you are not currently serving as organist, ask your ward music chair if you may play organ prelude and/or postlude for an upcoming meeting.

Continue using Hymns Made Easy, to prepare simple and reverent prelude pieces in the solo and accompaniment style. Try playing one verse with a chorus registration, playing the second verse with solo and accompaniment registration, then the third verse with a different solo and accompaniment registration.

Prepare 10-15 minutes of prelude for a Sacrament meeting with the topic of your choice, or the topic provided by your ward music chair if you are practicing to play for an actual meeting. Also prepare two 5 minute-segments of postlude music in contrasting moods, as discussed above.

In Conclusion

Prelude and postlude music is often taken for granted in the Church. However, as an organist it is important to make sure that prelude and postlude music for your congregation is well-prepared and selected with the guidance of the Spirit--in this way lives can be touched through music.

Continue on to Lesson 13: Thumb Glissando and a New Hymn.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Song: Bach's In dulci jubilo BWV 751

To round out Bach month, here's an additional Sunday Song.

Johann Sebastian Bach's Chorale prelude "In dulci jubilo" in G major BWV 751 played by André Isoir at the Gabler organ of the Weingarten Basilika in Germany.

Notice the novelty of the cuckoo stop, and the use of weights.

Sunday Song: Bach's Toccata in C Major BWV 564

In honor of J.S. Bach's 325th birthday this month, the Sunday Songs will highlight a few of his works.

J.S. Bach's Toccata in C Major BWV 564, played on the XVII century baroque pipe organ of Basilica in Lezajsk, Poland.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Happy 325 Birthday, Bach!

J. S. Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21st 1685. His father was a higher-ranking musician and his family was well-known for their musical talents. His father taught him to play the violin and harpsichord, and his uncle introduced him to the organ.


At the young age of nine, Johann became an orphan when his mother died, and shortly thereafter his father also passed away. Johann Sebastian went to live with his brother, Johann Christoph, who was an organist. Here, Johann Sebastian began a formal study of the organ.


At he age of fifteen, Johann Sebastian Bach and a friend traveled to Lüneburg, where Johann sang in the Mattins Choir, played violin at the Court of Celle, and had the opportunity to study some of the best examples of German church music in his school's large music library. He was exposed to French music at this time, and it is believed that he also studied under organist Georg Böhm.

Less than three years later, he sought a post as an organist at a church that was currently under construction in Arnstadt, near Sangerhausen. While awaiting the completion of this organ, he played the violin in a small chamber orchestra of Duke Johann Ernstand in Weimer. Here he was exposed to Italian music. At the end of 1703, Bach received his post as organist at the age of 18. His organ had two manuals and 23 speaking stops.

Young Adult

In October of 1705, Bach took a leave of absence to hear the organist Dietrich Buxtehude. He was so impressed with this organist that he greatly overstayed his approved leave of absence in order to listen and learn from this master. When Bach did return to his post, he employed these new virtuoso techniques which confused his congregation, much to the chagrin of his employers. He was further reprimanded when he refused to work with a boys' choir he was asked to train, and when he was caught entertaining a young lady in the church. Amid this unrest, Bach learned of the death of an organist in a town with a rich musical history. He applied for the job and was hired on very favorable terms.

Early Married Life

It was here, in Mühlhausen, where Bach married his second cousin, Maria Barbara, in October 1707, and began composing vocal church music with much success. After just a year, Bach began looking for a more promising position.

He returned to Weimar where, as member of the chamber orchestra and as organist to the Court, his position paid double the salary of his previous post. Soon after his arrival his daughter, Catharina Dorothea, was born. Most of Bach's major organ compositions stem from this period, and he quickly became known as one of the best German organists.

In 1717 a feud broke out among the Dukes in Weimar. Bach was consequently passed over for a promotion, ended up in prison for a month (where he wrote the 'Orgelbüchlein'), and was dismissed from his post "without honor," in order to take the position of Capellmeister in Köthen.

Joy and Tragedy

The position of Capellmeister was the highest rank given to a musician during the baroque age. Bach's employer was a Calvinist, so religious music was non-existent. However, his master enjoyed secular cantatas and instrumental music featuring the latest styles and fashions from throughout Europe, and spent a great deal of money on his "band." Here Bach wrote much of his chamber music and enjoyed a stress-free time filled with music.

Unfortunately, upon returning home from a journey in 1720, Bach learned that his wife had died and was buried in his absence, leaving behind his four living children (in addition to three children who had died in infancy).

Bach continued with his work and in December 1721, he married soprano Anna Magdalena, she at the age of 20, and he 36. In the twenty-eight years of happy marriage that followed, thirteen additional children were born to the Bach family, though few of them survived through childhood.

One year after Bach's happy marriage his employer also married, but his wife was very anti-music. Bach soon sought employment elsewhere.

Bach's final city

Bach moved to Leipzig on May 22, 1723, where for the remaining 27 years of his life he was to live and work as Cantor, or Directore Chori Musici Lipsiensis - Director of Choir and Music in Leipzig. Bach was their third choice, after Georg Philipp Telemann and Christoph Graupner both refused the post.

Bach and his family lived at the school of St Thomas, where Bach was responsible for organizing the music in the four principal churches of Leipzig; forming choirs for these churches from the 54 pupils of the Thomasschule; and instructing the more musically talented boys in instrument playing.

Bach eventually became dissatisfied with his low-paying position, and in 1730 aired his grievances to the Leipzig city council. He longed to escape the 'trouble, envy and persecution' he experienced in Leipzig. Fortunately, in 1729 he took over the direction of the Collegium Musicum (Music Society), a secular orchestra of students and professional musicians founded by Telemann in 1702, where he often performed with his sons. Changes at the school also alleviated some of his concerns.

Later years

Bach was able to become slightly entrepreneurial in a society where musicians were often treated as slaves. In his later years he entertained visiting musicians from Germany and beyond; became a member of the Mitzler society; revised many of his earlier works; composed he Mass in b minor, the Canonic Variations, the Goldberg Variations, and The Art of the Fugue; among many other endeavors.

Eventually his eyesight began to fail him, and he composed his last chorale fantasia, based on the chorale "Before Thy Throne O Lord I Stand".

Johann Sebastian Bach died the evening of the 28th of July, 1750, after suffering a stroke and severe fever. He was buried in St John's Cemetery in an unmarked grave.

In conclusion

According to Wikipedia, "Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time."

Happy birthday, Bach.

You may also be interested in reviewing Bach's Life in Pictures.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lesson 11: Prelude Registration

Click here for Lesson 10: More Techniques in Hymns

We're still dealing with the stomach bug here, and on top of it, I've sprained my ankle! I had planned on discussing prelude registration this week, and when I saw that Dr. Cook has added a new handout to his free packet that went along with this topic, I wanted to share it with you.

I've often referred my readers to The New LDS Organist, a free course of 12 audio lessons developed by Don Cook. Just recently a new handout was added to the packet, which I'd like to share here. To read the packet on the website, click here.

Registration Suggestions for Prelude/Postlude Music
by Don Cook

Careful selection and proper performance of music can greatly enhance the spirit of worship....
Quiet prelude and postlude music creates an atmosphere of worship that invites the Spirit into Church meetings. The organist or pianist usually plays hymns or other appropriate music for five to ten minutes before and after a meeting.
--Music section of the Church Handbook of Instructions, p. 289

To build a stop combination for a prelude or postlude that accomplishes the purposes described above, first identify these important characteristics in the music. If these are not indicated in the score,
make the decision yourself:

1. MOOD: Meditative or jubilant? Use more words that describe the mood or sound more precisely (light or heavy, clear or rich, sparkling or foundational, simple, calm, reverent, ethereal, solid,majestic, quietly jubilant, etc.)
2. VOLUME: Overall volume level (very soft, soft, medium, etc.)
3. SOLO: Will a solo and an accompaniment be played on two separate manuals (solo and accompaniment registration), or will both hands play on the same manual (chorus registration)?

Next, decide on the sound that you want and find it on the organ.


For “chorus-type” registration, in which both hands play on the same manual, try the combinations given below. Use the handout “Common Stop Names Listed by Pipe Category and Family of Organ Tone” to find particular flutes, principals, strings, reeds, or hybrids (as indicated below) on your organ. The following list begins with the softer stops or combinations, which are usually most effective in enhancing the spirit of worship:

1. a soft 8’ stop alone (flute, hybrid, or string)
2. the celeste effect (use two 8’ stops [hybrid, flute, or string, with celeste], or a single celeste stop marked “II” [like Gemshorn Celeste II 8’])
3. two soft 8’ stops (flute and hybrid, flute and string)
4. flutes 8’ and 4’
5. two soft 8’ stops and flute 4’
6. flutes 8’, 4’, and 2’ (or flute 8’, principal 4’, and flute 2’)
7. principal 8’ alone
8. principal 8’ and flute 4’, or flute 8’ and principal 4’
9. principals 8’ and 4’
10. principal 8’ plus no. 1, 3, 4, 5, or 6 above
11. principals 8’ and 4’ plus no. 1, 3, 4, 5, or 6 above
12. principals 8’, 4’, and 2’ (note the brightness of the 2’ principal)
13. Adding the chorus mixtures and/or chorus reeds probably reach beyond an appropriate volume level for preludes and most postludes in Sacrament meeting.


For “solo and accompaniment” registration, one hand (usually the right) plays the solo part on either the Swell or the Great, and the other hand (usually the left) plays the accompaniment on the remaining manual. First, decide whether the sound of the solo or the accompaniment is most important to you, and begin building that combination. Next, build the other combination, balancing it with the first. For the accompaniment (usually played by the left hand), use one of the chorus-type registrations given above.

For the solo part (usually played by the right hand), you need only find a more prominent (louder) stop or combination. The solo may be registered with any chorus-type registration (see above), as long as the accompaniment is softer. Celeste effects, however, are usually most effective in the accompaniment part. The following is a list of solo stops or combinations that are not included in the chorus registrations given above. These usually result in a more colorful solo:

1. a single harmonic flute 8’
2. flutes 8’ and 2’ (a “gap” combination)
3. combinations of the 8’ flute and other stops from the Cornet (pronounced “cor-NAY”):
a. flutes 8’ and 2 2/3’ (an especially effective soft solo combination)
b. flutes 8’, 4’, and 2 2/3’
c. flutes 8’, 2 2/3’, and 1 3/5’ (“Sesquialtera”)
d. flutes 8’, 4’, 2 2/3’, and 1 3/5’
e. flutes 8’, 4’, 2 2/3’, 2’, and 1 3/5’ (the full Cornet)
4. string 8’ (may sound like a soft reed)
5. flute 4’
6. soft reed 8’ (Oboe, Cromorne, Clarinet, French horn, English horn, Schalmei)
7. soft reed 8’ “rounded out” with other mild 8’ and 4’ stops (flutes, hybrids, strings)
8. all the 8’ stops on the Great that blend, possibly including the Swell to Great coupler (a very warm, “singing” solo combination)
9. a larger chorus reed 8’ (Trompette, Fagott) (more effective as a meditative solo stop when played in the tenor range)
10. a larger chorus reed 8’ “rounded out” with other 8’ and 4’ stops


Build the bass part to balance with the chorus-type combination (not the solo). Choose a soft 16’ and 8’ stop from the Pedal division (Subbass, Bourdon, Gedackt, Lieblich Gedackt). As an alternative, select a soft 16’ Pedal stop and Swell to Pedal or Great to Pedal (whichever does not have the solo). To balance larger manual combinations, add larger 16’ stops followed by 8’ stops in the Pedal as needed. If manual-to-pedal couplers are used, the 8’ balance will occur automatically as manual stops are added.

Write down the combination or save it to memory for later use.

Once you have selected the combination that you want, write down the stops in pencil on the music. You can then draw this combination by hand whenever you play that piece on that organ—if you have time. If you will not have time to draw the stops by hand, set the combination on a combination piston (“preset”) as described in Lesson 1 under the combination action. Be sure to double-check your preset just before the meeting!


Using Hymns Made Easy, pick one or more hymns to practice Solo and Accompaniment prelude/postlude registration with, as mentioned in this article. Remember to play the melody on one manual and the accompaniment on another, balancing the pedal appropriately.

Register the hymns we learned in lessons 9 and 10: "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" and "Truth Eternal," for chorus prelude/postlude registration.

In Conclusion

I hope you found Dr. Cook's information helpful. Proper registration during prelude and postlude is essential to church meetings. Appropriate prelude invites reflection and helps members feel the Spirit prior to the meeting. Appropriate postlude mirrors the mood of the meeting and allows members to feel that Spirit as they leave the chapel.

Click here to continue on to Lesson 12: Prelude and Postlude .

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Song: Bach's C minor Fugue BWV 537

In honor of J.S. Bach's 325th birthday this month, the Sunday Songs will highlight a few of his works.

An unnamed organist playing C minor Fugue on Saint-Sulpice's Cavaillé-Coll organ, one of the biggest instruments in France.

Since the microphone is so close to the console, you can hear the organ as the organist hears it, with the noise from the Barker Machines and trackers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guest Article: Allen AP-22a compared to AP16

Today's article is a guest article written by Barry Holben, Vice President of Sales for the Allen Organ Company.

Barry Holben

Thanks for your e-mail and the invitation to supply your readers information about the Allen Ap-22a. I’ve attached some documentation about the AP-22a and comparative statistics for its predecessor, the AP-16. As you will see, the stop list of the AP-22a is significantly larger than the stop list of the AP-16. Beyond the resident stop list of the AP-22a, there are two unique features that provide further versatility to this instrument. The first of these is “2nd Voices”. Many of the primary voices have counterparts that can be invoked through the 2nd voices control located in the “Generals” portion of the stop rail. Additionally, the AP-22a has an entire second stop list, accessible through the instrument’s Console Controller, the user interface located on the left side of the key desk. Using the Console Controller, the organist can invoke a complete French Romantic stop list. This specification has fiery reeds and large-scale of the principal stops. The AP-22a also features a Hymn Player that includes many favorite LDS hymns. Many Wards and Stakes value this feature for occasions when organists are unavailable.

In addition to the versatility provided by the features listed above, the AP-22a also features Acoustic Portrait™, the only sampled reverb system available in any digital organ. This unique patented system provides the actual acoustics of a wide range of real-world environments from cavernous French cathedrals to the short reflections of pipe organ chambers. With Acoustic Portrait, organists can choose the acoustic that best enhances the organ’s environment and compliments the style of music being performed.

I hope this information is interesting to you and your readers.

Mr. Holben, thank you so much for sharing this valuable information with us!

I'd like to take this opportunity to share two videos of our honored guest playing his own arrangements. Enjoy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lesson 10: More Techniques in Hymns

Click here for Lesson 9: Playing Your First Hymn

I apologize for the lack of pictures and videos this week. We have an unwelcome stomach bug running through our house! I'll try to add them at a future date.

This lesson we will study hymn number 4, "Truth Eternal." This hymn is short, but has a lot of technique packed into its eight measures. Again, we will be using Carol Dean's Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ (my copy is the 1996 version--yours may be slightly different). If you need a copy, email her at carolorg1111(at)gmail(dot)com for more information. me at ldsorganistblog at gmail dot com for more information.


The pedal part of this hymn is fairly straight forward. When playing, remember to keep your ankles together for intervals through a fourth and your knees together for intervals through an octave.

Prelocate notes. For example in measure 1, play the D, E, F#, F# with the left foot. As soon as the right foot plays the G, prelocate the D with your left foot so that it is ready for beat 3. As soon as the left foot plays that D, prelocate the A with the right foot (it's just one note higher than the G). When the left foot plays D, the right foot's heel can cozy up to the arch and feel the E that is played on beat 2 of measure 4. Continue in this manner throughout the rest of the song. Prelocating is key in playing the pedals.

Feel free to review Lesson 6 if you need a refresher. Work slowly, keep a good legato technique throughout, lifting in rhythm for an eighth rest when the notes repeat. Using a metronome is a very good idea.

Common tones and repeated notes

In measure 2 the soprano D is followed by a D in the alto. Since the melody needs to remain unbroken, that D needs to be tied, then lifted and repeated for beat 3.

In measure 6, the D in the alto is followed by a D in the tenor. A general rule to follow here is that when a note changes from the alto voice to the same note in the tenor voice, break the notes (but when the reverse is true--tenor to alto--tie the notes).

There are a couple of places in the song where tying notes will contribute to a smooth legato. In measure 1, beat 3 is strong and 4 is weak, three of the four notes repeat, so tying the D is an option. (When the hymn is fast one part needs to connect. In slower hymns it's better to have two notes carry through.)

In measure 7 from beat 3 to 4 the exact same notes are being played, so again tying the D makes sense.


Through redistribution of the inner part, much of this hymn can be played with direct fingering. In the right hand, measure 3 is the only measure that is tricky--with finger crossing and a finger substitution. In finger substitution, one finger is replaced by another during the same note so that the first finger is free to play another note. The C# is played with the fourth finger, then the 5th finger is substituted so that fingers 4 and 2 can play the B and F# in measure 4.

The left hand has two finger glissandos in measures 5 and 6 and a finger crossing in measure 8. Remember: the finger or thumb slides from one note to another, from a black key to a white key in rhythm without breaking legato.

Learning the Hymn

Take a minute to read the text and decide where the breaks should and should not be. See Breathing for more information. Mark the hymn accordingly. Now let's use the 15-step method that we discussed last lesson.

1--Begin with just the soprano line. Use proper fingering, crossing, substitution, and breaks for the text.

2--Now play just the alto part, using the left and right hands according the redistribution of the alto part, tying the Ds as mentioned above.

3--The tenor part is next. Practice the glissandos until they are flawless.

4--Learn just the pedals. In measure 3 there's a minor 3rd that might be tricky. Practice prelocating--especially the A in measure 8 several beats before it's time to play it.

5--Play the soprano and bass lines together.

6--Play the soprano and tenor lines together.

7--Play the alto and tenor lines together, remembering to redistribute the alto part where indicated.

8--Play the soprano and alto lines together, again redistributing the alto part as needed.

9--Play the alto and bass lines together, again redistributing as needed.

10--Play the tenor and bass lines together. This is one of the most difficult combinations to play.

11--Play the soprano, alto, and bass lines together, redistributing as needed.

12--Play all the manuals together--the soprano, alto, and tenor lines.

13--Play the soprano, tenor, and bass lines.

14--Play the alto, tenor, and bass lines.

15--Play all four parts together very slowly with a metronome, then gradually increase the tempo until you reach your desired tempo. Do not play faster than you can play perfectly.


Using the 15-step method, learn to play hymn number 4, "Truth Eternal," at tempo. Read through the text and, using the Breathing article, decide how you'd like to follow the text of each verse of this hymn and practice accordingly.

Once the hymn is learned, choose your registrations for congregational accompaniment. Include registration changes between verses. Practice the hymn with these registrations changes. Work to ensure they are smooth, effortless, and in tempo.

If you have someone available who leads music, practice following them as they lead and sing as if you were playing for a congregation.

In Conclusion

Now that you've learned two simple hymns, it's time to discuss prelude and postlude pieces. In the next two lessons we'll discuss these important aspects of Sunday worship. Then we'll delve into playing slightly more complex hymns.

Continue on to Lesson 11: Prelude Registration.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Song: Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor

In honor of J.S. Bach's 325th birthday this month, the Sunday Songs will highlight a few of his works.

Hans Andre Stamm on the Trost organ in Waltershausen, Germany, playing J. S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor." Note the tracker action of the organ.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Using Hymns Made Easy

As a pianist who has been called to play the organ, one of the challenges of learning to properly play the organ is time. With three or four hymns to learn each week, plus prelude and postlude, it's very difficult to learn proper organ technique and to execute it well. Since the vast majority of church organists don't have an organ in the home, this calling entails practicing the manuals on the piano but having to practice at the church as often as possible.

The inability to play hymns well after hours of practice can be very frustrating to a beginning organist. In order to provide confident accompaniment for the congregation, a new organist may wish to play one or more hymns or preludes from Hymns Made Easy, the full book of which is also available online.

Ease of play

Hymns are even sorted according to difficulty (page 87).


Come Ye Children of the Lord

"Come Ye Children of the Lord," on page 16, can be played with just the G in the pedals where the bass clef notes split. With a little bit of work, the moving bass line can be added in measures 10 and 12 by playing the A with the right heel, the G with the right toe, and the F# with the left toe.

There is a Green Hill Far Away

"There is a Green Hill Far Away," on page 51, can be played simply on the manuals, with the pedal added on the last note.

High on the Mountain Top

"High On the Mountain Top," on page 3, can be played using just the E and F in the pedal (the F with the right foot and the E with the left), or in the 8th measure a substitution to the right foot can be made, and the left foot can play the two C's before returning to prelocate the E. In measure 13 the right foot can play G, or not (with the toe, returning to F on the heel). The pick-up to measure 15 and measure 15 can be played with just the manuals, with the pedal re-entering with the right toe on the last note.

As Prelude or Postlude

With the melody line singled out and a very simple accompaniment line, these arrangements lend themselves to a solo and accompaniment registration, which we will cover in more depth in the future. Essentially, the right hand will play on one manual with a more prominent registration, and the left hand will play on the other manual with a softer registration which the pedal balances.

Combining a soft chorus registration for one verse, then changing to a solo and accompaniment registration for a following verse--mixing and matching the two registrations according to the spirit of each hymn--can be an effective way to utilize Hymns Made Easy for prelude or postlude.

In Conclusion


Whether an organist chooses to accompany the congregation from Hymns Made Easy or simply wishes to use them for prelude or postlude, this compilation can be a good resource for beginning ward organists.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lesson 9: Playing Your First Hymn

Click here for Lesson 8: The Manuals

In the past two lessons, we've tackled the manual and pedal parts of hymn 285, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," but we haven't put them together yet. There are two methods we can use to do this: the 15-step and the 7-step.

The 15-step method to learning hymns

Hymn Studies for Organists by Belnap

In Hymn Studies for Organists, Parley L. Belnap teaches the 15-step method, also called the "Individual Voice-Part Method."

Step 1: Learn just the soprano line, with proper breaks, ties, and fingering.

Step 2: Learn just the alto part, with proper breaks, ties, and redistribution/fingering.

Step 3: Learn just the tenor part with proper breaks, ties, and fingering.

Step 4: Learn just the bass part with proper breaks, ties, and pedaling.

Step 5: Play the soprano and bass lines together until perfect.

Step 6: Play the soprano and tenor lines together until perfect.

Step 7: Play the alto and tenor lines together until perfect.

Step 8: Play the soprano and alto lines together until perfect.

Step 9: Play the alto and bass lines together until perfect.

Step 10: Play the tenor and bass lines together until perfect (this can be very difficult)

Step 11: Play the soprano, alto, and bass lines together until perfect.

Step 12: Play the manuals, the soprano, alto, and tenor lines, together until perfect.

Step 13: Play the soprano, tenor, and bass lines together until perfect.

Step 14: Play the alto, tenor, and bass lines together until perfect.

Step 15: Play all four parts together until perfect.

This 15-step method seems very long, but it is very effective for a beginning organist. It allows you to focus on each line and the relationship between lines without being distracted by other parts. I highly recommend Dr. Belnap's 15-step method for beginning organists.

The 7-step method to learning hymns

This method is not as involved as the 15-step method, but is very effective for organists who are becoming more familiar with organ technique. At all times make sure the breaks, ties, and fingerings are correct

Step 1: Right hand alone

Step 2: Left hand alone

Step 3: Pedal alone

Step 4: Left hand and pedal (this is probably the hardest step)

Step 5: Right hand and pedal

Step 6: Right hand and left hand

Step 7: Right hand, left hand, and pedal

As you can see, this method does not isolate as many different voice combinations as the 15-step method.

Putting it all together

Using the 15-step method, play through hymn 285, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Although you should be able to play the manuals together and the pedals alone, take this time to ensure that your breaks, ties, and fingerings are correct. Play each part with the pedals. Work slowly and with a metronome to ensure that your tempo is steady, albeit very slow. If something sounds off, it's natural to blame the feet, but often the left hand is actually the culprit. For some reason the left hand likes to act up when the pedals are added. You may need to back up and repeat a step or two, and that's okay!

Once you reach step 15, slowly increase the tempo until you can play the hymn flawlessly at the proper tempo.  


This week learn to play hymn 285, "God Moves in a Mysterious Way" up to tempo using the 15-step method and a metronome. Also, review the fingering techniques covered in Lesson 8: The Manuals. If you'd like, practice the Direct Fingering, Finger Crossing, and Finger Substitution examples from the New LDS Organist packet, page 15. Do not practice the thumb glissando exercises--we'll cover this technique at a later time.  

In conclusion

Congratulations on learning to play your first hymn! In the next few lessons we will learn different hymns that utilize the various techniques we covered last week.

 Continue on to Lesson 10: More Techniques in Hymns.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Song: Bach's Prelude & Fugue in D Major

In honor of J.S. Bach's 325th birthday this month, the Sunday Songs will highlight a few of his works.

Virgil Fox playing Bach's Prelude & Fugue in D Major at NHK Symphony Hall in Tokyo.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Magnum Opus is Again Available

magnum opus

If you haven't yet, I recommend subscribing to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir List. It provides a wealth of information weekly. If interested, you can sign up here.

In today's email, I learned that Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ At the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes a demonstration CD, is now in its second printing. It sold out very quickly the first time, and I missed it, so I quickly placed my order tonight.

You can order it from these sellers:

LDS Distribution Center
Deseret Book (10SCONF will save you 25% right now)
Organ Historical Society

I can't wait until I receive mine!

The full text from the email follows:

Applause for Magnum Opus -- now in second printing

Magnum Opus is a fascinating behind-the-facade glimpse of the design and building of the Schoenstein organ in the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter -day Saints. The American Organist recommended "with pleasure, this fascinating and well written book."

Now in its second printing after its initial fall 2009 release -- which sold out quickly -- Magnum Opus is a story that needed to be told and is being applauded for its contribution to music history. There has never been an organ project quite like it. It is fitting that someone would write a book about it, one that would interest both the expert and the uninitiated. And not just anyone could have chronicled the story. Dr. Longhurst, Tabernacle organist for 30 years, was ideally qualified having been involved in the decisions from the first discussions in 1997 to the final completed instrument of 130 ranks inaugurated in 2003. "Longhurst writes as an insider," The American Organist states, "but he is aware of the responsibility he has to history to give an honest account of this remarkable installation."

"It was an ideal time to tell the story of an important organ," Dr. Longhurst contends, "while those who were principally involved are still alive and able to provide firsthand information." Not to mention the all-important paper trail.

"There are three reasons why this new instrument deserves study," The American Organist states. "It is large (five manuals, 130 ranks); it represents Schoenstein's distinctive ‘American Romantic’ style of organ building; and it is found within the vast space of a 21,000 seat auditorium. Such a combination easily qualifies this installation as unique and worthy of a monograph as distinguished as this one." In its recommendation the review also suggests, "No doubt many of the stories in this book will resonate with other organists, organ committee members, donors and clergy who have experienced (or should we say, ‘survived’) the selection, financing and installation of a large organ in a new edifice."

Magnum Opus is a publication of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir distributed by Carr Printing and is available at the locations mentioned above.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Free Bach downloads

This month we celebrate the 325th birthday of J.S. Bach.

James Kibbie

The complete organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach, recorded by James Kibbie on original Baroque organs in Germany, are now available as free Internet downloads. The University of Michigan's Block M Records label is offering free downloads of all 270 Bach works in MP3 and high audio-quality formats at www.blockmrecords.org/bach. James Kibbie recorded the series on seven historic organs by Silbermann, Schnitger, Trost, Bielfeldt, and Hildebrandt.

Bach was the supreme composers of the Baroque period, and is still one of the greatest composers of all time. Take some time and rediscover this master of musical science.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lesson 8: The Manuals

Click here for Lesson 7: More pedaling.

the manuals

It's finally time to discuss the huge difference between piano and organ technique.


In past lessons we've discussed how to adjust the organ bench and how to center yourself on the pedal board. Now we'll discuss proper posture for manual playing.

It's very important to sit up straight while keeping your body relaxed and keeping the lumbar curve. Your wrists, elbows, and shoulders should be relaxed, with the elbows bent ninety degrees. Practicing on the lower manual as often as possible will help keep proper posture.

If you have long nails, it's time to bid them farewell. I've been guilty of playing with longer nails, and it's impossible to practice proper technique with nails in the way. (Some of my earlier videos show my poor technique that was necessary to compensate for long nails.) Once your nails are trimmed, place your curved fingers on the keys, and play by pulling the fingers towards you--instead of pushing down, pull inward.


Regular, or Direct Fingering

This fingering technique mirrors piano technique. Placing fingers on adjoining keys, the fingers play and stretch or compress to play the notes without crossing or utilizing any other techniques.

Redistributing the Inner Part

Since the bass part is played with the pedals, the left hand only needs to play the tenor part. Many times the soprano and alto parts are difficult to finger with the right hand, so the left hand can grab the alto part--it is redistributed to the left hand.

Finger Crossing

Pianists are familiar with this technique--especially in scale exercises. Generally, a longer finger crosses over a shorter one, or a shorter finger crosses under a longer one. However, exceptions can be made in different circumstances.

Here is a simple exercise to practice up and down the keyboard:

Finger Glissando The finger or thumb slides from one note to another, from a black key to a white key.  

Thumb Glissando The thumb glissando differs from playing a finger glissando with the thumb--it occurs from white key to white key, or white key to black key, a technique we will cover in a later lesson.

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

Independent Movement One finger will sustain notes while another will lift. Different horizontal lines will operate independently, while being played by the same hand. This technique is essential to organ playing, and one that we will cover today.  

 Common Tones and Tying 

 Common Tones
tied common tone

Common tones are notes that are shared between voices in succession. For example, in hymn 198, "That Easter Morn," the D in the soprano/alto part in the first measure carries over to the alto part in measure two. lifting that D would create a break in the soprano/melody, so that D is tied.

common tone break

The alto line on beat three of measure 6 is an F that is repeated in the soprano/alto on beat one of the next measure. A lift is necessary so that the melody is clear.

common tone lift

In measure 8, the C# in the tenor is repeated in the soprano/alto in beat three. It's important to lift so that the melody is heard and not just muddied into. As you can see, when the line above is ascending, the notes generally tie, as in the first example, and when the line above is descending, the notes generally break, as in the second and third example.  

Tying Rules
tying rule

In some hymns, all four voices repeat. Picking up and replaying all voices can cause a very choppy, non-legato sound. In this case, it is a good idea to tie one or two voices, depending on the speed of the hymn, to ensure that the hymn retains a legato sound. Never tie over bar lines (the only time you do this is to observe a common tone rule), and make sure you tie from strong beats to weak beats, not from weak beats to strong beats.

 Practical Application

Break out Carol Dean's Hymns from the L.D.S. Hymnal Marked for the Organ, Hymn 285. In the last lesson we learned the pedaling for this hymn. Today we'll discuss the manual technique.

***Disclaimer: Carol is continually editing and changing the markings on these hymns. Your version may be slightly different from my 2006 version.***

Generally, in playing a hymn you will proceed similarly to the pedal technique we covered last time. When a note is repeated, lift and replay it. If a note changes, keep the legato line with no break or overlap. However, unlike the pedal technique we covered, there are times when common tones or tying rules come into play.

You'll notice that in the first full measure of "God Moves in a Mysterious Way," all four parts repeat. The alto part is tied through four beats to provide the legato discussed above. The alto part is also redistributed to the left hand. Practice just the left hand, Bb and G with fingers 2 and 4, holding the Bb as the G lifts on the last half of the beat through those first three beats, then the G holds through the fourth beat as the Bb lifts in preparation for beat five.

In measure three the right hand plays a similar passage, using fingers 1 and 3 on D and F. Play the D and F, hold the D while the F holds for 1/2 count, rests, three times, then provides a full count before direct fingering to Eb and G with fingers 2 and 4.

In measure five, the right hand again plays similarly, but with 2 and 4 on Eb and G.

As you practice, pay very careful attention to the breaks and legato fingerings. It may be helpful to play just the soprano, then just the alto, then just the tenor, then just the right hand, then just the left hand. Take your time, and only play as quickly as you can play perfectly. It may seem painfully slow, but slow is essential to learning proper technique. The organ is so different from the piano, that you are learning a brand new technique on a brand new instrument.

Here is the right hand:
Just the left hand:
Both hands together:


Learn the manual parts of this hymn this week. Work slowly and don't become frustrated if your progress is slower than you'd like. You are learning a brand new technique, and that takes a lot of time and practice. It will get easier, eventually, if you put in the necessary time and effort. The metronome marking in the Hymnal is 58-69 for the half note, which is 116-138 for the quarter note. Do not start anywhere near that fast, but eventually work up the speed, slowly, never playing faster than you can play perfectly. Review the bass part in the pedals that we covered last time, and slowly increase the tempo.

DO NOT put the manual and pedal parts together yet. We'll discuss how to best accomplish this in the next lesson. Practice the finger crossing outlined above. Play C and E with 1 and 3 of the left hand. Play D and F with 2 and 4. Play E and G with 1 and 5. Play F and A with 2 and 4. Play G and B with 1 and 5, etc. Then move back down. Repeat with the left hand an octave lower, but play C and E with 5 and 3, D and F with 4 and 2, E and G with 5 and 1, F and A with 4 and 2, etc. Then move back down.

 In Conclusion

"God Moves in a Mysterious Way" is a good introduction to organ technique. While the hymn is quite simple, this new technique is not.

Once the manual and pedal parts are learned independently, we'll learn the best way to put them together in Lesson 9: Playing your First Hymn.