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, November 28, 2010

Sunday Song: Bach's Fugue in g minor

Ton Koopman plays Bach's Fugue in g minor on the greater Silbermann organ (built 1714-18, renovated 1981-83) at St. Marien Cathedral in Freiberg.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

For the Beauty of the Earth, played at St Matthias Church, Berlin.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lesson 25: Leave the piano hands at the piano

Click here for Lesson 24: Creative Introductions for "Now Let Us Rejoice"

Hands at piano
Image Source

I realized as I've reviewed past posts that I never specifically showed what proper hand position is at the organ! Today's lesson will cover this important topic.

Proper Positioning at the Organ
First let's review information that was spread out in the first series of lessons.

When sitting at the organ, keep the head, neck and upper torso aligned as if you were standing. Some like to think their head being pulled towards the ceiling by a string.

Stay relaxed and flexible through then neck, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, and into the wrists. Keep your elbows close to the body.

Proper Hand Position

According to Don Cook:

"The forearm and back of the hand are aligned in a level forward-back plane, with no sharp protrusion of the knuckles. The back of the hand is level from side to side, guiding the fingertips into the keys with no tipping from left to right. The fingers curve naturally, and the fingertips rest naturally on the keys." I could have lifted my wrist a bit more. (I didn't realize how hard it was to take a picture with one hand while holding the other in proper position!)

Curved hand position

"Nails must be cut short enough to allow fingertips--not nails--to contact the key."

Short nails, curved fingers

Additionally, you should play with your fingers in front of the black keys whenever possible.

Here are some incorrect examples:

Playing between the black keys instead of in front of them:
Playing into the black keys

Sunken hand:
Sunken hand

Straight knuckle/collapsed finger joint:
Straight knuckle

Flat hand:
Flat hand

Video Examples

Many (but not all) of the Sunday Songs I have shared demonstrate proper hand positioning. Here are a few that I like. Please note that the techniques used are not necessarily the legato technique that I've been teaching on this blog.

I love watching Clay Christiansen perform:
Watch how Frederick Hohman pulls his hands back in front of the black keys when he isn't playing accidentals: You can see the curvature of Linda Margett's fingers: Homework Work to improve your posture at the organ, especially as it pertains to hand position. Have someone take a video of your hands and wrists as you play, then watch it to see what they look like. You might be surprised--I certainly was when I started this blog! Once you know what you're doing wrong, work to fix those things that are incorrect, then repeat the process as you continue to improve. In Conclusion As I've really focused on my hand position and keeping my arms and wrists still so that my fingers can move more easily, it's become much easier to play and perfect my technique. Proper posture and positioning at the organ really is essential to playing the organ properly.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Song: Healey Willian's Passacaglia and Fugue

Ken Cowan at The Victorian Palace Wurlitzer Pipe Organ playing Healey Willian's Passacaglia and Fugue.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Articulated Organ Technique

This may come as a surprise to some readers of my blog, but there are two major types of organ technique that are taught: legato and non-legato. Legato technique is used for literature that is written from 1750 and beyond, and is the technique that I've been teaching on my blog. It is the generally accepted technique for hymn playing.

Non-legato technique, also referred to as articulated, is used for pieces composed before 1750. Many think of it in relation to Bach's works. According to a handout written by Carol Dean, legato technique is connected, like a string of pearls without knots in between. Non-legato is fractured, like a string of pearls with knots in between.

Many organ students struggle when first learning articulated technique. The rules change, and it can be difficult to execute it properly. My struggle was with too much space between the notes. My pearls had knots the size of pearls between them.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com

Tonight as I was practicing Bach's Prelude and Fugue In G Major, BWV 557 something finally clicked. I've mentioned before that I was a pretty good flautist years ago, and as I practiced, I realized that the sound I'm looking for is simply tongued notes. Legato technique is slurred notes, with breaks when notes repeat. Non-legato technique is simply tongued notes. The sound I'm listening for is the same sound wind instrument players make when they tongue their passages.

Now, getting the releases perfectly timed is much more complex, but the technique itself isn't nearly as difficult for me as it initially seemed.

I hope this help you, too!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Revisions to the Church Handbook of Instruction

Old Manual

Did you know that the Church Handbook of Instruction has been revised? You can read the new information here:

I wanted to share some of the changes with you.


The old manual had a different format. It began with an introduction, then discussed music in the home, music in church meetings, etc. The new manual begins with the purpose of music in the Church, then outlines the music responsibilities for each calling, instead of having that information buried on page 292 (the fourth page of the old manual). It also is now a numbered document, so it is very easy to be referred to different sections.

Clearer Responsibilities

In the old Handbook, the Bishopric's responsibilities are simply listed as, "Oversees ward music." Now there is a list of things the bishopric should be doing. While much of this information was contained in the previous manual, it was scattered throughout other topics and required a close read to find it.

Some of the responsibilities that were previously assigned to the Ward Music Adviser have been reduced.

Quite a bit of redundant language has been omitted, so it is easier to read.

New Information

A new section entitled, "Adapting Ward Music to Local Conditions and Resources" has been added.

Music in the Ward

There is now a how-to section dedicated to the ward. Before, the ward music chairman was to collect the topics from the ward music adviser, then oversee the ward music director in choosing the hymns, then relaying this information back to the ward music adviser. That has been simplified. Nothing was ever said about a time frame. Now, the manual says, "When feasible, the bishop and his counselors choose meeting topics well in advance. This allows the music chairman, music director, and choir director to plan hymns, special selections, and choir performances that complement and reinforce the meeting topics." The emphasis is mine. I wish this statement was also under the bishopric responsibilities section!

We are reminded that music in our church meetings is "for worship, not performance."

The information under "Congregational Singing" has been expanded to add, among other things, "Congregational singing has a unique and often underused power for unifying members as they worship together."

The information under "Special Musical Selections" has been reduced.

In our Sacrament meetings, we are encouraged to not only use "hymns that are already known and loved," but to also "become acquainted with new or less familiar hymns." We are also told that, "No music should be played during the sacrament prayer, while the sacrament is being passed, or as a postlude after the sacrament is passed."

Under "Choirs" much information has changed. One new additions is, "Ward members may participate voluntarily in the choir, or the bishopric may invite or call them to participate." It also outlines variations for branches and large wards, and how long to hold practice.

A section on using music in the classroom has also been added.

Stake Music

The Stake Music Chairman's responsibilities for providing music have been changed to, "Arrange for music and musicians for stake conference sessions and other stake meetings and events as requested." References to Priesthood meetings have been removed.

Specific mention of calling an optional stake organist has been added.

Under "Music for Stake Conference," we learn that music "should be planned with the purpose of strengthening faith and testimony."

Something new that is mentioned is that standing choirs "should not use references to the Church such as 'LDS,' 'Latter-day Saint,' or 'Mormon' in their names," as they are not authorized to be sponsored by the Church.

Additional Music Policies and Guidelines

A section on cultural and recreational music in the chapels in included, outlining what is and is not appropriate.

Something that was buried in the previous manual that I'm hoping to incorporate in my current stake is now easier to find: "Music that is purchased with budget funds is usually kept in the meetinghouse library and belongs to all units that share the library." Each ward should not have its own collection of choir music. All choir and other music should be kept in the library and be available to all units in that building.

Information on music for funerals and baptismal services has been moved out of this section of the handbook. While the funeral information did not change, the baptismal information has, somewhat.

My Impressions

The largest change in this revision was organizational. Things are much easier to find and read now. Before, I had to read a number of sections to glean bits of information about my calling, and the callings I am a resource for (I'm currently serving as the Stake Music Chairman). Now, things are much easier to find and are organized in a more succinct and effective way. You can request a free manual at a distribution center or online at store.lds.org. Click on Serving in the Church --> Specialists and Committees, then scroll down to Music and click on "Music Handbook." The current picture looks like the old one, so you might want to wait a bit or email the Customer Service representatives at "help @ store . lds . org" before ordering.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

I'm done!

Women at the Well was amazing. I finally have my nights back to myself and my family. I'm hoping to dedicate more of my time to the blog, now. Thanks for hanging in there!