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The Beginnings of Instruction in Organ Playing

By George Henry Howard
 
There are few organ teachers, if any, who would not agree with the writer in declining to allow a student to begin organ lessons unless the prospective organ pupil had previously had at least two years of thorough, systematic training in piano playing. It is very desirable that all teachers of the organ should agree on this preliminary two years, at least, at the piano, in preparation for the organ.
 
The Specific Prerequisites for Organ Lessons
To be more specific, the following forms of mental and technical equipment are absolutely necessary before beginning any work with the king of instruments:
 
1. Knowledge of musical elements, notation of melody, harmony and rhythm.
 
2. Knowledge of all major and minor scales and ability to sing the same in any required form without accompaniment, also to play the same unhesitatingly.
 
3. Ability to sing at sight any melody of moderate difficulty without accompaniment of any kind.
 
4. Knowledge of all intervals, and ability to sing any required interval.
 
5. Knowledge of all common chords and dominant 7th chords, and ability to play any required chords of these classes.
 
6. Ability to play chord phrases; not only cadences, but other chord phrases also.
 
7. Memory of music sufficient to play, at will, at least a dozen selections in a genuinely expressive manner.
 
8. The ability to write, in correct notation, music which has been heard.
 
9. The ability to read at sight second-grade music.
 
10.   The ability to read simple vocal scores at sight, such as hymn tunes in score and easy part songs. (To play these from the score at sight requires special training, which belongs to the work of the second year of pianoforte instruction, which, however, many piano teachers of supposedly high rank do not know how to give. The responsible organ teacher ought, however, to require this kind of preparation and thus make sure one very important fundamental preparation for good schooling in organ playing.)
 
11.   The music conceiving (planning of melodies, harmonic phrases, rhythmic schemes and so on) which may go to make up the beginnings of musical origination. This music thinking is of vital importance.
 
It should be observed that this last requirement is not necessarily dependent on natural gifts or "musical talent" so called. It is a matter of intelligent devising and careful adaptation. It is also a matter of musical sense which the careful teacher can develop in the large majority of his pupils. It is not dependent on any musical originality, but solely on a suitable regard for the underlying principles. (The outlines which I have presented in my Course in Harmony provide for this work in a practical, usable way.)
 
To this list of more or less exercises for common requirements, two or three others should be added.
 
12.   The harmonizing of melodies. Only the simplest tasks of this nature are practicable in the second year.
 
13.   The melodizing of plain chord phrases. To add melodic features judiciously to plain harmonies is a pleasant, instructive, and musically useful exercise.
 
14.   Discriminative studies of finger successions, analytical and constructive; learning to plan suitable fingering for passages, chords and chord-phrases; learning to realize accurately and quickly the fitness or unfitness of printed fingering; marking the fingering for regular and exceptional passages and peculiar situations.
 
These fourteen requirements will make a great deal of work for the faithful student for a period of two years.
 
The Essentials of the Young Organist's Foundation Work
So much for the pre-requisites; now let us note the essentials of good foundation-laying for the young organist's study and practice.
 
1. Attentive and alert faculties.
The organ is such a large and complicated instrument that it is impossible to make even a good beginning in playing it without very close attention and very active mental effort. Both teacher and pupil must be thus alert, wide awake and deeply earnest. The teacher's mental condition will instantaneously affect the pupil.
 
Every live teacher has some purpose, some specific and exact plan for each lesson, or possibly for a series of three or four lessons, or a dozen lessons. But a morning comes, perhaps, when the pupil appears with a very small fraction of the required work done, or the result is too superficially done to be of any avail.
 
The teacher must be ready in a moment with some radical remedy; here is where alertness and endless resources count for much. A moment of indecision or perplexity on the part of the teacher at such a time will in many instances occasion a loss of alertness or earnestness on the part of the pupil.
 
The teacher's well-laid plan for that lesson is upset; another plan must be formed instantly. Thus the lesson is rescued from possible loss of time or perhaps dullness and lack of interest and instead made useful, inspiring and instructive.
 
2. Constant interest.
Attention and alertness are not enough in most instances; the teacher's aims must go beyond these mental conditions and awaken those desires for skill and knowledge, as well as pleasure in the work, which produce an abiding interest and a keen zest in the labor and study.
 
Plans of Instruction
Temperaments, mental capabilities and physical powers are so unlike in different pupils that no one plan of instruction will suffice. Most teachers need a number of plans held in readiness for adaptation for these widely differing talents or capacities at different periods.
 
In passing, it may be observed that the teacher who uses the same book for elementary lessons month after month and year after year will grow weary of it; the result of his experience will be more or less deadening. The teacher's own musical pleasure in his work should not be overlooked; it should be earnestly cherished.
 
There are good books in ample variety for beginners, so that a judicious organ teacher can scheme out many good plans with the aid of numerous useful organ studies in sheet form.
 
There can never be one "best book" or "best set of studies." Musical capacities and temperaments are too unlike to admit of such a possibility; therefore a teacher needs several books and many sets of studies.
 
The First Lesson at the Organ
The first lesson will never be twice alike for a score of beginners, but the following outline will serve for an example of one way among many. It will usually, however, consist largely of instruction and scarcely at all of playing (unless a little may be needed for illustration of the touch, and, perhaps, a little for training the pupil to listen to organ tones).
 
Let us assume that the lesson is at an instrument of three manuals and from 30 to 50 registers.
 
But it is well that the first attention should not be given to the keyboards, but rather to the pipes. It is needful, for immediate use, that the student form an idea of this great instrument as, really:
 
First—A four-fold instrument; a combination of four organs in one. It is also,
 
Second—A combination of many sets of pipes standing up in rows like trees in an orchard; some rows of apple trees, some of pear trees, some of plums, and so on, all very orderly. Some of these rows, or "ranks" as they are called (referring to ranks of a military company), belong to the first organ (400 to 800 pipes in an organ of this size), others to the second organ, others to the third organ, and others to the fourth organ. The first three organs, or more strictly, divisions of the whole instrument, belong to the three keyboards ("manuals") for the hands; the fourth keyboard is for the feet. They are called, respectively, beginning with the highest and farthest away from the player, the Swell Organ, the Great Organ, the Choir Organ, and (for the feet) the Pedal Organ.
 
Certain sets of pipes form a "register" or stop. One of these stops or "registers" is called Open Diapason; another set is called Stopped Diapason (thus referring to open pipes and stopped pipes), another set is the Salicional, another set the Aeoline. These four registers are controlled by "draw-stops" or registers, on each side of the manuals (sometimes, perhaps, also) over them.
 
These four registers singly, in the Swell Organ, or any two or three combined, are suitable for elementary practice and others should not be used for two or three weeks. Acquaintance with other stops should be gained gradually and not too rapidly.
 
It is desirable that much of the early practice should be carried on with soft stops for the reason that good habits of listening are thus more easily induced.

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