I'm excited to announce the opening of the registration for my new Hymn Playing Workshop. Anyone who is struggling to play hymns with pedals, sign up here (students in Total Organist Premium and Premium Plus programs receive this course at no additional cost). It's especially suited for Easter time because I've chosen some of the most beautiful Easter hymns to work with.
Are you tired of always playing your hymns from your hymnal as written in four parts? If so, you could always re-harmonize your hymns. Let me show you how it can be done.
Since we are in the season of Lent right now, I will create a different harmonization of the hymn tune "Sweet the Moments Rich in Blessing".
This video will have 3 steps:
1. I will first play the hymn tune with the right hand.
2. Then I will play the harmonization exactly as written in the hymnal.
3. Finally, I will create an alternate harmonization. In this step I will explain what kind of chords I'm using and what kind of modulations I'm creating.
Learning to harmonize your favorite hymns can be very handy so try this technique with the hymn tune of your choice. I'm sure you and your listeners will be delighted with the new and colorful ways you play your hymns.
Launching today: my new Hymn Harmonization Workshop. It's for people interested in learning to harmonize hymns and chorals in four parts. Check it out if you want to develop a skill in playing your hymns without hymnal harmonizations spontaneously.
This course will greatly enhance your service playing because you can then provide alternate harmonizations. Besides, hymn harmonization is one of the first steps in learning organ improvisation.
It took me many years of struggle to learn to harmonize hymns and chorales on the spot. You can be smarter - you have this course.
Are you struggling with playing different melodies in different hands and feet? Do you know what is the exercise which will boost your musical thinking and hand and feet coordination? I'm talking about playing a hymn from the hymnal in the following 8 ways:
1. The melody is in the soprano played by the right hand. This is a usual four-part arrangement. The alto is in the right hand, the tenor - in the left hand and the bass - in the pedals.
2. The melody is in the soprano played by the right hand. The alto is in the right hand, the tenor is in the pedals, the bass - in the left hand.
3. The melody is in the soprano played by the right hand. The alto is in the pedals (with the 4' registration), the tenor and the bass - in the left hand.
4. The melody is in the soprano played by the pedals with a 4' registration or a 2' stop one octave lower. The alto is played in the right hand, the tenor and the bass - with the left hand.
5. The melody is in the tenor played by the left hand, the right hand takes the alto and the soprano and the feet play the bass.
6. The melody is in the tenor played by the pedals, the soprano and the alto - by the right hand, the bass - by the left hand.
7. The melody is in the bass played by the pedals, the soprano and the alto - by the right hand, the tenor - by the left hand.
8. The melody is in the bass played by the pedals, the soprano - by the right hand, the alto and the tenor - by the left hand.
Try these exercises with your favorite hymn today. You'll be surprised at how difficult that is. This is also an exercise for your brain - for an organists it's even better than a sudoku puzzle.
Do you usually play hymns on the organ in four parts with the hymn tune in the top voice? Are you getting bored with your hymn playing? Here's a sure way to spark your creativity: place the hymn tune in any voice. Let me explain what I mean.
As you know, the parts of the hymn harmonizations in our hymnals are distributed so that the hymn melody is in the soprano, then comes the alto as the second highest voice, then the tenor and the bass.
What would happen if you could play an arrangement of your hymn with the tune in the tenor? The benefit of this method is that soprano and the tenor switch places. The result - completely different melody is in the top voice (usually very smooth and singable). It's not too difficult to do - you simply play the hymn as written but with the tenor one octave higher and the soprano one octave lower. Interestingly, the chord position is also inverted - open position in the original becomes closed here and vice versa.
Another possibility would be to place the hymn tune in the alto. In order to accomodate the voice ranges, sometimes the hymn should be transposed a perfect 4th or a 5th downward. Keeping the bass and the harmony the same, you will have to create the new tenor and soprano parts.
The hymn tune can also be played in the bass. This arrangement often produces very different harmonies from the original. When working on harmonizing the bass, aim for the smooth soprano part and contrary motion with the bass.
When you play your hymn on the organ in any of the above ways, it's best if you could choose a solo registration for the voice with the hymn tune - softer or louder reed, combination of flutes and mutations, a cornet (if the range permits).
Try one of these arrangements in preparation for your service playing with the familiar hymn next week. Not only you will be pleasantly surprised with the result, but your congregation will be delighted, too.
You can play 4 different stanzas of the same hymn in 4 ways. However, if you haven't done these experiments before, remember that it takes more time than it seems to be fluent with placing the hymn tune in any voice so start small at first.
Have you ever tried to play the hymn tune in the pedals at the 2' pitch level? This is an interesting technique which was very common for playing chorales in the Baroque period. Today I would like to share with you this arrangement of the tune Herzliebster Jesu ("O Dearest Jesu, What Law Has Thou Broken") which is very suitable for Lent.
This exercise in reality lets the hymn tune be heard in the soprano voice played by the pedals two octaves lower. The bass part can be played on a different manual than the alto and the soprano using 16' and 8' stops.
Are you wondering how long would it take to learn to play hymns properly in church? Of course it depends on several things, like your experience with pedal playing and hand and feet coordination, sight-reading level, harmony training (if any) and time available for practice. All of these things make a huge difference if you want to play hymns successfully.
I think with a systematic approach which I will describe below, you could achieve the level where you literally sight-read any hymn you want in four parts with pedals. The end result would be like this - soprano and alto would be played by the bass, tenor - by the left hand, and the bass - by the pedals with 16' stop as a foundation.
This is of course the most common disposition of parts. If you want to be more creative in church, read this article.
So in order for this process to be as smooth as possible, here is a path you could follow:
1. Soprano part with the right hand
2. Alto part with the right hand
3. Tenor part with the left hand
4. Bass part with the pedals
5. Soprano and alto with the right hand
6. Soprano and tenor with both hands combined
7. Soprano and bass with right hand and pedals
8. Alto and tenor with both hands combined
9. Alto and bass with right hand and pedals
10. Tenor and bass with left hand and pedals
11. Soprano, alto and tenor with both hands combined
12. Soprano, alto and bass with right hand and pedals
13. Soprano, tenor and bass with both hands and pedals
14. Alto, tenor and bass with both hands and pedals
15. All parts together with both hands and pedals
NOTE: Each step should be practiced with different set of hymns from your hymnal.
If your goal is to learn hymn playing, try the above approach - it really works. For some people it will take about a year, for some 6 months, and for some - only 15 weeks.
A friend of mine asked me a question about the right way to play hymns. He described a couple of the most popular methods that he saw people doing but he wasn't sure which one he should strive to master.
In order to help him understand this issue and keeping in mind that this also might be something many other organists are struggling with, I decided to make a video about it. Hopefully it will help you decide on how do you want to play hymns on the organ.
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to do it. In fact, we can talk about as many as 24 different hymn playing techniques (and we would only be scratching the surface). The only thing which is important here is your willingness to experiment and your passion for discovery of something new and exciting.
So if you find a technique that you like, follow through and master it by learning at least 10 or more hymns to play this way fluently. Then you can look for something new to add to your "bag of tricks".
If you are a church organist and your duties include regular playing of hymns on the organ, you have to develop good hymn playing skills. There is a systematic procedure you can follow if you want to become competent in hymn playing. If you want to find out my tips please read on.
The best way to go about perfecting your hymn playing skills is to find a hymnal you could use at home for your own practice every day. Depending on your level of proficiency on the organ you might want to make things easier or more difficult for yourself.
What I mean is that if you are good in sight-reading four-part harmony and chords, then you could play four parts right away. Do this in a slow tempo for several months in a row and you will be quite competent in playing the hymns in four parts fluently.
However, for people who have weak sight-reading skills, I recommend practicing in separate voices first. For example, when you open your hymnal, play just the soprano part of that hymn. Then take another hymn and also play the soprano part. Do this for a number of hymns. After you sight-read the soprano line of about 100 hymns, you can go back to the beginning and start practicing the alto line.
Later take the tenor line and the bass line in the same manner. When this becomes easy, start playing two voices at a time and later three voices. There are many combinations of two-part playing and three-part playing so make sure you cover all of them in your hymn-playing. After the last combination you can go back and start practicing these hymns while playing the entire four-part texture.
This way you can become quite competent in hymn playing regardless of your current technical limitation. This type of systematic approach to hymn-playing is very simple yet very powerful. However, it is not easy to follow through because it takes many days of consistent and regular practice.
If you apply my tips and aim for at least three correct repetitions in a row of each particular hymn, you will discover some tremendous changes in your sight-reading of the hymns and you will be able to play them with fluency and ease.
In this video, I would like to share with you some tips about how to deal with the stressful situation in the service playing and hymn playing – basically the emergencies, since emergencies happen from time to time in hymn playing and you‘ll have to prepare for them.
Let me describe what I mean by emergency in hymn playing.
Imagine that you have to prepare four different hymns for the next Sunday. You have seven days to prepare and you‘re starting to practice these hymns in four-part harmony. So you‘re using this usual technique to place the tune in the soprano with the right hand and then you play the bass in the pedals.
You perhaps add the alto line in the right hand part and even the tenor in the left hand so basically this is a complete four-part harmony. You‘re playing from the hymnal - you‘re not harmonizing the hymn tune in four parts. Although there are a wide variety of techniques to perform hymns, this is a normal and usual way of playing hymns on the organ.
You have seven days to prepare for the church service and, of course, you are very confident that you will be doing well for the next Sunday. Your have a plan of action for every day of the week and you are starting to deal with these hymns in the usual manner as if they would be short real organ compositions.
By that I mean you would take these pieces apart and practice line by line, then two lines at a time, four lines at a time, then the entire hymn from the beginning until the end without stopping in a slow tempo. Also you work in separate voices – soprano, alto, tenor, and bass alone. Then you practice all kinds of two-part combinations, later – three-part combinations and so on until you are ready to play the entire four-part texture.
Everything goes well according to your plan but during your practice session on Friday or Saturday evening you discover that you are still making quite a few mistakes. You are beginning to realize that you will not be ready to perform these hymns in public fluently and without mistakes tomorrow after all. The anxiety level increases and you might even have trouble sleeping that night.
If you want to find out how to deal with such stressful situation and still play fluently on Sunday at your church service, watch this video.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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