How much study on piano is necessary before studying organ?
  • Blaise
    Posts: 423
    Hello, I'm interested in playing the organ, but the last time I've played piano was several years ago (before 9th grade). How many years of piano study are necessary before one starts playing the pipe organ?
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    theoretically, none... but the piano WILL strengthen your hands and perhaps give you an agility you would not have otherwise. (unless you are practicing on a tracker with heavy action)

    I studied piano from ages 5-18 and then switched to the organ... wished I had studied organ from the start, but the priority of studying the organ was not cultivated in early years (in general), perhaps because it is was more difficult to get practice time in a church. Now with the advent of MIDI, home organs are becoming a reality.

    Get your feet moving now... Don't loose a moment!!!
  • Blaise
    Posts: 423
    Thanks, Francis.....

    I'm trying to make a budget first for a MIDI keyboard, then eventually for Hauptwerks virtual organ software and then a pedal board.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,007
    I had a year or two of piano before starting organ at the age of 15. When I was in college, I had to take another year of piano. To this day, I have no special ability on piano. Others say I play well enough, but I can tell the difference readily when I hear a real pianist play. So it is possible to play organ without much piano. As long as you read music, you can learn organ. Just find a good teacher.
  • From a pianists perspective:
    In my area, the AGO offers scholarships to students for summer organ lessons. Back when I applied for these, the requirement for the audition CD was that the pieces be at least at the difficulty level of Bach inventions or Clementi sonatinas.
    My experience has been that piano skills are a great help to playing organ, and vice versa. When I started organ lessons in high school, I must have already had about 7 years of piano; with some determined practice, the first piece I performed on a student recital was Bach's toccata and fugue in D minor. That said, only in the last few years have I really gotten fluent with my feet; my hands were generally way ahead.
  • henry
    Posts: 207
    Some say when a student can play the two and three part Inventions of JS Bach, he is ready to begin the study of the organ.
  • Hi Paul,

    My son studied piano from about age 7 but decided to switch to organ when he was 14. He found out quickly that while his piano skills helped a lot, the organ is a very different instrument. He has now studied organ for about 5 years and is working as the regular organist at my parish. I hope you pursue your studies on the organ – we need more musicians who really know the instrument.

    Practice has always been an issue. It was tough to find a church where he could practice regularly. We looked for a home instrument for years with little success. So we finally went the midi route. We found a company in Toronto, CA called Classic Organ Works (see www.organworks.com and www.midiworks.ca) who builds midi-ready, AGO standard pedalboards. This turned out to be a great solution. It is very portable and easily connected via USB to a laptop computer running the Hauptwerk software.

    To create a home practice environment, we used the organ he plays at church as a guide. We measured the height of the bench and the height of the choir manual. Then we built a bench and a shelf for his midi keyboard to match the dimensions of the church organ in order to simulate the feel of the “target” instrument he will be playing.

    The setup was compact enough to fit in his room. My wife liked that because we wouldn’t need to have a big old organ console sitting in our living room (which already has a grand piano). And when he moves out of the house, he can easily take it with him. I can send you a picture of his setup if you are interested.

    By the way, Hauptwerk has a free trial version of the organ software. The trial version has only one organ sample on it, but it is good enough to get started if you are on a tight budget.

    I hope this helps.
  • http://www.virtual-midi-organs.com/agoconsole.pdf

    This link is to a specification of the "AGO standard console", mighty handy when building your own. Has all dimensions, etc.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    Start the organ asap... don't wait to be at "an acceptable level" of piano proficiency. That is a total farce... and you can quote me on it anytime. The two instruments are completely different and the piano is not a pre req for learning the organ.

    piano is a percussion instrument

    organ is a wind instrument (that doesnt need to breathe)
  • My organ method says, that roughly 1 year of piano lessons is necessary, although with good disposition on the part of the student, half a year may suffice; it should always comprise all the clefs and the rest of notation and have a stress on legato playing, which ought to be continued for a certain period of time, when organ lessons have already started. Practice in score reading should start on the piano.

    One cannot denie that the touch of an organ is quite dissimilar to that of a piano (and that no organ is the same); I suppose the preparing piano lessons the method are therefore only the beginning in note reading and transforming into sound, which simply does not take place on the organ because a piano at the teachers home is not in the cold (unheated?) church and does not require a bellows treader (taking into account the time of the first editions of this book). Therefore with a church that at times is "deserted" enough, so one can practice and give the lessons (which must be found later on anyway, when the feet are practised), the initial lessons might as well take place on the organ.
  • kevinfkevinf
    Posts: 1,076
    My biases:
    a)I am an organist and it is my principal instrument.
    b) I teach both organ and piano.

    All of that being said, Francis is correct. They are two different instruments. BUT:
    To develop dexterity and facility at the organ, the piano is absolutely necessary. Thank God I studied piano for that purpose. I still do scales and arpeggios many days as part of my organ practice. There is no way to adequately prepare much of the organ repertory without good technique on the piano. The French model of study at the piano before the organ addresses the question well. Ability to play legato, facility with scales, arpeggios, independence of fingers and understanding of phrasing.

    I have one organ student right now and I insist that they study the piano along with the organ. I wished that I had listened to my first organ teacher more as he really wanted me to study the piano more. I have played catch-up for years because I did not heed his advice. Yes, not everyone is studying the organ to play the Vierne 6th symphony, but the facility at the piano makes for easier study of the organ and its eccentricities.

    Study the piano. Study the organ. Two different instruments but one supports the other.

    On my office wall: Scales every day make life good.
    Thanked by 1jj_catholic
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    As others have mentioned, one reason to learn the piano for as long as possible, is that often organ practice time can be more difficult to come by (unless you have one in your house!)
    Another reason to learn the piano first, would be that there is an immensely larger variety of options for pedagogical materials for the piano. (For example, most methods of organ playing I've ever seen--well, I've only ever seen two. Is there many more than that? -- assume that the student can already play 16th notes pretty fluently, and as someone above mentioned, something like Bach's 2 or 3 part inventions...)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    Kevin

    I think you can get the same dexterity from a tracker action, and on some, it is even harder to play fast than any piano, but now we are splitting hairs.

    I am curious about which elements you are catching up on the piano.

    Perhaps I am thinking this because the piano is a reltively new invention. Before that it was more like a harpsichord.
  • rsven
    Posts: 43
    To Kevin in Kentucky, you are absolutely correct. This is a crucial issue in church music today because so many organists fudge their way through because they have not mastered the articulations of the piano before beginning organ study. The old maxim of "master the two-part inventions of Bach before you begin organ study" should be given heed to, for the following reason: the issue is articulation of the separate voices, which entails lifting one hand while the other is still playing. This is further complicated in organ because another voice is introduced in the pedal. The world is full of organists who can play the first 30 bars of a Bach fugue but then fall apart because they don't know how to practice the contrapuntal articulation of the voices, which always entails lifting a hand or foot to begin a new phrase, while at the same time keeping the other voices going in a legato manner. There is no substitute for a great teacher. But unfortunately these are hard to come by. The second way is perseverence in listening and practice, as well as lots of prayer! You must always be able to pick up one hand while the other is still playing. This is what is meant by articulation. Mark all fingerings and pedals (toe/heel). It is tedious, but once you've got it, you've got it for life. God bless your efforts.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    rsven

    are you saying organists do not utilize articulation? interesting!

    how do you define articulation?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,007
    When AGO has hymn playing workshops in the area, they are not always helpful. Usually, there is a Presbyterian organist demonstrating how hymns are sung and played in the Presbyterian churches. In my Catholic church, the congregation hymnals are all in unison, and those other three parts are just accompaniment. Articulation of anything contrary to the melody line can be a waste of time and effort. Overdone articulation can cause the congregation to look up and and think, "Why is he doing that?"
  • rsven
    Posts: 43
    Francis and Charles W., What I am saying is that organists Should use articulation, as it is the only way to highlight a phrase. When the phrase is finished, in the hand or foot, you lift your hand or foot until the next phrase is begun. But often, this is overlooked, and the overlapping phrase structure is lost. Every entrance should be intentional. In the playing of hymns, CharlesW, you are right, this should not be overdone, as the primary phrase is the melody line. Every four bars, or sometimes every eight bars, everything is lifted and the phrase begins once more. I suspect that you two are lovely musicians, and do this automatically in the playing of hymns, especially if you are singing along. However, The great art of organ playing escalates w/the playing of repertoire. I am confident that you do a lovely job of this; but the reason I pursued this topic is that there are so many organists in the Catholic Church who are lost because they have not pursued the art of articulation of phrases. But God is Good, and teaches us as we practise. Happy New Year!
    Thanked by 1mantonio
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    I can almost see or hear Albert Schweitzer discussing with Charles-Marie Widor the intricacies of phrasing and articulation details in J.S. Bach's organ works...
  • Marc Cerisier
    Posts: 423
    While I too quote the Bach invention rule when I'm asked about starting organ lessons, my real point is that I don't want to use the organ lessons to be teaching how to read music. There are so many things to be thinking about when you play the organ--it's hard to work on those while also teaching the fundamentals.

    When I started organ lessons in high school I had been playing for mass since about the fifth or sixth grade, and was proficient at the piano though I never formally studied it until college where it was required. (I hated those lessons and actually switched from church music to performance to cut down the number of semesters I needed.)

    To this day, I have no real affinity for piano repertoire, but do enjoy playing some of it ( like the Debussy sunken cathedral). My position requires a lot of time learning new organ music (full-time church organist) do I really can't justify spending time learning piano rep. I use the piano very little during liturgys--just when the music really calls for it. I do practice any new music I'm learning on the piano to strengthen my fingers, though.
  • I cannot but join with those who emphasize the importance of a well developed piano technique for mastery of the organ. Although the two are, indeed, quite distinct instruments with seemingly little in common except the keyboard, there is no question that mastery of Bach (and Beethoven, etc.) on the piano is of immense, even crucial, value in the mastery of organ technique and literature. Dispensing with this discipline and background is tantamount to deciding that one will go through life with less preparation and artistry at the organ than could have made a great difference in the level at which he will ever be capable of playing.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,114
    I second what MJO says, but would prefer that the mastery of Bach be on a harpsichord rather than a piano. Such mastery would be better tied to organ technique, as well.
  • CHGIFFEN - is correct: one should master harpsichord technique as well. I knew that some might pillory me (perhaps even me, myself would do so!) for advocating Bach, et al. on the piano. But I do stand by my words, only adding that, of course! the harpsichord is an important part of this equation, too. Excellence in piano technique is remarkably preparatory, foundational, and adaptive to the organ's own unique demands. I should go so far, even, as to suggest that, in spite of the differences between the three instruments, each is remarkably influenced for the better by technique gained for and from the others. And, it is highly likely that musicians of early times would agree, for they were, as a matter of course in those days, equally proficient on organ, harpsichord, clavichord, cembalo, and to a limited extent, the piano. One can imagine how rich, universal, and dazzling their techniques must have been and how that each of the instruments' technique influenced that of all the others.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • What I found was that the technique I learned for the piano was totally non-transferrable to the organ because it has such a completely different touch.

    I'd had 9 years of piano before I came to organ and I felt like I was completely starting from scratch (aside from being proficient at reading music). 4 years later I'm an organist at a church and I STILL struggle the most with the pedals.

    If you've got a piano - practice Bach inventions. But don't wait on starting the organ.
  • I have to agree with you YellowRoseofTexas, I have a colleague that never took a piano lesson in his life, and he is a top notch organist, playing repertoire that could put many organist, to shame. When I asked him if he lamented never learning piano. He said absolutely not. I wanted to study the organ, and did. Just the other day, he was firing away the Widor toccata without flinching.

    I agree with some of you, that learning piano will definitely give a base knowledge of things, and some technique, but overdoing it, will take years of correction to organ technique. The two aren't the same.
  • Yellow Rose....I completely agree. Even with playing a synthesizing keyboard, the touch is different to get the sound I want and the phrasing I need. The hardest thing for me is the exclusion of the sustaining pedal on the piano. Rolling my hands over the keys, as opposed to attacking them has also been a problem, that will take some considerable practice, and, because it's a keyboard and not a pipe organ, I haven't even touched pedals.
  • Piano, organ, and harpsichord will be mutually beneficial when studied together, as long as you are able to clearly differentiate the techniques. Piano - percussion, harpsichord - plucked, organ - winded (but at least on trackers there is more affinity with harpsichord, as there is a pluck point as the palette opens). I think the worst idea is to play on an electric keyboard, which is none of the above. I suppose if all you have is electro-pneumatic organs and MIDI piano keyboards, then the entire discussion about piano or organ first is a moot point. You are discussing the exact same electronic instrument (in terms of action and technique), just with the addition of a pedal board. The best idea is to play on real instruments, learning their unique characteristics of sound generation.
    Another interesting note is that the idea of practice on organs is very new - what people used to have was pedal-clavichords, pedal-harpsichords, or in the 19th century pedal-pianos. So the idea of piano or organ or harpsichord first is not really that useful. Just last year I heard Hans Davidsson talking about the introduction of the pedal-clavichords into the practice rooms at Eastman - he said it has been an incredible aid to the organ technique of the students there (as well as greatly reducing cases of tendonitis). Again, what is important is understanding the unique sound-producing characteristics of your (real) instrument. If the only real instrument you can access or afford is a piano, I would start there, then search out good organs in the area to practice on.

    On a practical note, the most helpful piano exercises for my organ technique have been the Ernst Dohnanyi finger exercises. These zero in on finger independence, rather than the more scalar approach of Czerny or Hanon. This makes them incredibly useful for improving either your contrapuntal playing abilities (multiple voices per hand) or legato technique (with held notes and legato lines in the same hand). I highly recommend them to organists. In terms of keyboard rep, I would just second the Bach 2- and 3- part inventions mentioned by several people above.

    And by the way, for the love of everything holy, PLEASE do not play Bach legato. This technique has been completely disproved - it is a holdover of the first half of the 20th century and the French symphonic approach to Bach (especially Dupre's editions). It is destructive to the music, and unfortunately still championed by some Americans. All three of my primary organ teachers were brought up this way (at Eastman), but thankfully they have adjusted to new musicological info since then. Sorry - pet peeve....
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    I studied piano from age 5 - 17 and then STARTED on the organ... it was like starting over except for knowing my scales and music theory. Get on the organ as soon as possible. Do both if you want, but they are totally different instruments. i.e., Finger substitution is a HUGE factor in organ pedagogy that is only touched upon in piano technique. You don't write the same music for piano as you do for organ unless it comes from the period where harpsichord was the dominant practice instrument.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    as far as legato versus non, (I don't care if it's Bach or Beethoven) ...let your ears and your spirit decide every time cause you have to consider the acoustic of the room and the instrument as you are hearing it, not to mention tempo or registration. I often change the registration from performance to performance on all Bach pieces. No two times will you ever it play it the same, and if you do, i would call you boring and stagnant and close minded and mostly unartistic. Only robots play like that... (MIDI)

    Try drawing a simple stick figure EXACTLY the same... twice, right next to each other. You can't do it no matter how hard you try. That is the beauty of being human.

    Now try recording a performance of any Bach piece, even the simplest, two times in a row. Then superimpose them in a multitrack audio app... NOT THE SAME!!! EVEN IF YOU TRIED!!!!

    Conclusion: One person's legato interpretation of Bach can be more beautiful than one persons non-legato performance, and vice versa.

    NEVER approach art as an absolute, for then you will be absolutely unartistic, and worst of all, inhuman.

    This is THE REASON why the Church forbids mechanical recordings during her liturgy.
    Thanked by 1marajoy
  • Francis,

    Of course you are correct about not playing mechanically, however just remember that you can re-register and re-interpret Bach (and adjust it to every space) in a human way, without ever playing it legato. There are many fine gradations of non-legato playing. Similarly, I could say that Palestrina should not be sung with operatic vibrato in all (or any) voices. The exclusion of one poor performance practice in no way renders the many legitimate, sensitive interpretations robotic. And as a musician you should care whether you are playing Bach or Beethoven, to give a good performance of the piece.

    Why harp on this? Because the choice of legato or non-legato in Bach changes everything about your fingering, learning, and interpretation of a piece. This is incredibly important for a beginner - for example, to know that it is fine to just pick up a finger and play the next note. Constantly in Bach, you have a descending soprano line in long notes, with activity in the alto. The proper way to play is just to pick up your pinky and move it to the next soprano note, which in turn allows you to relax the hand and keep all other fingers free to play the alto part. Your choice of fingering IS your learning of the piece, as you figure out hand positions and so forth. A legato approach completely changes how you learn a piece, and how you understand it motivically - it is not neutral.
    I used to believe that I could just finger the piece legato, and then do whatever I wanted with the touch later. Thankfully, after years, my teachers broke me of that habit - and it revolutionized my approach to Bach.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    I am not harping. OTHERS HERE are arguing about the 'correct' way to play Bach. Phooey! There is NO correct way... there are, however, many artistic ways. That's my point short and sweet. I can give you ten names of famous organists that play Bach, and no two will be the same. Not even nearly the same. But humanity likes all of them, nonetheless!

    Same goes with 'chant schools'. The minute you subscribe to a "school" as the best and only way, you are no longer making artistic decisions; you are just joining a "musicians union of thought". For every union, there will eventually be a revolution and then a new institution of the newer union.

    Who plays Bach 'more' right? Fox or Biggs?

    There are preferences, I will grant you that. I think I prefer Leonhardt and Walcha. Doesn't make it the only way to play Bach, however.

    I say this because as a composer, I do not limit the performer to the right way to perform Koerber. There are as many "right" ways to perform my own music as there are artists who attempt to perform it. That's all. And, someone probably can and does and will play my music better than I ever will.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    The Solesmes Method is a novel and new method of singing chant. Does that make it wrong? No, it's just another way to interpret the black dots. It's less legato, you might say, with more rhythm, yes?
  • MairiMairi
    Posts: 19
    Piano helps with basic knowledge of which key corresponds to which note. After that, I think it would probably be very beneficial to start with the organ as soon as possible. I took piano lessons for 8 years, and, after a year and a half of organ lessons, I am much more proficient at the organ than at the piano. It depends on the person, but I really think you should just dive in to the organ- If you start at ground zero, you don't have anything to 'unlearn'. :)
  • ScottKChicago
    Posts: 296
    A dear friend with a doctorate in organ offered to teach me, so I took lessons with him for a year at the console of our parish organ. I have a degree in music and sightsing well, so reading and theory were not a problem, but of course without a keyboard background I was learning that from beginner level. He was a stickler for writing in all the fingering (even in his own music), so that helped me focus on fingering. I eventually was able to hack my way through the Durufle Epiphany prelude (not for public hearing) and played a simple piece one Sunday at Communion.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    Yet another perspective.

    http://nodrylight.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/bach-legato-or-staccato/

    I am silly to be arguing this stuff. I like Bach HowEVER you play it as long as it is played well!!!

    congrats, Scott!
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,007
    I like Bach, but realize that his church music was written for Lutherans, not Catholics. While some of it can be used in Catholic settings, Catholicism was not his theology.

    Thanks to some of the organ reform nuts, some of the more contemporary playings of his works might be unrecognizable to Bach himself.
    Thanked by 2ContraBombarde Mairi
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,007
    I suspect he adjusted his playing to the acoustics of the building, just like most of us still do.
    Thanked by 1ContraBombarde
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  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    yeah, why are we arguing over Bach? Let's play Langlais and Tournemire in our *Catholic* Churches!

    :-)

    Also, Re: Bach:
    Define "correct." The way Bach did it? Ok, fine, that's one definition. But couldn't "musically interesting and expressive" or something similar also be a possible definition? Is the ONLY "correct" way of playing something ever the way the composer had in mind? (Sometimes, with not-so-good composers, the performer can *improve* on what the composer had in mind!) The people who thought that Bach played legato thought they were doing it "correctly," so what's going to happen to everyone's opinion of "correctness" if/when the next round of "Bach research" occurs and brings new possible interpretations to light?
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    MichaelM

    Thanks for the education! Can you send me the video of how Bach's fingers actually moved? I hear he mostly used his thumbs.

    Have you made a video of this newly found spectacle? If not, can you MAKE a video and show us the correct method? I truly would be interested to see you play this correct method on video. Seriously.

    Is this method also true if you are playing Bach on a piano? Did he ever play a piano? Did he ever play an electropneumatic organ console? or an Allen digital? I don't think I will ever know what he really intended, so I just play the black dots the best I can.

    Here's my 'free interpretation' of the 543. Is this just rubbish?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-x4AywqWfo&list=UURaSJ0CxxJ1LfcF_PDuKgjw&index=5&feature=plcp
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    the blogger was just another view... that's all. send us your video. i am truly interested to see.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,234
    no duo

    just want to hear your interpretation.

    what do credentials have to do with Bach interpretations?

    in my mind there are NO experts. just artists.

    who are your favorite organists that play bach best? (iyo)
    Thanked by 1Mairi
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,007
    Many forget that there is no "correct" way of playing Bach. There are no recordings from his day. The supposedly authentic instruments from his time have been rebuilt and revoiced enough that they may not sound like they did in Bach's day. Even the great "scholars" theorize and make educated guesses based on little acutal evidence. It seems to me that Bach is more highly regarded today that he was in his own lifetime. His contemporaries didn't seem to have much of note to say about him.

    My college organ professor said two things about Bach that I remember.
    1.) You are old enough to play Bach the way you want him to sound.
    2.) When you play Bach, make it sound musical.
    I knew exactly what he meant.
  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    whoa, guys, chill out...