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Novice Question - Play Hymns, If Bass in Pedals, Then Not On Manual?

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  • Novice Question - Play Hymns, If Bass in Pedals, Then Not On Manual?

    Hi, a novice organ player question, if you will. Brief background - been subbing almost every week for 3 months, just got an AGO-spec Allen 3100 from 1985 to practice on a home, am gradually learning to use my feet. I've had a couple of organ lessons, I've been reading, I've purchased a method book and a lot of easy organ music.

    My approach to hymn playing has been pretty simple - use the bass coupler when available. So far, I usually set up different sounds on each of two manuals and vary the playing by alternating verses between the manuals, opting for the introduction on the stronger sounding of the two as well as the last verse. Sometimes, I've been pulling out additional stops for later verses. I'm also just starting to use the memory pistons and that's helpful.

    For hymn playing, most are notated in 4 parts, so:

    1. How do you decide when to play the bass part on the pedals? Is it primarily a musical decision, e.g., you can make a better sound for the piece at hand this way? I realize that technical considerations may also enter in, e.g., if the bass part is particularly busy, it may not be suitable to feet - is that a consideration?

    2. If playing the bass part on the pedals, do you _not_ play the bass part where you would if playing without pedals, namely the lowest part on the manual? Does one ever do both, never do both?

    Thanks in advance.

    -S-

  • #2
    Play bass in the pedal, always (unless written in as manual only).

    Right hand soprano, always.

    Tenor and alto, both with right and left hand. For most hymns, you can play just the tenor line with your left hand, and perhaps cover a few notes from the alto line where it is easier than stretching, or where it makes musical sense to solo out the soprano.

    Don't play bass on the manuals.

    I like to start with a good principal chorus (16' in the pedal, with 8', 4', and sometimes 2' in the manuals). Then I will add in additional stops for color and texture, working to build the hymn up so that the music responds to the lyrics. Occasionally I will add in a reed for the final verse (or where the lyrics are particularly exuberant). Some of my cues for this are when the first word of the verse is Triumphant, or something of that nature. Very rarely will I use reductions in hymn playing, as this just isn't supported in the lyrics most of the time, but it does happen.

    Johann Sebastian Bach

    (at Home) Conn 645 Theater Deluxe
    (at Church) 1836 E. & G.G. Hook Bros, Opus 26

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    • #3
      Steve,

      How odd--I just drove by Ridgewood tonight! I could have shown you. Oh, well.

      Arthur is right on the money with his advice. As you progress, you will begin to obtain a natural sense of which parts are played with which hand (and the Bass in the Pedals), and you'll get a sense of voice-leading. Loosely defined, that's how the particular part is articulated to provide definition in playing.

      I do have to comment on one specific statement you made, "if the bass part is particularly busy, it may not be suitable to feet." May I suggest you check the following video: Cameron Carpenter playing The Stars and Stripes Forever. That is considered busy feet! When using the feet, don't forget to remember you have (presumably) two feet, two sets of toes, and two heels. Used properly, you can do a lot in a short amount of time with the feet!

      Michael
      Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
      • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
      • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
      • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

      Comment


      • #4
        In the hymn books I use in my congregation, there are two versions for each hymn: one is meant to be manual only (soprano, alto, bass), and the other is meant to be played with manuals and pedal and has all four voices covered (soprano, alto for the right hand, tenor for the left, bass for the feet). While it is possible to play the four-voice versions manual only, I wouldn't recommend it either.

        When you see the tenor moving farther away from the bass than just one octave, the piece is probably to be supposed to be for hands and feet

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        • #5
          Thanks for all the replies.

          In no particular order:

          I appreciate the guidance that the goal is to play the bass part on the pedals. That's what I'll aim for.

          Voice-leading - I'm a former college music theory teacher, including species counterpoint; I get the concept.

          The Cameron Carpenter video - that's completely mind-boggling, and not just because of how well he can use his feet. I will watch that again to broaden my horizons.

          I am well-used to playing 4-part choir arrangements on a single keyboard. I'm a choral conductor and it's my default way of doing things on the piano. I have been experimenting with playing piano pieces on two manuals, setting up different sounds and finding places to move between with both hands together, and also with keeping one hand on one manual and the other on the other. Small steps, I realize, but I know they're in the right direction of getting me used to playing the organ.

          At this past Sunday's service, I used my feet for the first time in performance. Nothing fancy, but for a couple of spots in the responsorial, where the little intro to the repeated music was just I-V-I. And I also played a Bach 3-part Invention as a post-lude and did parts on the pedals. Progress is being made!

          Thanks to all again.

          -S-

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
            Voice-leading - I'm a former college music theory teacher, including species counterpoint; I get the concept.
            Steve,

            Sorry, I didn't mean to speak down to you--I know what it's like to be on the receiving end of condescension. On the Forum one often doesn't know the skill-level of the person they're addressing.

            Just today, I was looking at the stop labels on the tuning keyboard in the pipe shop of a rather large instrument, when a tour guide leaned over to me and said, "That's the keyboard they use to tune the pipes." I REALLY had to bite my tongue. That was the crowning event of a rather disappointing experience with that particular organ.
            Originally posted by Steve Freides View Post
            I am well-used to playing 4-part choir arrangements on a single keyboard. I'm a choral conductor and it's my default way of doing things on the piano.
            Open score or figured bass? It sounds like you have your techniques for learning a new skill well in hand.

            Michael
            Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
            • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
            • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
            • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

            Comment


            • #7
              Michael, no offense was intended on your part and none was taken on mine - no apology necessary. I figure it helps to explain where I'm coming from.

              I was a theory teacher at Mannes, which used to be something of a Mecca for theory geeks. We shared a number of theory and ear-training faculty with Curtis although I was not among that esteemed number. As a student, we had to play Bach chorales from the Reimenschneider edition, which is open score with each part in eponymous clef, e.g., the soprano part in soprano clef. I still keep my copy handy for sight reading practice. And I can realize a figured bass OK, too, although I don't think I'd want to have to do that at sight at performance speed unless it was something slow. I'm reasonable fluent in all seven clefs and use them for transposition.

              I've learned to play many new instruments in adulthood and yes, I've gotten to the point where I know much more about playing many instruments than I can actually play myself. On the organ, I know that my main need is simply good advice and practice time, and I'm completely unbashful when it comes to asking questions, so rest assured I'll be back here with many more things to ask. I'm very fortunate that I have a local colleague who has given me two lessons so far and refused to accept a nickel from me. I'm also delighted that he thinks highly enough of my novice playing that he's had me sub for him several times recently.

              I ramble - thank you for your advice, much appreciated, and as a student, I'd always rather be given too much information than not enough.

              -S-

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              • #8
                From my experience (coming from the piano myself and being a good sight-reader), I can only recommend that you start using your feet to play hymns as early as possible. It will help you get into the "organ mood" better than if you only use your hands and your brain will want to come back using hands only

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                • #9
                  I agree. I've been practicing hymns with pedals - slowly - every day, and last Sunday, I used my feet for a few things during the service. Carefully chosen, well-practiced, small things. I'll keep at it.

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                  • #10
                    Method books are written with the intent of helping us develop our skills, which often means forcing us to do things we wouldn't think of doing on our own. They also encourage the repetition of these skills so that they settle into our minds and bodies and become natural and easy for us to do. That does not mean those are the ONLY ways to accomplish a task, they simply provide a good foundation which can be built upon later.

                    That being said, there are many ways to play a hymn. Here are a few:
                    - manuals only, with SA played mainly by the RH and TB played by the LH;
                    - with pedals - SAT distributed between the two hands on one manual (either predominantly SA/T or S/AT) with the bass line played only by the feet.
                    - with pedals - S with the RH on one manual, AT with the LH on a second manual, with the Bass line played only by the feet. (The challenge here is for the LH to read two clefs/staves at once.)
                    - SATB played on the manuals, with the pedal doubling the bassline (It is not a crime to do this; it is 'an option'.)
                    - SATB played on the manuals, with the pedal doubling both the bassline and another voice part.
                    - SAT played in the RH and doubled in the LH (yes, full-fisted chords) with the pedal playing the bassline in doubled octaves.
                    - for hymns (or single lines of tunes) that have a great tenor line, SA in the RH, T soloed on a LH Trumpet, B in the pedal.
                    - for 5-part playing, SA in the RH, T+one more doubled chord tone in the LH, and the B in the pedal.
                    - for 3-part playing, SA in the RH, B in the LH. no pedal. (Feel free to modify the A or B to correct chords without a third.)
                    - for 3-part playing, S in the RH, A (optionally altered) in the LH, B in the pedal - your choice whether hands play on the same or different manuals.
                    - etc.

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                    • #11
                      Steve,

                      I'm just an old guy who's played piano and organ in church for over 50 years. Though I had several years of private lessons, I did not major in music in college (why I do not know), so much of what I know has been learned by observing and listening to organists with far more experience and skill than I, by reading whatever I could find on the subject, and through my association with the Allen Organ Company for many years as a salesman and installer, and later with Rodgers. So I won't presume to give you much specific advice, but I will share a couple of things that occur to me upon pondering your question.

                      It's great to primarily stick with playing the four parts of a hymn as written, but sometimes it is appropriate to go beyond that. Being a theory man, you should have no trouble "goosing up" your organ playing when and if you decide to do it. By that I mean, SOMETIMES and with great discretion one can play a little more than the four parts written in a hymnal. I played piano for 30+ years before completely transitioning to organ. As a pianist playing for hymn-singing I was accustomed to thickening up the chords when needed to give the piano more volume and body for leading a congregation, and often doubling the bass as well. But when I started playing organ, I was reluctant to add any notes, as the multiple pitches of the stops were already doing that anyway. And I thought it might sound tacky.

                      Eventually, I relaxed a little and discovered that my playing was both more pleasant to listen to and more fun for me if let myself do just a bit of the stuff I'd always done on the piano. I have a friend who is self-taught on the organ but quite adept at doing all the neat stuff that makes an organ shine (like soloing out melodies, building lovely crescendos, etc). He once remarked that when playing a full-bodied hymn he tried to have six keys in use at any one time, not counting the pedals. That sounded wrong to me at the time, since that requires a great deal of "filling in" beyond the four parts, and I thought that was a no-no. But after trying his advice, I've found that I CAN play with more fluidity and interest if I try to involve more fingers!

                      As to the bass part, as others have suggested, DO play that line with your feet as much as possible, even when it looks complex. I suppose that most of us who started on piano and moved to the organ believed at first that the pedals would be the "hardest" part of the transition. But I stopped thinking that long ago. Nowadays, playing the bass line with my feet comes naturally, and when I'm occasionally forced to play piano or an instrument without pedals I almost feel like I'm missing a hand! So keep at it and you will find it becoming second nature. As an aside, I don't really obsess over not playing the bass with my left pinky even though I'm playing it with my feet. I tell it not to, but sometimes it just does it out of habit. It doesn't hurt anything, as long as you can manage to play the other parts as well.

                      Regarding bass couplers -- I was selling Allen back when they began to offer than feature, and I remember that many of the dealers were clamoring for it because Rodgers had offered it for years. Personally, I've never warmed up to it. It "might" be better than no bass at all, but I find it hard to produce a "just right" bass line with my left hand. You have to walk a fine line between legato and detached or else the bass coupler will either play the wrong note (i.e. pick up the tenor) or else no bass. You've probably already discovered this. But my advice is to wean yourself from that thing ASAP.

                      Now I must admit that I cheat and don't always the bass in the octave in which it is written. When the bass line goes way up near the top of second octave (or even into the third octave on "The First Noel" and maybe another hymn or two), I don't feel bad about keeping it in the middle of the pedal clavier. Purists will avoid that, but I'm just trying to get all the notes in there!

                      BTW, the Allen 3100 is a nice home practice instrument. Lots of good stuff to play around with.
                      John
                      ----------
                      *** Please post your questions about technical service or repair matters ON THE FORUM. Do not send your questions to me or another member by private message. Information shared is for the benefit of the entire organ community, but other folks will not be helped by information we exchange in private messages!

                      https://www.facebook.com/pages/Birds...97551893588434

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by jbird604 View Post
                        Regarding bass couplers -- I was selling Allen back when they began to offer than feature, and I remember that many of the dealers were clamoring for it because Rodgers had offered it for years. Personally, I've never warmed up to it. It "might" be better than no bass at all, but I find it hard to produce a "just right" bass line with my left hand. You have to walk a fine line between legato and detached or else the bass coupler will either play the wrong note (i.e. pick up the tenor) or else no bass. You've probably already discovered this. But my advice is to wean yourself from that thing ASAP.
                        Steve,

                        I find I must agree with John about the Bass Coupler. I was so frustrated with Allen's Bass Coupler on my ADC-4300, I disconnected it in favor of adding MIDI. It kept me from needing to add wire for power and data connections.

                        Michael
                        Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                        • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                        • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                        • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Thank you all for your replies.

                          Several people have mentioned not being limited by convention or by the written music - I agree, and I am well used to "spiffing up" music that I know and am comfortable with. That's not many church hymns just yet, though, but I do get the idea. But I'm able to sight-read standards from a fake book at the piano as long as they're not too fast, and can do that pretty well. Having grown up a jazz guitarist helps in that regard.

                          As to the list of ways one can play a hymn, well, yes, but that's not really the point of my post or an answer to my question, although I do very much appreciate everyone who takes the time to reply. I need to learn one, new way to play hymns until I master it, and that will be three upper parts on a single manual and the bass in the pedals. Not playing the bass with my left hand is actually quite challenging, as I'm sure some of you remember. It's also unusual to stick to strictly playing the tenor with my left hand since I'm used to the tenor moving between my two hands, but again, it's good discipline for me right now.

                          The bass coupler is actually quite a useful feature, IMHO, for an organist who doesn't use their feet. You get an extra octave in the bass and that seems good to me. I am currently practicing hymns at home as described above with pedals. Summer services are in the multi-purpose room and with a piano.

                          What I've done until now, when in church and on the organ, is play SATB on a single manual and set up my manuals to have different sounds which makes it easy to provide some variety, e.g., I might play the first verse with a bigger sound on the Great, the second verse on the Swell with a less dramatic sound, and the third verse back on the Great but add the bass coupler. I'm just starting to learn to program the memory gizmos and use them to switch between verses.

                          I will be thrilled if I can play one hymn each week with the pedals on the organ once September rolls around.

                          And FWIW, I find it harder at the moment to play the bass in the pedals and the tenor alone with my left hand than I do to play the bass in the pedals and all three upper parts - don't ask me why, but that's the way it is for me.

                          And I agree that the Allen 3100 is a wonderful home practice instrument. It's a church-worthy organ, IMHO, which makes it perfect for me at home. I get to experiment a lot with different sounds and there is so much to do in that regard that will only come with experimentation and experience.

                          -S-
                          Last edited by Steve Freides; 07-08-2015, 06:03 PM.

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                          • #14
                            I wish I could add something profound to what has already been written to you, but I think all these fine members have said it well. Keep on keeping on! I'm sure you are doing a fine job. And....I'm jealous of your nice practice instrument. Hope it brings you great pleasure!

                            Craig
                            Craig

                            Hammond L143 with Leslie 760

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by musikfan View Post
                              I wish I could add something profound to what has already been written to you, but I think all these fine members have said it well. Keep on keeping on! I'm sure you are doing a fine job. And....I'm jealous of your nice practice instrument. Hope it brings you great pleasure!
                              And Steve, please post a photo?! I'd love to learn more about your instrument!

                              Michael
                              Way too many organs to list, but I do have 5 Allens:
                              • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony) / ADC-8000DKC
                              • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
                              • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 6 Pianos

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