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Beginner questions

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  • Beginner questions

    I have been playing an old Wurlitzer I inherited from my grandfather but have quickly outgrown it; I can't do what I want with it. I know these are primarily for personal entertainment, so that is really no surprise. I play by ear but plan on taking some lessons in the future.

    I have seen some recommend taking a year or two of piano prior to learning the organ, while others seem to think it unnecessary. So where does one start? Also, I will be moving, and since the old Wurlitzer has become nearly useless to me, I will probably get rid of it. Not knowing how far I will go, can anyone recommend a good keyboard for a beginner to practice on at home (keeping in mind that I want to move to the pipe organ)? I can't quite afford a home organ suitable for sacred/liturgical/classical music; a decent keyboard for the beginning organist seems like the best place to start.

    - Liturgicat

  • #2
    Re: Beginner questions


    Let me assume from your moniker that you're interested in liturgical or church organ music instead of theatre organ. Not that they're mutually exclusive, but they would generally require a different instrument for the literature they perform.

    A member recently received an organ for his church for $1. Others, if you are patient, are offered for free or at ridiculously low prices. Churches would like to see the organs used, even if they have switched to contemporary worship formats. Don't give up on the notion that you cannot afford a church instrument. That said, however, you should be prepared for the real estate they consume in your living space! My wife can vouch for that!

    As far as lessons, you should have piano skills prior to taking organ lessons. However, a competent piano or organ teacher will recognize the inherent technique differences between the two instruments and prepare you well for the switch. Piano technique is rather different than organ technique. It is better to learn the keys, chords,and theory on the piano, then go to a competent organ instructor to switch instruments.

    One of my students came to me wanting to learn the organ in 2nd grade (school, that is!). A precocious child, I began having him learn one of the Hayden Musical Clock pieces after a year (for manuals only). When it was time, he switched to the organ, and was ready for the experience. We had to wait for his legs to grow for him to play the infamous Toccata & Fugue in D Minor by Bach in 5th grade. That piece was his dream to learn to play. Our state's Solo & Ensemble never had an organ student--ever--before or since!

    Moral of the story, be patient, and don't discount possibilities--even if they seem impossible. I hope this helps a little.


    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)
    • 11 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 7 Pianos


    • #3
      Re: Beginner questions

      When I studied piano/organ back in the dark ages, they made a big deal about having to have a huge amount of piano study (some people insisted on 5-10 years!) before starting organ. This may account in part for why the organ doesn't have much of a following!

      If you want to play well, or evenjust decently, I don't think you can get away without piano study- the piano keyboard is actually harder to play than an organ keyboard - you cannot develop proper finger strength and co-ordination on scales, arpeggios, and block chords learning on an organ keyboard. But having said that, if your real love is the organ, I certainly think you can start a parallel track of study on both instruments fairly quickly - maybe even after a year or so of piano.

      Ultimately there are never any shortcuts for learning a musical instrument well, but if you do not love the instrument you are learning, it's never going to motivate you.


      • #4
        Re: Beginner questions

        Good points, Jim109. I almost gave up organ altogether both because of piano emphasis and lack of an AGO practice instrument.


        • #5
          Re: Beginner questions

          I am certainly no expert but the key to the piano is force while the key to the organ is registration. Of course you learn how to read the notes with either instrument, I took piano for years and years and never really got the part about shading, pedals, force, etc. I finally gave my piano away! I took organ lessons and found aniche with how registrationcan make the piece sound awful, good, or great. I Play an electronic at home and church, but I took lessons on a tracker action without a swell box, that is the best way to learn about the organ.


          • #6
            Re: Beginner questions

            Most will advise to learn piano first. There is certainly some merit to that, however, keep in mind that most people learn to play piano when they are young, and the organ is probably beyond them at that age. As an adult, you may well be able handle organ right away. Few of us are good at both. Competant, yes, but not great at both because of the difference in technique. Learning the technique from the start could well be beneficial.

            If you are right handed, one of the hardest challenges to overcome is allowing the left foot to operate independently of the left hand. This is even harder after years of piano as your brain gets used to the left hand handling the bass line, which it is no longer required to do.

            Either way, make sure you have good teacher, and have fun!


            • #7
              Re: Beginner questions


              Like you, my interest in organ study isa(serious) hobby, I basically play at home. I started out several years ago with 0 playing experience and I did not know how to read music.I was asking many of the same questions. Like most of the previous replies, I was advised to take piano.I heard advice fromjust some basic courses, others advised a grueling near decade worth of piano study.

              So I did start out with piano., and I am so glad that I did. I spent a couple years with lessons and studying music theory. I was very fortunate to have a remarkable teacher who was willing to sit down with an adult student whose interest wasorgan vs piano. Like you, my interest is sacred/liturgical/classical, and once I startedprogressing past the basics, she focussed my studies towards the baroque vs many who teach just romantic piano. When I didpursueorgan lessons, it was a great benefit to have that background and understanding into the genres.

              Regarding your questions of an instrument. I started out with a purchase of a piano. The dealer sold it to me with a 100% buy back towards a new instrument (including a classical organ). So that and some extra saved dollars paid for a new digital classical organ in my home when the time was right. Like all of us that practice at home, the "boss" has the final say as to how much "music" will be heard in the house, especially late at night. In those situations, with the acoustic piano, I was stuck. So evenduring my piano studies, I purchased a Clavinova digital piano to use late at night or when the rest f the house had to be quiet. (Don't want to get into the discussion of digital vs acoustic, or digital vs real pipe) But the Yamaha Clavinova or Roland or Kawaii make some quite realistic instruments that can be used: a) For a beginner learning music, b) most do have pipe or church organ selections that are voiced at 8', 4' principals and/or flutes. (The Clavinova also has an unweighted setting that is not weight driven like an organ manual) Therefore, as you run across some keyboard pieces that could be played on either piano or organ, you can experience the suttle differences learning a piece on a piano and learning a piece on the organ. I still have my Clavinova today to practice scales, arpeggios, etc., and piano pieces.

              In my opinoin, I would recommend some piano background, but in advance discuss with a perspective teacher what you want to learn. As far as the keyboard, I found Clavinovaa good instrument for mysimilar needs. Like digital organs, you can get some used ones at relatively low price and save your money when you want to purchasethe organ of your choice.

              Good Luck

              Amateur Jerry


              • #8
                Re: Beginner questions


                Actually, I didn't start out with piano OR organ, but a corny keyboard I got for my 5th Bithrday xD Back then, we couldn't afford an organ or piano or even piano lessons, so I played around with it and even composed a couple songs. Then finally I found an organ when I was in 5th grade and lived happily ever after. There was never a piano involved until very recently, we were offred a nice, studio piano for FREE, and we couldn't refuse 8D

                My point is I never touched a piano until I was about in 7th grade, which was a year ago. Since I focused more on organ, I actually learned the piano FROM the organ, and people say I'm psycho or crazy at the piano now, only playing it for a year, like my mom says to her friends "Where did my child learn to play this thing?!". So I learned backwards. Whatever works, but as long as you get the concepts of chords, scales, and other bells and whistles properly. And this is most commonly used with piano, since it's just keys and hammers instead of stops and pedals and all that fun stuff.

                My personal suggestion: start with piano. It is easier for learning technique and is a good foundation for beginning keyboard studies. Look for a teacher, too. I'm self-taught since I was 5 with my corny keyboard, but now as I'm getting more advanced, I need a human teacher to help me sight-read a lot faster. My original teacher? YouTube. But it is wise to find a real human being to help you along the way, and encourage you to keep playing.

                Everyone's different, so whatever works for you. Have fun, enjoy playing!



                • #9
                  Re: Beginner questions

                  The piano and organ are extremely different; the only thing in common isthat thekeyboardsare visuallysimilar. Nevertheless, I am one of those people who advocate for a solid piano background before tackling the organ. Although there can be exceptions, I've seen many mediocre organists who don't play the piano and I've seen just as many excellent organists who are also accomplished pianists.

                  The benefits of piano:

                  • The action helps to build finger strength (more of a benefit if you don't have a tracker organ).

                  • The percussive attack helps with rhythm.

                  • There are many more technique books and technical studies available for the piano than for the organ. Piano teachers are also much more plentiful than organ teachers.

                  • Pianos are more common: easier to encounter, easier to have in the home; accessibility means more practicing can be done.Drivinglongdistancesto get to a church - which may be freezing coldoruncomfortably hotduring the week - is a strong disincentive to practicing!

                  • Organ students need to obtain permission to practice;they mustavoid over-stayingtheir welcome.

                  • Organistsmight need to pay a bench fee to practice.

                  • Although it is not a huge amount, it does cost the churchwhen the organ is running; this is not an issue for a piano.

                  • Pianos don't have all of the distractions of an organ (stops, pistons, pedals, bells, indicator lights, expression shoes, etc.). Compared to the organ, pianos are rather mundane;you really must focus on your playing, not the pretty sounds that are being made.Beginning organistsoften become infatuated with the tutti buttonduring practice time- this is a time waster and a risk to hearing!

                  • Organsare oftenin a very reverberant space; this tends to cover up irregularities in technique. There is an 'immediacy' to a piano's sound - you can hear the sounds almost instantaneously, which helps when perfecting technique.

                  • Anyone wanting to become a 'church musician' would be well-served by becoming a good pianist - it will come in handy.

                  • The piano is a beautiful instrument with a very interesting repertoire... it is worth learning. If you master both instruments your life is doubly enriched. [:)] Your bank account may be doubly enriched as well. [;)]
                  • [/list]

                    I wouldn't sayeither instrumentis harder or easier than the other; they both have their challenges.


                  • #10
                    Re: Beginner questions

                    Of course, as usual Soubase32 is right about piano practice. The two key points that I have noticed for myself are

                    1. The percussive attack helps with rhythm.
                    2. The action helps to build finger strength (more of a benefit if you don't have a tracker organ).

                    My mother made me take piano lessons when I was a child. I did not like it, so dropped music until I was in my 30's. At that time I started organ lessons which is the instrument that I really wanted to play. Since I have my own instrument and there are no near neighbors, I can play whenever I want except when others want to sleep. Unfortuneately, everyone can hear my mistakes and poor playing when learning a new piece. All the other issues that SB mentions are not a problem since I can play my pipe organ instrument of choice at home. Adding a percussion stop on the organ helps me with rhythm. Trying to use the same finger pressure (and vigorous motion) helps keep the notes playing on time.


                    • #11
                      Re: Beginner questions

                      I realize that what I'm about to tell you is related to my playing a theatre organ, rather than classical music on a church organ. However, I think I could add my two cents here...and help you someabout your practice techniques.

                      I used to play almost every day, professionally, (I'm now retired). I found from personal experience that learning a new piece of music at the piano was far, far more efficient than learning at the organ console. I think there is a certain "drumming" of the mechanicsof a new piece into one's head that is almostnecessary at aphysically demanding keyboard, such as the piano. Theharderthe piece is, the easier it is to technically "master" at the piano. There's something about the difference in the pressure ofstriking the keys on a piano, versus the keys of an organ. For me, the music was captured deep down in my mind, and solid as a rock when I had to recall a certain technique. If I learned a piece at the organ, that same kind of movement was always slightly "doubtful" to me when I had to perform it. Probably, every piece of music that I memorized at the piano is still in my head, note for note. And I can honestly say that every piece I have memorized at the organ is at best, fuzzy. As a result, I have always taught a student to "drum it into your head on the piano, then romance it on the organ".

                      Then there's the distraction oflearning a piece at the organ. You can be working away at a new piece and all of a sudden you start thinking to yourself, Huuuummmm, I wonder how this music would sound if I used a different stop setup, or added a stop at such and such a place in the phrase. The piano is straight forward...there are no frills to distract you...your time spent learning at the piano is centered on thetechnical aspects of thefingering, hand positions, even the embellishments you wish to add. The piano keepsyoufocused on your learning experience.

                      When I was working as a professional musician, my day always started by selecting the pieces of music I would perform that evening at the theatre. I would gather the sheet music of pieces that needed "re-reading" to ensure myself that I still had the notes set in my mind correctly. Then I would go to the piano and spend the necessary time to have all the music"down pat" in my brain. If a particular piece needed some technical "brushing up", I would spend as much time as necessary to regain full command of the technical issue. Some days I wouldwork at the piano for four or five hours to get my music polished up. Other days, if the music was familiar, I could be done in 45 minutes.All of this preparation was done at the piano, rather than the organ. Then, driving intoAtlanta, I would start playing the music in my to make embellishments for the pieces so they would be interesting to the audience. At the theatre, I only got about an hour to run over those pieces on the organ, before the house opened...but I could usuallyconcentrate on the stop registrations, rehearse the embellishments, and pretty well create the arrangement I intended to perform,never worrying about the technical requirements of the piece, since that had been set in stone thatmorning at the piano.

                      It is interesting to observe, (I never asked a concert organist the question),how do the "master organists" handle their practice routines? I have only read on two or three occasions, how the "masters" work up their music. Of those, my own personalfavorite, George Wright, always learned a new piece on the piano first. If he came back to a piece that was technically not up to par...he would refresh his mind at the piano. My own teacher taught me to master a piece at the piano...even rehearse the piece back stage on the piano...because once I was seated at the organ, if the piece was solid as a rock in my mind, I could orchestrate it easily, just pushing thecorrect presets. I have done that too many times to count, and have rarely had a problem.

                      Hope this helps you decide how to form your learning and practicing habits. I know this sounds a lot like you've got to get behind an old mule and plow a field before you can take a ride in a car...but it works just great for me.


                      • #12
                        Re: Beginner questions

                        [quote user="joncox"]I am certainly no expert but the key to the piano is force while the key to the organ is registration. [/quote]
                        I would say that the key to making music on the organ was articulation.