Pipe Organ Tutorials for ABRSM

These tutorials are intended to help anyone interested in learning to play the pipe organ, and particularly to be used as a resource for anyone taking exams from grade 5 to grade 8 ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music). There is a selection of pieces from the syllabus for each of these four grades. For every item there is a performance and a video tutorial. Aspects of pipe organ music and organ playing are discussed, together with detailed lessons on techniques.

Video tutorials

You can download a video lesson along with its companion performance as a set: one video of the performance, and the tutorial may be in one, two or three parts. This makes it easier to skip to a section you may want to study several times. It is taken for granted that the pause and rewind will be used frequently!

Some of the practice methods will be obvious to you, but it is hoped that there will be some aspect of the music or the world of organ playing that will inspire you.

The ABRSM syllabus is full of good examples of music of many periods and styles. There is plenty of Bach, as you would expect along with earlier German Baroque composers such as Buxtehude, as well as French Baroque, with Clerambault and De Grigny, for example. Or try some music by lesser composers such as the Belgian Joseph Jongen, or the theatrical French Salome. There is also some Messiaen for the ambitious. Karg-Elert and Reger naturally feature among the Romantic composers in these lessons.

Most of the performances and lessons are given at a two-manual, 36-stop Johannus electronic organ, though some of the performances are played at a four-manual Johannus.

To illustrate the tutorials further, pictures of (e.g.) Bach manuscripts have been chosen, along with photos of famous organs. Some, however, are more intended to persuade you to use your imagination – such as the photo taken near the Victoria Falls to front the Fantasia in G minor, by Bach.

The lessons (and the performances) will hopefully reflect things your own teacher has told you. They are intended to complement, not to replace, what you are being taught. It sometimes helps to be told the same thing by a different person! Please also, if your teacher contradicts what is said in these lessons, you are advised to do what you are told by some one who knows your playing well. The commentaries deliberately avoid laying down the law on anything such as playing style, fingering or footing. This is also where you need your own teacher. You will notice, for example, in the Baroque pieces that sometimes I use 18th-Century fingerings and pedallings, and sometimes not. As a student I had an organ teacher who was at the forefront of Baroque performance: you did what the composer (or contemporary sources) told you. My piano teacher was of an older and totally different school, and the composer’s markings were simply suggestions, and the most important point was to “move the audience”. I believe both were right!

Don’t forget to practise your scales, aural tests and sight-reading! You cannot pass an exam just on the marks from your pieces. And enjoy the music!