Small Group Organist

By on January 1, 2023

Did you ever have the desire to be a church organist? It may have crossed your mind at one time or another, or gotten added to your bucket list, but put off because the prospect seemed daunting. There is another quite valid reason to learn how to play the keyboard, due to the number of small group gatherings that happen more frequently these days.

But first, let me give you some background:

As a child, I remember being attracted to old foot pump organs that gather dust these days in church halls. But it wasn’t until I was nearly fifty that the desire to play an organ got reignited. This desire came in the form of an epiphany while passing a cathedral at two o’clock in the morning, where I witnessed a bizarre event: the lights of the cathedral were blazing and the sound of an organ came vibrating through its walls and stained-glass windows.

Later, I found out that the phantom organist was a young music student who worked as the church’s sexton during the day and often practised the organ late at night. A somewhat romantic notion, yet the experience stayed with me until I had the opportunity to play a pipe organ for myself. I can honestly say that playing a church pipe organ was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, because one realizes that the instrument extends beyond the walls of the building. It is as though the church itself becomes the organ’s sound box.

Some years later I attended a small country church, and found that the church council was in turmoil regarding the possible retirement of its organist, who was well into her nineties. And so I took it upon myself to learn how to play the keyboard. I already knew how to play the guitar and would, on occasion, lead worship. I did not know, however, how to read music; I just knew how to strum chords.

Chording on a guitar is a matter of holding down strings in a certain pattern and repeating the patterns up and down the fret board. In a sense, chording on a keyboard is much like strumming a guitar, but easier, because the keys are more accessible and visible.

Many people, at some point in their lives, toy with the notion of playing an instrument, but often become intimidated by the classical method of instruction, which usually involves years of practice. Learning how to chord brings an immediate sense of fulfillment, which in turn inspires you to continue and become more confident in your abilities as a musician.

In actual fact, great composers, such as Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, composed by chording. You can knock off at least ten years of gruelling practice in just a few months by learning how to chord.

I have written a primer, “Small Group Organist,” dedicated to those with little to no formal training in music, but aspire to lead small groups in hymn singing on the keyboard.

The primer contains guides, tips and examples for playing by ear and referencing all chorded music that exists in Common Praise (1998). If you would like a copy, email me: [email protected], and I’ll send you a pdf of the primer. Happy Chording!


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