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Thread: Sight-reading at the Organ (Not the Piano)

  1. #21
    Moderator myorgan's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    New England


    Your frustration with the past and this week's events is very evident in your posts. The least I can say is that you certainly are resilient! After you recover, here are some ideas.
    Quote Originally Posted by Neumie View Post
    The odds of anyone here knowing anyone in Sacramento, California are pretty slim.

    You all are sure I can't tempt any of you experienced teachers to move to Sacramento?
    We might surprise you. If I recall correctly, we've had a couple of members near the Sacramento area in the past, however, I'm not sure they're still active--probably too busy teaching to visit the Forum!

    Try checking with the local high school(s) and asking the music teachers which teacher their best students come from (preferably chorus teachers--not band). Chances are, they've become familiar with private teachers over time and have seen the results of their work. The local school teacher can also acquaint you with local music teacher organizations for various instruments. I did a quick search for your zip code at this link: I found several organ teachers listed when I increased the radius to 50 miles. The question I would ask each of them is, "When a student progresses and needs to move to another teacher, to which teacher would you choose to pass them on?" They don't necessarily need to know you're the one searching for lessons--just switching teachers.

    Even if a person lives too far away, perhaps they would agree to consult with you on finding a good, competent, quality teacher who will meet your needs, as specific as they are. You could pay them to be a sort of consultant. In doing a search for the organ instructor at UC Davis, I found this website:

    I just did a search on the MTAC website and found a program geared toward Adult Performance as well:

    Other websites I found are: (California Professional Music Teachers' Association) (Music Teachers National Association)

    When you do your search, don't forget to check areas like Stockton, Davis, or Yuba City.

    Quote Originally Posted by Peterboroughdiapason View Post
    To be honest, you probably don't want some high-powered organist to teach you but someone who's prepared to take you back to the basics patiently.
    AMEN!!! While I would be hesitant to employ the services of a student, that may be an option as well, to keep the cost down.

    Quote Originally Posted by Neumie View Post
    I think I'm in bigger trouble than I thought. I think I've buried and remained unaware of a lot of incompetence, MUCH more than I thought, with my ability to just read notes and mechanically memorize measure after measure.

    This thread has been a game-changer for me.
    So, now that you've learned the lesson the hard way, what are you prepared to do? (to quote Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables movie).

    Where I work (secure facility), all my students are considered at-risk students. Numerous events have happened to them over the course of their young lives, to the point of death in some cases. Our mission statement in the Education Department when we had juveniles read: To cultivate the mind and restore the spirit. From your post, it appears once you've licked your wounds, you need to find someone who will cultivate your mind while restoring the spirit. Following the cultivation of the mind comes the planting of seeds that then grow and produce fruit. Forgive the analogy, but I'm from a farming family.

    You just missed the Sacramento Organ Workshop 2 weeks ago ( You may have found a teacher there. As much as I don't care for the organization, I know the American Guild of Organists has a Sacramento Chapter as well. Just do a search for it on the Internet. This guy's name keeps coming up--I'm sure he's expensive, but he could probably guide you to someone ( You can also check with the Sacramento State School of Music for references as well ( Chico State has a Keyboard Pedagogy concentration, so perhaps the professor could lead you to graduates (or current students) who (s)he feels would best meet your needs near you ( You could also try the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music (

    Please forgive me if I keep charging ahead. With the guys I work with, I've found that for most of them, it's best to leave the past in the past and keep going forward. About a decade ago, a juvenile returned to my class with a new crime and couldn't look me in the face--he was afraid he'd disappointed me. Once the class was on task, I had to take him in the hall and sass him a bit--yes, his crime was heinous; yes, he ****ed up; however, where I work is about the future. One needs to learn from the past and use it to inform future choices. Sometimes taking too long to mourn the time lost is counterproductive. I'm hoping you keep charging forward--with appropriate guidance--and become the best organist possible with the gifts you've been given.

    Keep your head up.

    Way too many organs to list, but I do have 4 Allens:
    • MOS-2 Model 505-B / ADC-4300-DK / ADC-5400 / ADC-6000 (Symphony)
    • Lowrey Heritage (DSO-1)
    • 9 Pump Organs, 1 Pipe Organ & 4 Pianos

  2. #22

    Holy cow, Michael ... (can I call you St. Michael going forward?) ... everything I need should be in these links. I feel like you're due a consulting fee!

    I think this thread ... and your posts in large part ... raise the bar on "helpfulness" for the forum.

    I was moved by your story, learning where you work. When I bought my Technics organ (before I got my Rodgers) I called on an ad and was given an address. It turned out to be a music and arts school for at-risk students. The music department was going all-keyboard and no longer wanted the organ. I now own it - and in the process helped support the school just that little bit. I remember looking into the small windows of the classrooms as I walked down the hall and seeing some pretty rough looking students sitting there and what looked to me like teachers doing an inspired job.


    For tonight and this weekend, I went back to my old box of music books (unopened for years now) and found some old beginner organ scores. Truly "book one" kind of stuff, but still with pedals. This weekend, I'm giving my self-esteem a boost by lowering the standard, making everything easy and then showing off the greats fruits of my labors to my wife and neighbors - ideally in just a few days.

    I'm going to remember this week what it's like to keep everything in reach - to thoroughly finish something and know it properly.


    Thank you again for the links. I'm on it.
    I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.

    -Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

  3. #23
    mp Mezzo-Piano Leisesturm's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    45.51 N, -122.60 W

    Quote Originally Posted by Neumie View Post
    I'll tell you, Michael. Advice is a good thing. But when you're two days out after having fired your teacher of several years ... and it ends messy ... and you have to sit down and acknowledge that the last several years were musically mostly wasted because of bad instruction ...
    You are right about your women. Amazing. But approachable. Women that look that good in NYC would call the police if you so much as looked in their direction. in California they ask you how your day is going. Insane. But I was only there once... with my wife. I will never go there again though, because you people drive like maniacs!!! I am still going to PTSD sessions from my encounter with the 405. Never again. But you are welcome to come up to Portland. A fair number of your neighbors dump their underwater condo's in short sales and take the cash up my way and buy new digs for 1/5 the price of the old ones.

    To your dilemma. I feel your pain. I can sort of relate. But only sort of. Your main problem is you have way more musical knowledge and overall life experience and intelligence than your keyboard technique can assimilate. It is why I fail to make much progress on the other instruments that I know how to play. I can't sound as proficient on them as I can on piano or organ, so I get frustrated and leave them alone for long periods of time which certainly doesn't help in improving on them. I put my French Horn on Craigslist and only still have it because nobody wanted it.

    My dad fired several teachers over the years. His problem was me. He wanted to sound like me. But he hadn't put the time in! If this thread does not get a single additional post, everything that you need to know has already been said far more kindly that I am probably capable of. You don't need a teacher, you don't need software, you just need music (sheet music) an instrument and time (practice time). Lather, rinse, repeat.

    I don't know how old you are, but I suspect it matters. I don't know your skill level and I am going to suggest that you record your playing of a few pieces and exercises and post the links here. No one will judge you. But we need to know what you are working with. And you need to be gentle with yourself and with those who might be able to help you achieve your goals.

    Do not discount the value of piano practice and repertoire. You might be able to play Bach without sound piano fundamentals and, in truth, playing Bach on the organ will actually improve piano technique, but playing Mendelssohn or Rheinberger or any organ composer later than them will demand knowledge of piano because those guys could play piano quite well and made extensive use of arpeggios and dynamic executions that simply did not exist in Baroque organ music.

    Is there something else you can do while you wait for your organ chops to come up to speed? A language? Chess? Origami? You need to somehow take the heat off of yourself and your organ training. A child does that by doing all the other things children do on the way to becoming adults. You are not a child, you need different coping mechanisms. FWIW.

  4. #24

    Comment deleted.
    Last edited by Neumie; 04-21-2017 at 03:00 AM.
    I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.

    -Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

  5. #25

    Quote Originally Posted by Leisesturm View Post
    And you need to be gentle with yourself...
    I heard someone once say, "More has been accomplished in the spirit of play than in the spirit of I have to do this."

    I need to relearn that. Every teacher I've known for a long while took the progress way too seriously. Ironic that that had the exact opposite effect.
    I was obliged to work hard. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed just as well.

    -Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

  6. #26
    p Piano andijah's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2015
    Germany, near Frankfurt (Main)

    I understand that you're frustrated and disappointed right now, but maybe one day you could think about not calling these years a "waste of time". After all, you're still playing, and you still want to play, and that's a lot more than others have achieved after a while of not-so-good-lessons.
    I started playing the piano when I was 8, and when I was 10, we moved to another city. The teacher I had then for 4 years until we moved again was a nice lady, and I played lots of stuff and learned to sight-read really well, but what she didn't teach me was a proper piano technique. Nothing about fingerings, nothing about trills... In that respect, these years seem to be kinda "lost", too, and some things I still can't do properly, but since the next teacher I had was very good, I managed to pass the entrance exam to music college and somehow made up for some of the things she missed.

    So, keep up the work, keep the spirit, and continue asking questions - this forum is a wonderful resource.

  7. #27
    ppp Pianississmo lcid's Avatar
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    Oct 2003
    Medina, OH USA


    Quote Originally Posted by Neumie View Post
    I'll tell you, Michael. Advice is a good thing. But when you're two days out after having fired your teacher of several years ... and it ends messy ... and you have to sit down and acknowledge that the last several years were musically mostly wasted because of bad instruction ...

    ... just someone who agrees with a couple observations and sees the situation objectively is appreciated.

    Thank you for that.

    The odds of anyone here knowing anyone in Sacramento, California are pretty slim.

    Although I did put in an email last night to the $100 a lesson lady I mentioned. No reply yet, but I'm on it. I imagine if nothing comes of that, I can also contact regional leadership of the Catholic and Lutheran churches and see who they know. We've also got a state college with a music department I can ask.

    Right this minute ... today ... still licking my wounds of the week and wondering what I'm going to do next - like, as in, tomorrow and the weekend. I haven't missed a practice day in over two years so the impulse to show up every day is very strong. Although, right now, the routine is all shot to h***. It makes no sense to keep working on the Bach piece I was working on as I'm just spinning my wheels. The sight-reading software, as Peterboroughdiapason suggested, seems to be just driving me to "get through" the pieces. I can sense an incremental improvement, maybe that learned willingness to plow forward without missing a beat (mistakes and all), but probably not what I need right now.

    You all are sure I can't tempt any of you experienced teachers to move to Sacramento?

    California weather ... pretty girls ... no competition from other organ teachers ...

    People in this town go to church on Sunday in short pants and T-shirts. That's got to be worth something.

    You are not alone having poor incompetent teachers; even at a prestigious university level here in the USA. A young lady from my church recently told me she wasted two semesters taking organ from an instructor with Alzheimers and learned nothing! She is an excellent pianist having taken ten-years of private piano lessons. She now has very little (if any) interest in learning the organ.

    I also have had some organ teachers who did not work out for me and I quit or "fired" them. Two were at a university level and one was the organist at a local church. I felt all three were incompetent or for some reason things were not working; I remember feeling terribly defeated. However, I had enough sense to leave and found some very good instructors. Im now a retired church organist and my successful years of service playing are a comfort to me. You were wise to recognize your problem teacher and are now moving on! That is always difficult and scary! My wish for you is to find a competent, professional instructor and continue your organ studies and keep your love for the instrument. We never stop learning.
    Retired organist/pianist Church of the Brethren...Allen ADC-4300-DK
    Home...Wurlitzer (ES) Orgatron Series 20 Serial #11608 (retrofitted with MIDI and VPO) with Leslie 45 tone cabinet
    Hammond BC with Leslie 31A tone cabinet
    A.L. Swan antique pump organ C.1852 Cherry Valley NY

  8. #28
    ppp Pianississmo samibe's Avatar
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    Oct 2015
    Bountiful, UT

    My sight reading limit seems to be about 50% of my technical abilities. If I sight read a song that is at my technical limit, I have to play it at (or below) half speed or miss half the notes (which is not good practicing, slower is better). If I play a song that is half as hard, then I can play it up to speed with very few mistakes. I'm sure if I worked on my sight reading some more I might be able to get up to 75%, but it would probably take just as much effort to increase my technical ability. Which would offer more available music, understanding, and sight reading capability. In my experience, sight reading is an additional skill that requires a decent technical foundation.

    A good teacher will help you form a good technical foundation. The main issue, when learning something new, is figuring out what you don't know. A good teacher knows what you don't know and can help you learn it all faster.
    The four areas that are hardest to figure out and that a teacher is most helpful with are:
    1. Technical guidance and teaching (finding flaws in technique and addressing them early before they are too ingrained).
    2. Repertoire (what music is available at my level or just beyond it, what techniques will it require to play it correctly, will I like it enough to spend the time practicing, etc.).
    A good sign here is an extensive music library that they can actually tell you about.
    3. Expression and interpretation (it's not enough to just read the notes).
    4. Tricks (how to approach problem areas from several angles to train your body play consistently clean, correct and with expression).
    Of course there are many other things a good teacher will do (provide encouragement, require some accountability, push growth, etc.) but the items listed above are minimum requirements. If you can get someone to teach you these basics, then it makes it a lot easier to learn new music on your own.

    This response is all based on the assumption that you know how to read music and that the issue is more with learning how to translate what is shown on the music to what you need to do with the instrument. If you're learning to read music and play an instrument, it will take longer to make progress.
    Be patient with yourself. Simple skills might only take a few minutes to a few hours to learn well. I find it takes me about 20hrs of focused practice to feel like I'm starting to get a handle on complicated skills and it seems to take 100hrs before I feel competent at complicated skills.
    Good luck,

    Last edited by samibe; 05-16-2017 at 05:28 PM.
    Yamaha P22 (not enough pedals)
    and an Allen ADC-4500 ... for now.

  9. #29
    ppp Pianississmo tommyT's Avatar
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    Mar 2013

    Been looking at the threads, saw this and thought I might put in my two cents worth, as if there isn't enough cents already. I two kind of can relate to what your saying. I am I guess intermittent on the keyboards, somewhere between not bad and not great, but almost there. I to had this feeling of I would rather play piano, seems easier, seems a little more comfortable. But as I began playing my Baldwin CineIII, I still have it after several years, I began to appreciate it more than my Piano. The top keys are the sound engine, and lower keys the piano sounds. Of course I can alter the two lower and top keys. But I prefer the bottom for piano and the top for the fancy organ stuff. I came to actually like the piano sounds on the organ more than my Roland Piano, which by the way is not the best in quality, but fair. Adjusting the rate and sustain can give a fuller sound to the piano parts. I did take a few lessons from a very popular and great pianist in my area, only for a few hours and it made a world of difference in my site reading. My advice is take the organ for what it is, learn the way the sounds are meant to be and the effects also. It has helped me in a lot of ways to better understand the CineIII. My guess is organs are not all created equal, a Leslie is not a Baldwin, a Hammond is not an orange. You will begin to appreciate it more. And your site reading will improve.

  10. #30
    mp Mezzo-Piano Leisesturm's Avatar
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    Sep 2005
    45.51 N, -122.60 W

    Quote Originally Posted by samibe View Post
    In my experience, sight reading is an additional skill that requires a decent technical foundation.
    I am intrigued that you arrived at this conclusion from your experience. I agree with much of your post, and I think this sentence is its essence, however, I would quibble a bit with your interpretation, especially your term 'additional'. Sight reading is not (IMO) an additional skill . It is a natural outgrowth of the combination of natural reading ability (i.e. print media) AND a facile, developed technique with a musical instrument. One will not be a great, or even good, sight reader even if they possess an incredible technique if they have little interest in reading in general. Someone with a fine level of reading comprehension and who gets great enjoyment from reading magazines, newspapers and literary fiction, cannot become a good sight reader if their (technical) musical abilities are just being developed.

    I think the biggest source of disconnect in the various posts that have been made here is establishing which sector of the musical hemisphere the viewpoint is coming from. To a classical musician, sight reading is not an 'additional skill' it is an essential component of a well developed technique. To a musician playing in the popular music genres, reading sheet music may well be an optional component of technique.

    For all their differences, the majority of 'church' organs, and even theater organs, are a lot more alike in their layout and stop appointments than what are called 'home organs'. The sheet music that classical organists work from is as rich and detailed as it needs to be to convey the composers intentions. The sheet music for popular music sounds pretty flat and lackluster played exactly as written. When I play a hymn written in the 17th Century I usually have little to add, if anything. But I usually try to add something. When I play a hymn, or Christian Song, or popular song written in the 20th Century I add at least twice as many notes as are written, and even that is probably not enough, but most church congregations need to sing (or think they do) so fast that there simply isn't time to get any more notes in. I am considered a very good sight reader, but I've never worked on sight reading. Not even a little bit. I've worked on acquiring a technique that allows me to play what I want to, or need to play, to keep my employment. This thread began with the premise that an increased ability to absorb the information contained in the written score would allow a faster acquisition of musical technique. I don't believe that that is the case. There are fantastic musicians that cannot read a lick of sheet music.

    If I have anything to offer this thread it is: take care of the pennies (technique) and the dollars (virtuosity) will take care of themselves. Notice I didn't mention sight reading ability. It doesn't factor anywhere in there. You don't learn to read music; you learn(ed) to read. Your eyes learned to track horizontally and your brain learned to translate symbols into information. When you learn to associate musical notes with pitches you have all the sight reading ability you will ever need. It doesn't take long. It takes MUCH longer to acquire musical technique. I wasn't kidding awhile back in this thread when I advised the o.p. to simultaneously learn something else. It doesn't really matter what it is. Another musical instrument is an ideal project. A foreign language. Whatever. Learn to learn. Good luck.

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