Music Lessons Online

Historically Inspired Organ Improvisation Courses

Organ Improvisation Courses

I have had the honour of producing lessons and articles for #ViscountOrgans and these have been leading to the production of the Maestro Online’s Online Organ Courses in the Library. There are now 3 courses leading up to a Passamezzo Antico with historically informed Renaissance teaching and some twists into Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Tango!

Historically Informed Organ Improvisation Courses

So, just what kind of organ course would you have had in the Renaissance (1400-1650) era? You certainly didn’t by a beginner’s organ course book or start sat at middle C. In fact, all of my teaching deviates away from this because I don’t think it is pedagogically sound and I think is purely down to the way we expect to be taught because “we were taught that way when we were young”.

Well, you would most certainly start by understanding three things:

(1) One chord alone can do many things – imagine the same chord in different eras and genres.

(2) Specific chords that work well together (chord progressions).

(3) What patterns to play on the organ above these chords (diminutions).

Organ Improvisation Course Pedagogy

Chord Progressions on the Organ

Firstly, my brain only works well when it has ‘processing time’. If I repeatedly alternate between two chords, like a clock pendulum, I can then gain mastery of them. This is point (1) above – getting the chord progression on the organ, under my control. To enhance point (1), I could also transpose the chord progression into different keys, always keeping the two chords the same distance apart from each other.

Patterns over Chord Progressions on the Organ

Now I need to make these chords sound musical. I can find patterns from pieces I know by, for instance, Bach or Buxtehude or Clerambault or Couperin etc, and then make these patterns work over the chords I am playing. Different patterns often had names ‘back in the day’. Certain patterns sound to our ears like ‘stereotypes’ for a composer or era. Simply using the Bach short 8 Preludes and Fugues is a wonderful starting point and ample for most people (download from IMSLP if you don’t have a copy). The specific patterns were often termed “diminutions”.

Organ Improvisation Course in Different Eras

I touch on Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Tango in the second organ course, simply to create diversity. Taking patterns from other eras, changing bass parts, adding upper dissonances and so forth. However, future courses (digital magazines with embedded teaching videos) will specifically focus on Classical Partimenti for example.

Other Online Organ Courses in the Library

The new Organ Pedal Method has proved very popular. Once again, it’s about using popular material and an innovative approach to gain rapid results. Here “We Will Rock You” sits perfectly alongside Dvorak’s “Largo”!


Visit the Library and join the community. For a low monthly fee, you have access to all courses in their entirety, with new courses being added weekly.

Dr Robin Harrison PhD BMus(Hons)/GradRNCM FNCM ARCO LTCL DipLCM PGCE(QTS) MISM is an Academy teacher for the Royal College of Organist and parts of his teaching pedagogy are published by Routledge.

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