Weekend Chops Builder: Pop Organ Workshop by Bill Irwin Left-Hand Melody Technique

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[This article first appeared in the March 1977 issue of Contemporary Keyboard magazine.]

With the renewed interest in pipe organ and theater organ techniques (check your local pizza palace), a popular feature in my live workshop sessions is a discussion of left-hand melody technique. So let's flex that "lazy left," and be prepared to add a new dimension to your playing.

The following tune is an original (due to copyright restrictions), so I won't comment on its musical quality—but I'd like you to play through it, as written, with the right hand on the upper manual and the left hand on the lower manual. Suggest a 16' registration, fairly brilliant, for the melody, balance the 8' accompaniment setting, and use 16', 8' bass pedal setting with some sustain. Make a registration change after the first sixteen bars. Use your left hand to make the change. Try the tune using an oom-pah (pedal, chord, pedal, chord) accompaniment.

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Next, use your left hand to play the melody only, on the lower manual. Play one octave lower than the original and use an 8' setting that would be appropriate for a solo. Pay attention to the note values, holding each note for its full length and using a legato touch. Don't add anything else to the left-hand melody until you can perform it smoothly at a fairly moderate tempo. Stop here and practice the left-hand melody.

At this point, you might wish to add the same two-beat pedaling (pedaling on the first and third beats of each measure, using the standard root and fifth of the appropriate chord) that you used when accompanying the right-hand melody. Stop and practice.

Next, you're going to add the balance of the notes in the left-hand accompanying chords on the second and fourth beats of each measure, whenever the left hand is not playing melody notes. Study the following illustration:

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Notice the crisp (staccato) after-beat chords contrasting with the legato melody notes.

You now have the basic technique for playing left-hand melodies with a rhythm accompaniment. This format can be used with a great variety of rhythm accompaniments, including Latin rhythms.

The final consideration is deciding what the right hand should play against or in back of the melody. To begin, try playing the melody in the right hand as well, using a soft 16' setting an octave higher than written or a soft 8' setting as written. This melody can be played in four-note chords throughout, or if the quarter-note chords are too demanding, you can play only the whole and half note melody notes and hold the right-hand chords through the left-hand quarter-note melody notes.

You can then proceed to play the right-hand four-note melody chords in pyramid chords down, using quarter notes (Ex.1); eighth-note arpeggios (Ex. 2); appropriate runs, such as the F6 run I discussed last month (Ex. 3); double arpeggios in a dotted rhythm (Ex. 4); any of a variety of riffs (Ex. 5, e.g.); or in many other ways.

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Some easy tunes to work with in the beginning are "Bye Bye Blues" and "I Love You." Stay with tunes using mostly whole, half, and quarter notes in the melody.

Try practicing some independence exercises with your left hand for greater ease in performing left-hand melodies.

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