Free Books

Listed below are titles concerning the study and practice of improvisation that are available for free from assorted different on-line resources.


C. Roy Carter
Theatre Organist’s Secrets

Arthur Clifton, 1784-1832
P.A. Corri’s original system of preluding:
Comprehending instructions on that branch of piano forte playing with upwards of two hundred progressive preludes, in every key & mode and in different styles, so calculated that variety may be formed at pleasure

Carl Czerny, 1791-1857
The art of preluding, as applied to the piano forte: consisting of 120 examples of modulations, cadences, & fantasias, in every style: op. 300

André Ernest Modeste Grétry
Méthode simple pour apprendre à préluder en peu de temps, avec toutes les ressources de l’harmonie

James Lyon, 1872-1949
Exercises in figured bass and melody harmonisation

Henry William Richards, 1865-1956
The organ accompaniment of the church services: a practical guide for the student

Hamilton Crawford Macdougall
First Lessons in Extemporizing on the Organ

Alfred Madeley Richardson, 1868-1949
Extempore playing: forty lessons in the art of keyboard composing

Frank Joseph Sawyer, 1857-1908

Hennie Schouten, 1900-1970
Improvisation on the Organ

George Tootell
How to play the cinema organ … a practical book by a practical player

George Elbridge Whiting, 1840-1923
Organ Accompaniment and Extempore Playing

T. Carl Whitmer, 1873-1959
The Art of Improvisation


Expertise in Musical Improvisation and Creativity: The Mediation of Idea Evaluation.
An article from the Public Library of Science by
Oded M. Kleinmintz, Pavel Goldstein, Naama Mayseless, Donna Abecasis, and Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory.


Michael Callahan
Techniques of keyboard improvisation in the German Baroque and their implications for today’s pedagogy

How’s the weather?

Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s summer. Even after moving further north from Orlando to Baltimore, we still have frequent afternoon thunderstorms. All this rain reminded me of two more ways we can work with the ideas from last week.


Here’s the progression from Maurice Clerc again:


Did you practice this progression (or something similar) this week? The first registration suggestion was to use celestes to accompany a flute solo. The second option was for a solo in the tenor range. If you tried the tenor solo, did you use your right or left hand for the solo? Hopefully you made some progress toward mastering these registrations and are now ready to add a new texture to the improvisation!


Keep the celestes as the accompaniment, but now add something sparkly to the flute solo, like a larigot or sifflote. Instead of playing long connected legato lines, your task is to make raindrops – super short staccato notes – on this sparkly registration. Because rain falls pretty quickly during a nice summer shower, be sure to spend some time practicing just the rain with the chords to make sure you can think faster than your fingers play! I prepared a handout to demonstrate each of the three dispositions.

Advanced options

If you happen to have an organ with a pedal divide, you can actually put the melody in the pedal (right foot) while still playing a bass part with the left. And lest you feel unchallenged because you don’t have a pedal divide, try thumbing the melody on another keyboard while still playing the raindrops and accompanying chords. From top to bottom, registrations on the keyboards would be: Top=celestes, Middle=Solo, Bottom=Raindrops. If you can master this disposition, people who aren’t able to see what you are doing will think you’ve grown another arm!

Another free method

After sharing First Lessons in Extemporizing on the Organ by Hamilton Crawford Macdougall, several readers pointed me to resources where I’ve been able to locate other method books available for download. This week I spent looking at Organ Accompaniment and Extempore Playing by George E. Whiting. It is available through IMSLP which is a fabulous source of scores if you are not already aware of it.

The book claims to be the only work that treats choir accompaniment and improvisation together. Given that it was first published in 1887, I suspect that was true at the time. The improvisation instruction begins with imitating hymns. These imitations become interludes, modulations, and then periods. Here’s one example of a modulation sequence which he suggests learning:
Because the book also focuses on accompaniment, one of the common themes becomes registration and how to make the organ sound at its best. While some of the ideas are opinionated:

As for the Flutes –especially the Stopped Diapasons– I consider them of the least consequence of any of the various tone qualities of the organ. They are the most cheaply built of any of the registers, and small, inferior organs are apt to be full of them.

Others are more practical:

Light passages, rapid scales, staccato chords, arpeggios, trills, etc., are not appropriate to the Diapasons of either manual: this family of stops requiring a grave, church-like style of performance, such as chorals, linked chords, contrapuntal effects, and slow arpeggios.

While the improvisation instruction is nothing that couldn’t be found in any number of newer methods, if you want to improvise in a late 19th century style, this book provides lots of key ideas about how to register the organ and, through the examples of accompaniment and orchestral transcription, what sort of disposition of voices sound best.

Summer Rain

In addition to being a season when I can expect rain outside to enable the plants to grow, I hope these emails provide nourishment for your growth in improvisation. It has been a pleasure to receive emails from several of you lately. These messages nourish me and keep me looking for ideas and ways to help you. Thank you for subscribing.

Hoping this season brings growth in your improvisation skills,

Newsletter Issue 41 – 2015 07 01
See the complete list of past newsletter issues here.
Sign up to receive future issues using the box to the right on this page.

Macdougall – First Lessons

Hamilton Crawford Macdougall
First lessons in Extemporizing on the Organ

Forgotten Books offers an almost complete free download available here. There are a few missing pages in the download, but still plenty of useful and useable content. To get the entire book, you need to purchase a subscription, or you can order it from Amazon.

Sometimes, older books can be out of date and contain little relevant information. I knew there would be solid information in this book however as soon as I started reading the preface and the author recommended daily practice:

Natural aptitude alone will not enable one either to play the organ well or to extemporize on it acceptably; one must practice extemporizing regularly, day by day, over and over again, just as one practices the pieces in one’s organ repertoire. A seventeenth-century writer (Francis Quarles) puts it somewhat inelegantly, but squarely, when he writes: ‘I see no virtues where I smell no sweat.’

Improvisation requires consistent practice and focused effort. The very first lesson in the first section on fundamental principles is something I try to emphasize to any student of improvisation or even hymn playing:

Do not stop the flow of the music for reflection;one must keep going.

Near the end of the book, the author suggests writing as a way to hone one’s improvisational skills. While I’ve heard many authors and teachers suggest this, the key suggestion from Macdougall is that it should be done in nearly the same conditions as improvising:

Writing must also be absolutely without erasures to be preparatory to extemporization; Further, it must be at a fairly regular speed. It is nonsense to expect writing to be done in tempo, but it can be done with a fair amount of steadiness; the quick decisions that must be made in effective extemporizing may be practiced just as effectively in writing, provided no erasures are allowed.

Even as much composing as I’ve done, that would be a new experience for me!
The instruction throughout the book is clear and precise. Whether you need to extend a hymn or provide a stand alone piece, the guidance provided in this book will give you a firm foundation.

Recent additions to


Forms and Styles:

Newsletter Issue 39 – 2015 06 12
See the complete list of past newsletter issues here.
Sign up to receive future issues using the box to the right on this page.