May. 9, 2016

"Easy Play" Methods

During the late 1950's and all through the 1960's, a time which might be called "The Golden Age of the Home Organ," people would venture into the local Lowrey, Conn, Thomas, Hammond, Wuriitzer, Baldwin, Gulbransen store ... sort of curious about the craze of their friends and neighbors buying and playing electronic home organs.
Back then the analog home organ was just about as popular as the computer was, a couple of decades ago.
If your neighbor had a Hammond spinet, for example, you just had to have a Lowrey [See blog, The Spinet Organ] with the "Hawaiian" glide pedal (a small, spring loaded switch positioned to the top of the swell pedal which, when pressed sideways with the big toe of the right foot, lowered the pitch of the entire organ a half step), or maybe a Gulbransen equipped with, of all things, an "electronic piano," so you could "out play him."
In order for the local music store to get you to buy their organ, they had to teach you how to use it.
There were, therefore, all kinds of "easy play" methods introduced during that time, one of the most successful being "The Pointer System."
Typically, these easy play methods were centered around getting you to read the treble clef in the key of C and playing 3 chords initially: C Major, F Major, and G Major, the 3 primary chords in that key.
The melody note in the treble clef was played by the right hand on the higher manual, and the held chords (printed in big symbols over the treble clef ... C ... F ... G), were played by the left hand on the lower manual.
Whatever chord symbol was indicated, you also put your left foot on the appropriate pedal note (indicated by a big sticker on each of the 3 stub pedals ... C ... F ... G) which represented the root of the chord.
The name "Pointer System" came from the left hand chords which were 2nd inversion, exclusively ... that is to say, the 5th of the chord was always the lowest note in the left hand.
On the lower of the 2 split manuals there were also big stickers on the notes ... G below middle C ... middle C ... and F above middle C.
With the left hand, if you pointed at any of those notes with your index finger, you would proudly discover that your thumb would fall on the 3rd of the chord, and your little finger would fall on the 5th of the chord, creating in any case a 2nd inversion chord with the root note in the middle, each and every time the left index finger (the "pointer finger"} jumped to the next chord (photo shows an F Major chord with the F note in the middle).
After this, all it usually took was to show the buyer how to play "Long, Long Ago." and the sale was done.
It wasn't unusual back in those days for the buyer to receive 10 free lessons along with their new spinet organ, usually spread over 10 weeks so they could practice their music assignment for a week before their next lesson.
Usually, by the time they got to lesson 10, they were playing some pretty snappy tunes and maybe some Christmas carols and a hymn or two, so the music teacher would encourage them to go forward with more lessons and more Pointer System books, which extended beyond the 6 basic books to take in maybe 40-50 books altogether.
If you hung in there with a particularly inventive organ teacher, you could eventually learn how to play much like "pit" and "night Club" musicians, where the "Lead Sheet" was the complete music score.
In a few instances, some gifted young people started a lifelong musical journey with such humble beginnings.
Despite all of its faults, the Pointer System did make the student learn at least to read treble clef, and it helped to hook many beginners into music, so that had to be a good thing.
It was designed, of course, to take the beginner to a certain level and get them playing right away, after which the study of harmony might begin [See blog, Orem's Harmony].
The biggest problem with the Pointer System was that you would be lifting your hand off the keyboard moving up and down to change chords, which made for some non-smooth progressions.
Mildred Alexander, in her method books, insisted on starting with the C Major chord in 1st inversion (E-G-C) right from the beginning; the 2nd chord taught was a G7 of 3 notes (F-G-B) where there was no need for the 5th (D).
After that, the student moved to the F chord in root position (F-A-C), and the 4th chord taught was D7 where all one had to do is start with the F chord and raise the F to F# and change the pedal to D.
Many teachers from that day and age preferred the Mildred Alexander approach for those who were just learning to play the organ for their own amusement.
Her books are now out of print but old copies sometimes can be located on line or in used book stores.