Twelve Organ Pieces - Voluntaries for Sunday Service

When you first start as church organist, you never have enough voluntaries for the Sunday service.

Just when you’ve mastered and played a piece at a Sunday service, you have to start all over again!

If you have to play the same piece on two consecutive Sundays – that’s OK.

Those from the congregation who regularly contribute with their comments, will no doubt remind you that you played the same piece last Sunday. However, a large repertoire when you first start is impossible unless you are a very good sight reader.

These are the moments of the service when music is necessary:

  • Playing before the service starts
  • Playing the choir processional (Priest in)
  • Playing during communion
  • Playing the choir recessional (Priest out)
  • Closing voluntary
  • Hymns too of course, but this page is about voluntaries!

A simple classical piece can be ideal to play as a voluntary before the service starts.

Sunday Organ Voluntary

Remember that good phrasing is everything – get the pencil out, mark in the music and phrase, phrase, phrase!

Opening the service

Playing before the service starts means having to be on good form early in the morning so get a good night’s sleep the night before.

If Saturday night was a little more indulgent than it should have been, you have your work cut out!

Use major keys too!

However, some of the easiest organ music, from the 16th, 17th and 18th century, is in a minor key and a lot of it is rather depressing – don’t depress the congregation. Choose music that is reflective if necessary, but mix up the major and minor keys.

Procession – Recession

The music for the entry and exit of the choir or Priest can be a variation or improvisation of the first and last hymns respectively. This will also give you the opportunity to practise the first hymn as the choir process in. Playing through the chord sequence at half speed gives you a chance to practise the pedals too!


The communion music can be a reflective piece or just a nice hymn tune that is regularly used as communion hymn – but don’t get too minor-ish and Dracula-like. You won’t get much fangs for that!

The closing voluntary

The closing voluntary is usually the most challenging and requires the most practice. If you are of a reasonable standard on the piano, try the “Eight Short Preludes and Fuges” by J.S.Bach – it will give you sixteen pieces and most of them work well as a closing voluntary. However, if this music is too difficult at the moment, look for something easier.

Put mistakes behind you

Sometimes you have to be brave to play pieces for the first time in public and you just have to ‘go for it’. However, don’t be too critical of yourself, expect to make a few mistakes and keep thinking forward and not backward – remember that you are only human!

Control the tempo

One way to keep on top of a difficult piece is to control the tempo. Hold the tempo back – don’t let the music escape out of control, especially at the tricky bits. When you follow a music score while listening to a really good organist, you’ll often notice that they ease-up very slightly at the most difficult moments in the music.

Making a virtue out of a necessity!

This is sometimes referred to as ‘making a virtue out of a necessity’ and is a win win situation, creating good phrasing that helps make difficult passages a little easier. However, being able to control the tempo of a piece is not easy, but is a skill that is worth developing.

Focus without distraction

Also, don’t think about what other people might be thinking about your playing – it’s just you and the organ.

If anyone from the congregation wants to let you know how good they are at organ playing, just ask them to deputize for you when you are on holiday and see what they say!