Each year, many AGO members receive certification of their service playing skills with the Service Playing Test. The Service Playing Certificate is recognized by many churches and employers as a demonstration of proficiency at the organ, and it brings organists many professional benefits. The test is entirely practical, and the required skills come into play at the worship service(s) you play each week.
The content of the Service Playing Test follows the order of a Sunday worship service and has six basic parts. For additional details, see the AGO Professional Certification Requirements for 2024. In addition, click here for the 2023 Certification Requirements Summary Chart. (This will be updated for 2023-2024 on July 5, 2023.)
Revised Hymn Booklet
The new 2023 Hymn Examination booklet is now available. The 2013 Hymn Examination booklet is no longer valid. For a list of the contents (titles and tunes), please click HERE. To download the 2023 Hymn Examination booklet you must contact the Certification Program Administrator to obtain passwords (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: 212-870-2311, ext. 4303). Once you have obtained the passwords, please return to this page and click HERE to access the page with the downloadable files of the 2023 Hymn Examination Booklet.
Please note that the booklet will be updated due to copyright issues. Only a few hymns will be replaced, all other material will remain valid. Please see this page when the certification requirements are released for more information.
Grading Criteria for AGO Certification
Repertoire: Awareness of stylistic period; imagination and musical excitement; phrasing and articulation; rhythm; tempo; note accuracy; registration.
Sight-reading: accuracy of notes and rhythm; keeping a steady beat without hesitations; tempo is moderate, not rushed or halting.
Hymn playing: Accuracy; rhythm; sensitivity to text via registration and articulation; leaving space for breathing; consistent spaces between stanzas; harmonizations that enhance singing but do not get in the way of singing or message of hymn text.
Transposition: Accuracy of notes and rhythm; keeping a steady beat and maintaining voice lines and voice leading.
Accompanying: Accuracy of notes and rhythm; attention to text and breathing places for singers; care in registrations so that support is provided without being aggressive; awareness of dynamics, tessitura, voice leading, and interpreting accordingly.
Harmonization/Modulation: Good voice leading, ease with keyboard harmony, and a sense of rules of counterpoint; form: use of motive, sequence, four- and eight-measure balanced phrases, having a “plan” without meandering.
Following directions is a key factor.
2023-2024 Examination Dates and Fees
The test is offered from October 1, 2023, through March 31, 2024. Examination fee: $175; student rate: $125. Surcharge for non-AGO members: $115. February 1, 2024, is the final application deadline. Applications for SPC tests between October and early February should be be received at least three weeks prior to the scheduled test date.
Manual of Procedure for the Service Playing Test
Download the Manual of Procedure for the Service Playing Test. Any chapter of the AGO can administer the test for you at a mutually agreeable date between October 1, 2023, and March 31, 2024. Contact a particular chapter. More information: email, or call 212-870-2311, ext. 4303.
Online Study Group
The path to AGO certification need not be a lonely one! Join the new online community of organists who are preparing to take the Service Playing Certificate (SPC) exam. This will be a supportive forum to learn together and ask questions, guided by the leadership of the AGO Committee on Professional Certification. Sessions will be held once a month, September through March, on Mondays, and will be available only to those who register for the SPC in this examination cycle. A Zoom link will be provided with the confirmation email following registration. Below is the schedule.
October 16, 2023 January 8, 2024
November 13, 2023 February 12, 2024
December 4, 2023 March 4, 2024
AGO Educational Resources
To assist candidates preparing for the Service Playing Test, the AGO Certification Committee has developed the educational resources below:
Service Playing Test Study Guide (Please note: This is not yet updated for current repertoire requirements, but contains useful guidance.)
Service Playing Test Sight-Reading Examples
100 Strategies for Successful AGO Certification
Past TAO Articles for Exam Preparation
“It Don’t Mean A Thing If You Can’t Make ‘Em Sing”/Leading Hymn Singing from the Organ: A Practical Checklist by Kenneth Grinnell, FAGO, ChM, April 2006
Ten Tips on Sight-Reading by Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO, ChM, March 2009
Transposition: Not a Four-Letter Word by Kenneth Grinnell, FAGO, ChM, May 2008