AGO Service Playing Certification

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 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 2020:

  • Play three organ pieces chosen from a list of works from different historical periods. For example, your pieces might be a fugue from one of Bach’s Eight Little Preludes and Fugues, a movement by Mendelssohn, and a short contemporary work.
  • Choose two hymns from the 2013 Revised AGO Examination Hymn Booklet, and play two stanzas of each as though accompanying a congregation.
  • Transpose a hymn, again from the AGO booklet, no more than a whole step up or down (you can choose the hymn  and work it out in advance).
  • Play the accompaniment to a psalm chant, taken from the AGO hymn booklet.
  • Play two anthems chosen from those listed in the certification requirements.
  • Sight-read a short passage of music.
Grading Criteria for AGO Certification

Repertoire:  Awareness of stylistic period; imagination and musical excitement; phrasing and articulation; rhythm; tempo, note accuracy; registration.
Sightreading: accuracy of notes and rhythm, keeping a steady beat without hesitations – tempo is moderate, not rushed or halting.
Hymnplaying:  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 and voice-leading – then, interpreting accordingly.
Harmonization / Modulation:  Good voice leading, ease with keyboard harmony and sense of rules of counterpoint; form [use of motive, sequence, 4 & 8 measure balanced phrases, having a “plan” without meandering].
Following directions is a key factor.

2019 – 2020 Examination Dates and Fees

The test is offered from October 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020. Examination fee: $150, Student rate $125. Surcharge for non-AGO members, $100. February 1, 2020 is the final application deadline. Applications for SPC tests between October and early February should be be received at least 3 weeks prior to the scheduled test date.

Manual of Procedure for the Service Playing Test

pdf-large-typeAny chapter of the AGO can administer the service playing test for you at a mutually agreeable date between October 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 — contact a particular chapter. More information: Email or 212-870-2311, ext. 4303.

AGO Educational Resources

To assist candidates preparing for serving playing certification, the AGO Certification Committee has developed the educational resources, below.

Service Playing Test Study Guide
Service Playing Test Sight Reading Examples
100 Strategies for Successful AGO Certification
AGO Bibliography for Examination Preparation

Past TAO Articles for Exam Preparation

AGO Colleague Examination 2013/Improvisation Question/The Modulating Bridge by Philip Gehring, FAGO, Oct. 2013 (revised)
AGO Service Playing Anthem Accompaniment/Thou Wilt Keep Him in Perfect Peace: Approaches to Wesley’s Most Popular Anthem by Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO, ChM, August 2012
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
Regular Countersubjects in Fugue by Walter Hilse, FAGO, March 2008
Ten Tips on Sight Reading by Jonathan B. Hall, FAGO, ChM, March 2009
The Fugal Answer by Walter Hilse, FAGO, April 2006
Transposition: Not a Four-Letter Word by Kenneth Grinnell, FAGO, ChM, May 2008
On Modulation by Dean Billmeyer, FAGO, Handout from a 2008 convention workshop
Two Additional Service Playing Test Pieces by Kathleen Thomerson, FAGO, ChM, October 2009

Purchase the repertoire selections at Lois Fyfe Music or Cliff Hill Music.