While it is a topic of debate for some whether the organ is classified as a keyboard instrument or a woodwind instrument (and of course it depends on which models of organs we are talking about), there is no doubt that the instrument contains a keyboard which is the primary means of operating it.

If you've already read our introduction to the keyboard instruments, then you'll have discovered that organ players must also operate pedals as well as levers, along with buttons and other controls to vary the sound and dynamics.

So, how do you play the organ and what makes it different from other keyboard instruments like the modest keyboard?

How to play the organ

We all know that playing a keyboard instrument entails pressing down on keys, or levers, to create sounds. However, where the organ differs is that it requires the player to use foot pedals in addition to playing notes with their fingers.

When playing most instruments in the keyboard family, you must sit straight at the centre of your device, preferably on a piano stool or bench, and maintain your posture throughout. With the organ, you don't want your feet placed flat on the ground, you want them to be on the pedal board the entire time. You also don't want to ruin your posture by looking down at your feet when playing.

Your arms, meanwhile, should be relaxed and supple, with your hands curved in a C shape over the top of the keys. Align your fingertips with the middle of the white keys, elbows at the same height.

To avoid giving in to your temptation to look down, try practising repeated, small fragments to help you get used to the pedal board. This will help you to make your pedal playing more automatic rather than pushing through longer pieces and learning bad habits like looking down at your feet or the score.

When it's time to move your feet to a new position, hold back once more from looking down but also ensure that you slide your toes across the pedals without lifting them off. Feel the board with your feet just like someone with no sight would feel the keys of their keyboard!

As a final note for new organists, stay as close as you can to sharp notes when playing naturals, almost touching them as you play, and only play on the edge of the keys to make your playing more precise.

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How different is the organ to other keyboard instruments?
Is playing the organ easy? Let us fill you in! Photo credit: Elsie Esq. on Visualhunt.com / CC BY

The organ and the church

Organs are common instruments in households, (my grandfather used to have one in his front room and regularly attended organ clubs until his late years) yet many people associate organs with churches. And there's a good reason for this.

The organ made its way into churches and other religious venues around 900 CE to support ceremonies. As we know, the sound created by the organ is perfect for filling large spaces but also acts as a support to voices in a congregation, for example.

By the 1400s, organs were common in monastic churches and cathedrals in the UK and the rest of Europe in both large and small forms, some with huge pipes making them a feature.

Although we are used to seeing this majestic instrument in the church, it was actually around for more than 1000 years before it entered this setting.

Organs have a very grand stature because of their pipes.
Organs are commonly found in churches or cathedrals. Photo credit: zoxcleb on Visualhunt.com / CC BY-SA

What are the distinctive features of an organ?

Going back to the big question once more, "How is an organ different from a piano?", let us now look at how the organ differs to other keyboard instruments.

You'd think it would be fair to say that they both have keyboards so they work in the same way... but that is quite untrue. Not only do they operate differently in many senses, but they also produce different sounds and thus are used for different purposes or roles.

That is not to say that a pianist can't learn to play the piano. It is, of course, easier for a pianist to learn to play the organ than a complete beginner, however, learning the different techniques could be likened to learning a brand new instrument like a trumpet as some of the methods are unlike anything they would have done before!

The piano is classed as a percussion instrument whilst the organ is classified as a woodwind.

What's more, the sound, number of sounds and sound control are very different. An organ is a bit more versatile as you can alter the sounds to make it mimic other instruments thanks to its ranks, or voices.

While the piano is a good leading instrument, due to its power of percussion and its speed at producing melodies and rhythms, the organ is better at filling larger spaces with sound, hence why it is commonly used as a support to a congregation, which we've already discussed.

Although both instruments are controlled by a keyboard, organ players must learn to play bass notes and control volume using pedals whereas pianists must get to grips with complicated fingerings and chords.

Who would have thought that two keyboard instruments could be so far off each other?

As a pianist, you can't simply transfer to playing an organ.
The organ produces a very different sound to the common household piano. Photo credit: Brandon Giesbrecht on Visual hunt / CC BY

Who to talk to about organs?

If you are an organ enthusiast or want to know more about the instrument, there are a few different groups and associations that you can become a part of to discuss all things organs.

For instance, The Incorporated Association of Organists (IAO) ' is a registered charity that provides information, support, education, and training for organists, choir trainers and organ enthusiasts.' The site offers information on grants,  local events and any relevant news. Right now, the website contains information about the 2020 music festival!

Then we have the AOE, or Association of Organ Enthusiasts, a group which provides the opportunity to become a member and share in the love of organs! On the website, you'll find articles, concert dates and galleries al dedicated to music played on the organ.

Finally, you can find a range of music groups on Facebook to join or follow, some of which may be in your area and enable you to actually connect and meet up in person to continue chatting about and playing the organ with other enthusiasts.

If you want to attend concerts or recitals or find out how to become a part of an orchestra or choir, then a search on the Internet for local gigs would be a good idea or visiting local church groups and music schools might also work in your favour.

Learn to play organ with Superprof!

Always available for your learning needs, Superprof features a range of music tutors with varying levels of experience and offering different rates. You can search the website for organ tutors now.

With this platform, you can either choose a tutor based in your area, one who either has a studio or will come to your home. Another option would be online classes via video link, which could save you money in the long run - no travelling time to and from lessons, and your tutor might give you a discounted rate because s/he won't have to travel, either!

You might also be interested in knowing that most Superprof tutors give their first hour of lessons at no charge, just to see if you two would learn well together. With such an offer, how could anyone not choose that option?

Learning the organ or any other instrument from the keyboard family over Internet connection is also great for those who have busy lives and need to schedule in lessons with minimal disruption to their routine like having to travel to a studio or tidy up in preparation for a visit from a tutor.

Find out more about playing the harpsichord.

Find out more about playing the accordion.

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