To a newcomer, the piano and organ might appear to be the same thing. However, professional musicians and enthusiasts know that there’s a world of difference between the two instruments.
For instance, an organ’s sound can be modified in several ways to sound like different instruments, whereas the piano can just play the sound it was built for. Also, pianos have 88 keys, unlike the organ, which only has 61 keys.
These are just a couple of the basic differences between the two instruments. In this article, we will take a closer at an organ vs. a piano.
Organ vs Piano – Classification
Organs belong to the family of windwood instruments like the clarinet, bassoon, flute, and oboe. Such instruments are essentially pipes that have an opening at the bottom and produce sound when air is blown through these pipes.
The piano is categorized as a percussion instrument, but it’s also considered a stringed instrument. Percussion instruments produce sound when they are hit or struck.
The hammer action of the piano, which entails the hammer striking the strings, makes the piano a percussion instrument. The presence of tightened strings in the piano makes it a stringed instrument.
Organ Vs. Piano – Working Mechanism
An organ is built with metallic pipes, most of which are not visible. As the wind is pressurized through the pipes, the pipes start vibrating to create sound.
To play the organ, the musician will use the pedals and keyboards on the instrument. These pedals help to open and close the pipes for pressurized air to pass through.
Even though a piano can have nearly 12,000 components, its working mechanism is less complicated as compared to an organ. Three separate assemblies, i.e., the hammer, pedals, and strings, are present in a piano to produce sound.
Once the hammer strikes the string, it returns to its original resting position. If this did not happen, the hammer would continuously stay in contact with the string for as long as the key is pressed. This would stop the string from vibrating, and the instrument won’t produce any sound.
The piano produces the intended sound when the strings vibrate. The tightness, length, and density of the strings determine if the string is going to play a high or low note. Most pianos have three strings that vibrate together to produce a melodious tone.
Pedals provide musicians control over the sound they wish to produce. Grand pianos typically have three pedals – left, center, and middle pedal.
Organ Vs. Piano – Sound Producing Mechanism
The sound-producing mechanism of organs and pianos is also very different.
The sound a piano produces depends on how hardly or softly the pianist strikes a key. This is not the case with an organ. In an organ, the sound stops once the performer removes their finger from the key.
While playing the piano, the pianist can use the middle pedal to sustain the sound long after releasing the key.
In a piano, the hammer action determines the tone it produces during a performance. Conversely, the type of ranks or stops of pipe the organist chooses determines the tone that the organ produces.
Organ Vs. Piano – Keyboards
You will immediately notice that a piano has a set of 88 keys, all in a single row. On the other hand, organs have two rows of keys and usually have foot pedals to play bass notes.
This is because organs have drawbars with different voices or ranks that you can pull down to impact the sound. All of the organ’s ranks can be blended with others to mimic the sounds produced by reed instruments and woodwinds.
You can have different sounds for the bottom keyboard, top keyboard, and bass notes. Many times, you will be playing the organ with one hand on one keyboard, playing chords with the lower keyboard, and playing bass lines or bass notes with your foot.
This is a significant difference between the organ and the piano. However, it also has implications for differences in the usage of the organ. Since one can play melody, chords, and bass with an organ, you will generally see them being used in various settings.
Organ Vs. Piano – Role In Music
Organs and pianos have different roles in music.
The piano is usually a leading instrument. It has got a massive range, sounds sweet, and thanks to its percussive nature, it can play beautiful melodies.
On the other hand, organs fill a bigger amount of musical space. In the pop music genre, they’re often used to create a feeling of space. In blues, jazz, traditional style, and church music, the organ will work as the primary instrument, playing melodies, chords, and bass lines.
Organ Vs. Piano–Playing Technique
The organ and piano are played and used differently. Thus, you have to learn different techniques.
Pianists need to learn complicated chords and fingering. Mastering speed, independence, dynamics, and dexterity, are all essential parts of becoming a professional piano player.
Organists need speed, dexterity, and independence, but in a somewhat different sense. Organ players need independence between their hands and both their feet. Both feet or one foot may be playing bass lines, and one is also usually on a volume pedal.
Organ players do not have to pay attention to how hard they’re playing the organ – all the dynamics on an organ come from the volume pedal and how the players use the drawbars to modify the sound.
Organ Vs. Piano – Skill Level
Both instruments require a different set of music theory skills and manual dexterity. Even though both organ and piano are keyboard-based, there are several differences between the two when it comes to playing. Organ players need to know how to play bass notes on a pedaled keyboard while simultaneously controlling a volume pedal. On the other hand, piano players need to learn complex fingerings and chords.
Organ Vs. Piano – Cost
A traditional pipe organ is very costly, costing more than $200,000 for an entry-level model. More elaborate pipe organs can cost up to millions. A lot of this depends on the metal with which the pipes are built, the number of stops in the organs, and its size.
Nevertheless, an electronic organ can produce all the same sounds for only $2,995 – a fraction of the price.
Acoustic pianos also come with hefty costs. For instance, a brand new Steinway can cost nearly $171,000. But an entry-level digital piano will cost anywhere from $200 to $1,000. However, when it comes to a digital piano, spending at least $1500 to $3,000 will get you the best quality product.
Note that while electronic and digital counterparts are way cheaper, they aren’t all created the same. Certain digital pianos are better than others, whereas certain electronic organs are better than others. If you wish to replicate the sound of acoustic instruments, you will have to invest in the high-end version of the product.
Take Your Pick
The piano and organ seem very similar. However, they have distinct traits that set them apart. If you’re looking to play the organ, a good starting point is to get familiar with and learn how to play the piano.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.