December 27, 2019

Organs versus Pianos

The first keyboard instrument Tomoko played was the organ, not the piano. Therefore, she had to learn two different ways to use those keyboards. 

The most obvious difference between the two instruments is the way that the sound is produced; the piano is technically a percussion instrument while an organ is technically a woodwind instrument. Instead of piano hammers striking a set of strings as a pressed piano key releases the action mechanism level, organ pipes project the pitches based on the level of pressure that each key signals to its linked pipe. Organs also have stop knobs to adjust sounds by controlling the amount of pressurized air flowing to the pipes. 

For the piano, three pedals on the bottom can change the sound; one pedal shifts the action so that the hammer strikes just one of the three strings for the same note.  The other pedals lift the damper so that the string can vibrate longer.  On the organ’s bottom, a pedalboard produces pitches out of the pipes. 

In terms of the keyboard itself, the five-octave organ has 61 keys while the piano has 17 more; an organ with fewer octaves have fewer keys. Furthermore, organs have two levels of keys, called manuals. The organ’s controls enable the instrument to produce a greater variety of sounds than the piano.  Organ keys are also shorter and narrower than piano keys, and the player uses a lighter touch on the organ – and may need to develop a specific touch for some pieces.  

Knowing the techniques of both piano and organ has helped Tomoko broaden her performance options – and listeners’ enjoyment.

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