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Learning piano/organ

12 Apr 04 - 05:00 AM (#1159691)
Subject: Learning piano/organ
From: John MacKenzie

I gave in to temptation and bought a lovely old harmonium, complete with fancy top scrolls and a mirror. Now I want to learn to play it! Is it feasible, and what books if any caan you recommend for an absolute beginner.

12 Apr 04 - 05:48 AM (#1159714)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: Sooz

Sounds as if it could double as a dressing table if you don't get around to learning to play it!
Seriously, though, its a good idea to have a few lessons to get you started. There will be a piano teacher near you who is willing to take on an adult who just wants to play and not take exams etc. Then you'll have to spend time practising......
Good luck - a harmonium is great fun.

12 Apr 04 - 08:23 AM (#1159770)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: The Fooles Troupe

Good to see someone taking up a new instrument.

Well, for a start, there is a big difference between a Piano and a Harmonium.

The piano is a percussive instrument, harmoniums are reed instruments. Indeed all "organs" are not percussive instruments, but by origin, wind instruments. Electric/electronic instruments are nearer in concept to the organ than the piano, or indeed any instrument that they simulate.

However, any instrument with a "piano keyboard" does share a common ground of the way the pitches are placed on the instrument, so a piano teacher can help you get familiar with the keyboard. But they are different animals. Just like the fact that a "piano accordion" is not played at all like a "piano".


17 Apr 04 - 11:09 PM (#1164144)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: GUEST,Daniel

I'd like to learn to play pipe organ. I'm actualy a fan of heavy metal not classical music but some bands actualy use organ, espescialy in Funeral doom (self explanatory, see Skepticism) and some bands like Devil Doll who aren't really metal but have lots of moments that can be called metal. I have a special limited edition of Dies Irae by Devil Doll and I was blown away by the power of the organ on that CD. It struck me as something I would like to learn. I've always been told I have good fingers for piano and would like to learn to play both but it was only when I heard black metal (Diabolical Masquerade) that I started appreciating it as a surprisingly versatile instrument.
I was just wondering if I could actualy find someone to teach me organ and how I would approach it. Like, should I learn to play piano first or is pipe organ an instrument that is so different I should really just go straight to playing organ?

I think that's a pretty cool organ part, sounds difficult to play though. The piano that comes after is very nice, espescialy when the violin comes in and it doesn't sound espescialy hard. There's so many parts of this guy's music that are very beautiful, and just as many that are chilling to the bone.

17 Apr 04 - 11:53 PM (#1164158)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: The Fooles Troupe

I don't understand your "see Skepticism" reference.

It's not possible for me to tell from the mpg I downloaded whether it is a real "pipe organ" or faked. The choral addition always 'vamps up' that style of music. There is a lot of reverb (especially notable on the vocal parts), which is masking any way I can tell if the organ is a real pipe one or not, especially through the samplping rate and my tiny speakers.

Pipe organs are huge monstrous (very non-portable!) things that can have dozens of individual pipes for each note on the keyboard. They usually have more than one keyboard (called 'manuals') and one set of pedals for the feet (that spans a few octaves - definitely more than one!) It is possible through "couplers", to link octaves or sub-octaves of any individual note from the same manual and also from other manuals and the pedals.

Very few individuals are able to purchase their own. A few of us are able to cajole (or pay for) time on one.

While Rock Bands with big budgets may be able to gain access to one for a recording session, I suspect that most of what you think is a "pipe organ" sound used in music is an electronic organ. With big enough speakers to handle the very high and low frequencies - from only a few cycles per second (subsonic) to the limit of human hearing 15-20,000 cycles per second, you get a pretty good imitation. the only problem being that the real pipe organ, because of the multiplicity of individual pipes (sound sources) has a different character of sound compared to electronic tone generators which are usually lock-step divided electronically and thus always maintain constant pitch differences between the "apparent sources".

Thus several of your normal Yamaha, etc, keyboards and a pedal set will give you much of the sound you expect.

Pipe organs, although they have a piano keyboard, are not played like one. A Piano (Piano Forte) is a percussive instrument, the pipe organ opens a valve that causes a pipe to speak at a constant wind pressure(volume). More than one pipe may be ganged to the key through 'stops' & 'couplers', thus varying the quality and volume of the sound. A relatively few pipe are often gathered into a box with a lid or shutters controlled by a special foot pedal, which allows muffling of the tone/volume, and these pipes are controlled directly from the 'swell organ' manual. It is NOT a 'voume pedal'.

Thus playing a run of notes in a 'legato' style is a skill to be learned. On the earliest pipe organs, the notes were sounded by punching large buttons with the fists. Varying systems of coupleing the keyboards to the pipe were developed, including mechanical (rods or wires), pneumatic (air tubes), electric (switched under the keys and relays), and electro-pneumatic (a combination of the last two). Each system has a different 'feel' and none of them feel like a 'piano keyboard', so those expensive 'velocity sensitive' electronic keyboards will give completely the wrong sound unless you turn that feature off.

It is best recommended that you learn how to play on a piano and read the score - that's what was recommended to me. After a couple of years - depending on the speed of your technical progress - you will find the move to a pipe organ somewhat easier, as you now only have to struggle with the pedals and stops and couplers!

If you take the 'electronic organ' keyboard method instead of a real piano, that will work, but the change to the real thing is still breathtaking, and a significant step.

Good Luck, it's a lot of hard work - skill (gained thru many hours of technical studies practice) makes it SOUND easy! :-)

But it is worth it if you stick with it.

See you in at least three years...


18 Apr 04 - 11:01 AM (#1164404)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: GUEST,Daniel

Devil Doll uses pipe organ. I'm positive. The metal bands probably use keyboard or something. The organ for that song was recorded at Trnovo Church, Ljubljana. Dies Irae uses a bigger one I think, from Monte Berico Basilica in Italy. I didn't realize that all pipe organs were large. You're saying I really couldn't have one of these in my house (the size of a piano)?
Anyway, thanks for the help.

18 Apr 04 - 06:58 PM (#1164683)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: GUEST,Lindswidder

I've had an American "Parlor Organ" for 25 years. I bought it for £75 in Oxfordshire. The man selling it had two and sold mine to finance the restoration of the other - but I think I got the better organ of the deal! It was made in about 1890 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I wish it could tell me how it came to be in this country!

19 Apr 04 - 02:13 AM (#1164905)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: Desert Dancer

If you want to play the organ, take organ lessons. If you want to play the piano, take piano lessons. The keyboard's the same, and that's about it. (I took organ for a number of years as a kid. Can't play the piano. We had a reed organ, then an electronic one.)

You won't start on a pipe organ, but if you want to play one some day, learn on an electronic organ, not a piano.

Where to find a teacher? Find a dealer (in organs) -- they've always got connections. Or, talk to a church organist.

~ Becky in Tucson

19 Apr 04 - 04:11 AM (#1164951)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: John MacKenzie

Lindswidder. there are lots of these American made'Parlour Organ/Harmoniums'around. Mine dates from about 1912, and is a Story Clark made in Chicago, the Victorians loved these things, and shipped them in in hundreds. There are also a lot around with American innards, and British cases.

19 Apr 04 - 04:22 AM (#1164956)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: GUEST,M'Grath of Altcar

Curwen's musical encyclopaedia tells me that the difference between a harmonium and an american organ is that Harmoniums blow air over the reeds whereas an american organ sucks the air over the reeds.

19 Apr 04 - 04:34 AM (#1164966)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: LindsayInWales

thanks John, strangely though I've never seen any other Ann Arbor ones! When I got mine I discovered an Organ Museum in Saltaire in Yorkshire run by Pam and Phil Flukes, and I asked them what information they had (which was none - nor did they have an Ann Arbor one in their collection). Fortunately I discovered a member of my Motorcycle club living in Ann Arbor and he kindly went to his Library for me and dug me out loads of info which I was able to pass on to the Flukes' museum in Yorkshire.

There is also a brief mention of the organ works at Ann Arbor in Robert F. Gellerman's "The American Reed Organ" which is "..a treatise on its History, Restoration and Tuning, with Descriptions of some Outstanding Collections, Including a Stop Directory and a Dierctory of Reed Organs...."

I don't play mine too often but when the mood takes me, especially when the sun is shining, I like to open all my windows and give my neighbours a good blast of a few hearty hymns (no-one complains!!)


19 Apr 04 - 11:38 PM (#1165713)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: The Fooles Troupe


I tried to post this before, but it got lost, so I started again, and it's [correct apostrophe usage!] a little longer. I hope it encourages to keep on with something you have been inspired to want.

It is good to see that someone without a 'Classical Music' background is sufficiently inspired to be interested in Acoustic instruments from a "Classical Music" background. First off although, that is not a violin, but a cello you hear in that track - same family of instruments, larger body and deeper tone.

"You're saying I really couldn't have one of these in my house (the size of a piano)?" A parlor organ is about the size of a piano, but it doesn't have the 32 foot and 64 foot bass pedal pipes of a real pipe organ, it is a 'Reed Organ' - no pipes. Those large pipes REALLY cause your chest to shake, an effect that Rock Bands try to emulate with thousands of watts of amplification. The churches you mention probably had their pipe organs constructed in the 15-16 centuries (or earlier), constantly modified and updated since then. No small part of the 'sound' of a pipe organ is the acoustics of the building in which it is housed, something to remembered if you want one in your 'house'. Pipe Organs need LARGE rooms, like a cathedral! You CAN fake some of that ambience electronically these days.

There are eccentrics that have built their houses around their own pipe organ. My local church had a 'portable' pipe organ - well, portable on an ox-cart in the days they bought it - and it was about 10-12 feet high, about 15 - 20 feet wide and about 5-6 feet deep. They sold it to get a much physically smaller electronic organ, as they claimed that the maintainence costs were too high for them. BTW, I don't go to that church any more - although it has nothing to do with that matter!

The pipe organ was one of the main instruments that J.S. Bach wrote much serious and 'heavy' music for. The 'Toccata and Fugue in D minor' is one such sort of piece that you may have heard - it has been well popularised, especially by 'The Haunted House' Pinball Arcade Game, now released as the lead and trial game in a package of such games for the PC. I thoroughly used to enjoy playing that when much younger - it gives both hands and the feet a proper workout. I had started on the Bach Fuges series, but life intervened and my family shifted towns, and I lost regular access to a pipe organ. Without the foot pedals you can only practice so much.

There are 2 types (or styles) of Pipe Organ - Church Organs & Theatre Organs. Theatre organs were a fairly modern invention, intended to be the centrepiece of a Town Hall, or for social gatherings. They may have drums, "bells and whistles", etc, and were often installed in places that became silent movie houses, and have a different range of stops, intended to create a different style of sound from Church organs. Church organs were intended to be reverent, accompany the singing of a soloist, choir, or congregation, and to provide a little polite incidental music for taking up the collection, filling in gaps, the bride walking down to the altar, and the congregation filing out. In England, some church organs were rescued from destruction by the Puritans, and set up by Landlords in Public Houses, where they were used for entertainment, leading eventually to Music Hall -> theatre organs.

If you want to learn to play a pipe organ thru the path of using an electric organ rather than the piano, be warned that those electronic units that have only an octave of feet pedals will not teach you proper 'pipe organ pedal technique', you will have to get a much larger and more expensive unit that has the full 3 or so octave feet pedal set, or learn again about using the feet pedals when you move to a full size pipe organ. In that respect there really isn't much difference between learning how to handle a 'piano keyboard' manual via a piano or an electronic organ.

The 'velocity sensitive' keyboards are designed to imitate the action and response as well as the sound of a piano, so if you learn with one of them - you can now get midi keyboards with that built in - there is really no excuse for claiming that you do not know how to play a piano. If you start on a piano the shift to organ is easy.

The real necessity to remember is that the skills you first need to acquire are

1) Reading music notation

2) Understanding some basic music theory

you can acquire sufficient of these to get started with almost any instrument, such as a tinwhistle.

3) The ability to use the keyboard

Some form of piano style keyboard is needed to develop the manual dexterity - at least three years, maybe 5 -6 years. I'm not kidding - the 'good stuff' IS hard work to play, and you can't be stumbling because you aren't at ease on a 'piano keyboard'. of course, you may be able to start at a simple level with pieces of lower technical difficulty once you start to gain access to a pipe organ, and then you will be spurred on to improve via more practice.

4) The theory of how the pipes on the pipe organ work - how you mix sounds and waveforms, how you create volumes and tone colours, and how you contrast one sound with another. If you use an electronic organ to learn to play a 'piano keyboard', only one with 'Hammond drawbars' will impart some of this sort of knowledge directly - otherwise you will have to work with premixed samples of simulated existing real world pipe stop sounds selected through a set of switches, thinking thru this 'preset' sound to understand what the real thing does. You will learn how to play an electronic organ, but you will still need to learn the skill of generating the sounds from a real pipe organ. Much of the same argument applies to a 'harmonium' or 'reed organ' - reeds and flutes have different waveforms.

BTW all pianos are not the same either, there is a lot of difference between a 'grand piano' action and an upright piano. And there are dozens of upright piano actions, each slightly different too. The more expensive the instrument, the more sensitivity provided in the action. Pipe organ keyboards have no such keyboard subtleties, the notes are 'on' or 'off', and will continue to sound with the same volume for as long as you hold the key down, unlike a piano. Most modern electronic organs try to have some sort of 'velocity sensitive' touch to the keyboard. Without it, the trained ear can easily pick between a real piano and an organ pretending to be a piano (but not so easily a harpsichord!).

You should go to a large reference library, especially one that is part of the music department of a university or conservatorium, when you can ask to see some appropriate reference material about pipe organs.

'You won't start on a pipe organ,' I agree with this, 'but if you want to play one some day, learn on an electronic organ, not a piano.' Obviously I don't agree with that! I disagree entirely - an electronic organ is no more like a pipe organ than a piano is. And, for hundreds of years electronic organs did not exist! In the days when I learnt, they were almost as unaccessible and nearly as unaffordable for the beginner as was a pipe organ! J. S. Bach learnt his physical keyboard skills on other instruments with a 'piano keyboard', some of these were totally silent practice instruments!

'Where to find a teacher? Find a dealer (in organs) -- they've always got connections. Or, talk to a church organist.' Good advice, to be taken in addition to what I have already said. It's a long term project. If you want to be a Fighter Pilot, first you need to learn how to fly a plane, any plane, even a glider! Then you learn to handle faster planes, then if you are good enough, the people who pay the big bills for the big toys, may turn you loose on the big toys! - if they think you are good enough!

Gaining access to a pipe organ is a problem. Like the Fighter Pilot analogy, you may find it difficult to gain access until you can demonstrate that the necessary maintainence incurred by having someone else play it is worthwhile. Of course, if you had grown up like me in a church with a decent large pipe organ, you probably wouldn't be here, asking these questions. Even so I had difficulty getting on to the 'roster' of 'approved organists'. I played piano for the Sunday School kids, with nearly a thousand tunes I could play on instant demand (with the books in front of me!), and had won prizes in the local Eisteddford for Piano & Singing, and had several years of Music Theory & Practical Exams behind me (perhaps even more musical experience and demonsrtated ablity than many on the 'roster'!), but even so, it took quite some time before they would let an obviously keen 13 year old loose on their precious expensive toy!

So stick with it, it's a good ambition for a musician, and takes some persistence and hard work, but it is definitely worth it!


20 Apr 04 - 12:00 AM (#1165730)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: Desert Dancer

Robin wrote:
'You won't start on a pipe organ,' I agree with this, 'but if you want to play one some day, learn on an electronic organ, not a piano.' Obviously I don't agree with that! I disagree entirely - an electronic organ is no more like a pipe organ than a piano is.

Hmm. I think an electronic organ is more like an organ than a piano is. But, I've never played a real pipe organ.

Yes, a keyboard, is a keyboard, but if you want to learn to read 3 staffs (2 manuals and pedals), and not just 2, if you want to learn to play on 2 manuals (or more), if you want to learn about the effects of organ stops, if you want to understand the feel of holding sustained organ notes, learn on an organ, whatever kind you can get hold of. If you want to become familiar with a keyboard instrument, use whatever's handy. It's probably easier to go from piano to organ than the reverse.

Personally, I wish I'd learned piano, because I run into a lot more oppotunities for informal playing on pianos than on organs, and the difference in attack on a piano is pretty hard for me to adjust to. It was just a quirk of our household that we went for organs instead of pianos. Maybe it was cheaper.

~ Becky in Tucson

20 Apr 04 - 03:58 AM (#1165820)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: The Fooles Troupe

Becky MAY be right - these days cheap 'electronic organs' abound.

I had no trouble adjusting to more than 2 staves - I also did choral work, and used to play piano accompaniment for my father who was a very good violinist. I also did duets & trios on the piano (requiring 4 & 6 stave music), something which doesn't seem to be as popular nowadays - but that was before TV. I was also used to reading multipart staff notation for orchestral, band, choral, etc, as part of my Musical Training - I wanted to be a conductor and/or musical arranger, so I studied relevant things like that too. Reading scores that have so many parts that you only get a single line of music per instrument per page, meant that simple 3 part notation was not hard for me.

I used to practice the organ stuff which I could on the piano, even playing the pedal parts in the bass so I would hear what they sounded like. This was the recommended system when I was learning. It was expected in my environment that those things were of the 'basic practice' level to be completed before accessing pipe organ. The first few times were expected to be 'the learning phaase' on the pipe organ, then you were just expected to be trying totally new pieces to check the balance of the sound selections, or practicing difficult things like Fuges, etc which could only be practiced on the organ because of the pedal parts. All the same, it was expected that you had the parts for the manuals (both hands) off to the level that you almost never needed to look at the music for them, using the piano.

A lot of 'Church Music' involved only adding pedal parts to 2 stave music: hymns etc were only provided in 2 stave notation, so the idea of being able to practice it on the piano was not as silly as it sounds anyway.

There only three words that will help you get accustomed to playing on a different instrument Becky, "Practice!" "Practice!" "Practice!".


17 Jun 10 - 10:36 AM (#2929854)

I purchased a solid oak piano case reed organ in 1972 in Michigan. It is Story Clark custom made for Clark Pitts and I did go to the Battle Creek Library and found a book which did tell me that Story and Clark made only 2000 of these organs in the 1890s. They were made for folks who liked piano style better- I have been looking for member of the Pitts family .   It plays well - and it is a beautiful piece of Oak Furniture.    I rarely see any other information about these organs or what kind of appraisal could be forthcoming.

17 Jun 10 - 01:14 PM (#2929933)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: Smokey.

I see this is quite an old thread, but I know a piano teacher very near Lairg. PM me if you're still looking, John.

03 Jun 12 - 04:43 PM (#3358859)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ

i want to be an expert in playing the organ.

04 Jun 12 - 07:45 AM (#3359072)
Subject: RE: Learning piano/organ
From: AllisonA(Animaterra)

We recently acquired an Estey Reed Orge, aka parlor organ, aka pump organ, made in Brattleboro, VT in the 1880s. It's a beaut, with lovely walnut case and most of the stops in good condition. Perfect for playing "Bringingin the Sheaves" and "Nearer, My God, to Thee"!
In the course of doing a bit of research I discovered this site: The Reed Organ Society, Inc.
Note the scope of instruments: "The scope of instruments ranges from harmonicas, accordions, concertinas, and lap organs, through melodeons, harmoniums, parlor, chapel, and church organs to mechanical player organs, whether they be foot-pumped, hand-cranked, or motorized."

Accordions! Concertinas! Serendipity!

Is it that I'm drawn to free reeds, or are free reeds drawn to me?