It is possible to learn quite a bit about the piano using an organ. There are some big advantages and some disadvantages to using an organ. Read on for our pro tips and recommendations!
Organs have quite a bit in common with acoustic and electric pianos. They require a source for getting sound, whether by electricity, by manually pumping a bellows with your feet or with another device. Old church pipe organs work with air pushed through the pipes and modern electric organs are digital electrically produced sounds through speakers. The thing they have in common with the piano is the keyboards.
Most organ’s keyboards are identical to the layout of a piano, with black and white keys organized in units of two and three black keys. This is excellent news! Because the notes you play on one instrument are exactly the same played on the other!
Here’s what you need to know:
There are some advantages to learning on an organ then playing the piano later.
Advantages to learning on the organ
- You may have free access to an organ to practice on. Churches will often let you practice on their organ, if are respectful and ask permission first. Or you may have inherited one from a loved one who played.
- If you learn organ with the pedals with your feet as well, playing the piano may seem easier in comparison to the piano later.
- Your ear can become accustomed to hearing many different voices on an organ, which you can later interpret into piano music by technics for musical expression and variety.
- Playing two different keyboards at once requires slightly more dexterity, which will help for piano later.
- It is critical to play with a skill called finger legato on an organ. If you let go of an organ key, the sound is GONE. To keep the tones sounding smooth and connected, you have to exercise control of when to let go and move onto another key so that there are no sound breaks. Organists learn this skill right away. Pianists often struggle to gain this skill because they rely on using the sustain pedal to hold the tones for them. This ends up being a crutch for pianists and often takes diligent work to master finger legato.
- You can transfer your organ playing hand skills onto an inexpensive electric keyboard that does not have weighted keys very well.
- The keys are super easy to depress, so you can more easily get little flourishes and riffs with a very light touch which works well for jazz and blues, plus do fast runs for rock and roll and pops.
Disadvantages to learning the piano on the organ:
- Organs have an extremely LIGHT touch on the keys. It is super easy to depress them, contrary to pianos which have weighted keys and are much more mechanical in their action. Pianists learn to press the keys with varying pressures, which is irrelevant on organs. Gaining control over the keys on a piano depends a great deal on muscle strength in the fingers and it takes a bit of work on a piano to develop those muscles. I find organ keys TOO easy to release.
- On the topic of finger legato, I don’t teach my students to play a church organ until they have about four years of piano lessons under their belt because often you have to do motions that are strict no-no’s on the piano just to get a legato sound. This is especially true on hymns, which are not organ/keyboard music at all, but choral music for voices. The music is written to play for singing parts, not for correct piano technic, and to keep the voices legato you may have to twist your fingers into knots or do poor piano technic so that the voices do not have sound breaks or the music will sound choppy and amateurish.
- Organ keys do not respond with a corresponding sound of staccato and slurs as well as a piano, so artistic touches and sounds are limited.
- Organ keys are not touch-sensitive, meaning the sound doesn’t get louder or quieter with the amount of pressure or attack you play the keys. Organs instead use a pedal that looks like the accelerator pedal in your car to increase/decrease volume. Pianists learn to control their volume manually with their arms, wrists and fingers as they play.
- Pianos have three pedals that contribute to different sounds as the notes are played. Organists will not learn how to use the pedals like on a piano.
- Finding an organ while you are traveling is difficult. Portable piano keyboards can travel with you or there are often pianos wherever you find yourself.
- Organ keyboards are not 88 keys and have a limited range of motion possible. Many piano technics are not possible on an organ because of the shortened keyboard or lack of weighted keys.
- Organ keys are slippery and often made of plastic, which requires a different touch under the hand. I play church organ and I honestly don’t like it. I much prefer the keyboard of a full set of 88 keys with ivory keys or a modern approximation of ivory.
- You can sit more firmly on a piano bench. O.k., this is being picky, but trying to balance on your bum, using both feet on organ pedals, while reaching OUT to touch two or more keyboards requires balance AND a non-slippery garment on your bum. I’ve lost my balance while playing and almost slid off the bench a few times on the organ. I never have to worry about that with the piano.
- Organ benches are often positioned without any adjustments. I’m short, and I have to reach uncomfortably far forward and UP to play all the keys on all the keyboards of an organ. Pianos are designed for comfort while you sit as you would at a table….arms at 90 degrees to your torso, relaxed shoulders. It may sound picky, but with piano you have to do many small fine motor muscle adjustments and if your body positioning is off, it will necessitate further correction as you transition from organ to piano.
Take into consideration all the pros and cons of starting the piano on an organ. If it’s your only option, then GO FOR IT!
If you would prefer to start on a piano, there are many, many affordable options for free pianos (check Facebook Market, Craig’s List and your neighborhood for giveaways!) to electric portable keyboards. Check out my recommendations here.
If you would like to see my favorite keyboard this one is great!
- 88 weighted keys
- Imitation keys with Grand Piano-like texture
- Great sound
- Inboard Midi for compatibility for computers
- Earphone Jack
- Pedal included
- Compact size
Check out my other articles on great beginner books here.
and questions about the time needed to learn piano here.