The Similarities of the Piano and Organ

The organ with its massive pipes and the piano with its relative diminutive stature may seem like two extremely dissimilar instruments. The two instruments, however, have more in common than many people think. In fact, most organists start as pianists and learn the organ only after they have mastered the piano technique. One of the main differences between the two instruments is that most pianos have 88 keys while the organ has 61.


The piano and organ both use a keyboard to produce sound. While the organ uses two keyboards and the piano just one, the setup remains the same. Each keyboard consists of several keys per octave: seven white keys, a double set of black keys and a triple set of black keys. The black keys are typically the sharp and flat notes.


While the footwork for the piano and organ is substantially different, both instruments require the use of the feet to produce characteristic effects. The piano includes three corda pedals that affect the sound of the notes played on the keyboard. The organ uses footwork in two ways: a third keyboard plays contrapuntal lines through a heel-toe technique and a crescendo pedal increases the sound.

Playing Technique

The basic playing technique for each instrument is the same. Pianists and organists must practice scales, arpeggios and chords to improve technique. Both instruments require substantial finger independence to play cleanly and articulate lines. Additionally, the legato technique used on the piano is the standard method of playing on the organ. Players of both instruments are advised to shape their hand as if holding a tennis ball to avoid cramping.


The organ and piano both use the bass and treble clef to play music. This means that whether the instrumentalist is playing organ or piano, they need to read both clefs. Most commonly the piano and organ will play with a single grand staff although in some cases the organ will have a second bass clef staff in order to indicate the pitches for the foot pedals.


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