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Can an Organist Play a Piano & Can a Pianist Play an Organ?

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  • Can an Organist Play a Piano & Can a Pianist Play an Organ?

    If you are an organist or a pianist have you ever wanted to play another keyboard instrument but after some thought decided not to, for fear of ruining you technique? Or maybe you think them too different to what you already play, and you can’t be bothered with the extra work of learning something new. Read on, then you decide.

    Before buying a home organ I thought them a bit of a cheat that does most of the work for you and thought them only for amateurs. However, I have found them to be an aide, which has allowed my musicality to flourish. It is also advantageous to play with a band, as if you are playing with others, even if it is just electronically produced.


    Most pianists never have the privilege, and playing with others when you have no experience is very frustrating. After all, not every venue has a piano and you can hardly carry one around. There are portable digital pianos but even they are cumbersome and heavy, and you need transport and have to set it up with an amp etc…


    Also the organ especially the home organ can look daunting and too difficult for some people. 2 or 3 manuals with bass pedals as well, and look at all those buttons and lights inside the console, it looks like the inside console panel of a star ship (especially the modern Lowrey’s) So that I know has put some people off. The music too can make people run away quickly, especially when they might play a clarinet for example which has one line of music on one staff, then they look at an organ score and see 3 music staffs with ants crawling all over the page.


    An organs keyboard feels the same all the way through the bass middle and treble. Whereas a Piano has a heavier bass, a lighter middle and a much lighter treble. In both cases it is what our hands and fingers get used to, but can you play both without much difficulty? Keep reading.


    Well, it was because of this reason more than any other that I shied away from the organ for a number of years. But, am glad that eventually I decided to buy one and try it at least. Now, for a seasoned player that has good hand muscles and good finger technique, moving from an organ to a piano and vice-versa, they don’t usually have much trouble playing both competently.


    Although, I know that some organist complain that playing a grand piano after an organ can feel uncomfortable, this is because grand pianos have a much heavier action, and have a larger contrast between bass middle and treble weight in the keys. Certainly on Kawai and Steinway grand’s I have found this to be much the case. Although you can have the action made lighter or made heavier, to a certain degree. Usually though, it is in the nature of the piano to have the feel of the keyboard it has, and certainly the nature of the make also comes in to it.


    I felt the action of an organ odd when first playing, and found it frustrating that when I lifted up my fingers the notes stopped, and my foot automatically felt for a damper pedal that was not there. What I have found though is that playing the organ has certainly tightened up my technique, allowing for greater finger sustain and dexterity, giving my playing more subtly and making me work on my technique for sound rather than relying on the pedals. Although, it must be said that many organs now have incorporated damper pedals into their models which is another helpful aide.


    What was frustrating for me when first playing the organ though is the lack of subtly on the notes even with the dynamics turned on, not a subtle as a piano, which by its nature due to the weight in the keys to help is far greater, something which organists have to learn when playing a piano. Also because there are no bass pedals, learning left-hand bass pedal notes for example and then using the damper pedal can be a bit frustrating, and alien to the organist. The glissandos which are such a part of the way the pop organ is played are not recommended when playing the piano, not at first, as you can hurt your fingers.


    So what I do and show others is to have hymn arrangements that can be transferred from organ to piano and vice-versa and to play them on both, lacking bass pedals just simple arrangements for one manual so finger technique can be achieved using both types of keyboard.


    What I can say is learn the Home organ first, it is a great way into all organs and styles, and as I mentioned before. Let the organ carry the musical weight, and you will find playing 3 staffs and playing bass pedals a pleasure.


    So if you are a pianist and maybe want to try an organ, then from my own personal experience I have found that the Roland Ateliers and Hammonds to be perfect. They have a good depth for the fingers and easy resistance under the fingers.


    Also I have a little Ahlborn SL-100 for sale on eBay UK at this time of writing, as now I have a Hammond XH-200. This organ is a single manual with no bass pedals, the bass being in the lower register of the left hand, a perfect Hymn organ. This has semi weighted keys which have a good depth for the fingers. Whether or not all Ahlborn's have this feature on all their classical pipe organs, and whether or not these were made for pianists I am unsure, but that is likely given these were made for churches which usually have a piano and an organ which would be played by one person, usually a pianist.


    Maybe others on the forum can also recommend some as they will have experience of other models and makes I have never tried.

    - - - Updated - - -

    Now, if you are an organist and want to buy a piano, this is what I recommend: My number one choice for both upright and grand pianos are Bluthner. These have actions that are very light to the touch and feel the same in the bass middle and treble registers, to my own personal experience. Their digitals are exactly the same, so I recommend them as well. Bluthner’s do take some getting used to for a pianist though, for those used to Steinways, Kawai, Grotrian etc...

    My 2nd choice would be Bechstein Models 8-9-10 uprights. Whilst these have weighted bass middle and treble you can feel, the actions are that responsive and usually light that moving straight from an organ to a piano is an easy transition. Their grand’s are also usually the same.

    Most uprights will have lighter actions suitable for organists, but this is not always the case with any make, usually though you cannot go wrong if it is a German piano. They are quite often over engineered, and have superior actions to any other. The action does not just need to be lighter for an organist but be very responsive which is why I have recommend German makes.

    Please be aware though, that grand pianos due to their nature have a heavier action and a much more noticeable bass middle and treble register under the hands. But again if it is very responsive, you should not have any trouble.


    - - - Updated - - -

    Do I recommend a digital piano for an organist: Certainly yes, but with more thought. One I do recommend is the Bluthner eKlavier-2 or 3 as stated above, but with other makes it is a little trickier. When I have played my Schimmel upright piano, and go to play my Hammond I can do so without much thought, the Schimmel having a light action, as does the Hammond.

    However, when I move from the Schimmel upright to my Kawai CA-111 upright digital grand, I can feel the difference straight away. It’s not that I cannot play it straight away but have to adjust my mind set to a heavier action. This is because the Kawai has a real grand piano action.

    This is also the same when moving from the Schimmel upright or Hammond to my Square Piano; I find that awkward to play straight afterwards. This is due to the action, whilst very light, is very shallow, and can lead to some discomfort in the fingers straight after playing either. I have also found this to be the same for fretted clavichords, unfretted clavichords being more suitable for modern pianists.

    So I play the organ but what about a harpsichord: That is something that all classical organists should think about to extend their musical outlet if they feel the piano is a little too alien to their musicality. What I do NOT recommend are the plucking pianos of yesteryear that were made up to the 1970s. Many years ago after wanting to extend my own musical range, and after hearing Bach played on harpsichord, I decided to look for one to buy.


    - - - Updated - - -

    The first I tried was a double manual Feldberg Whale, a really big beast of a harpsichord. After playing for about 10 minutes I had to keep stopping to rest my fingers. The action was very heavy, and the harpsichord was hard work. Eventually I bought a little 2 manual William de Blasé, thinking I could get used to it…wrong. It was exactly the same, an action that was heavy and hard work.

    All these old harpsichords were made by piano Technicians and piano companies with no idea of how to make a real harpsichord. However, if you have the hands of Rachmaninoff or Lurch from the Adams Family you might love the feel of them. I have also found that they go out of tune a lot quicker in comparison to their more authentic counterparts, due to the nature of how they are made.

    Having 2 authentic harpsichords, one single manual and one double, I can say for me personally because the actions are much lighter that I have no trouble playing either of them straight after playing the organ. Plus they stay in tune a lot longer. You just have to get used to that click feel under the fingers as the plectrum plucks the string. For pianists, if you can get used to playing an organ, then an authentic harpsichord will be no trouble either.

  • #2
    Can an Organist Play a Piano & Can a Pianist Play an Organ? Part 2

    The first I tried was a double manual Feldberg Whale, a really big beast of a harpsichord. After playing for about 10 minutes I had to keep stopping to rest my fingers. The action was very heavy, and the harpsichord was hard work. Eventually I bought a little 2 manual William de Blasé, thinking I could get used to it…wrong. It was exactly the same, an action that was heavy and hard work.

    All these old harpsichords were made by piano Technicians and piano companies with no idea of how to make a real harpsichord. However, if you have the hands of Rachmaninoff or Lurch from the Adams Family you might love the feel of them. I have also found that they go out of tune a lot quicker in comparison to their more authentic counterparts, due to the nature of how they are made.

    Having 2 authentic harpsichords, one single manual and one double, I can say for me personally because the actions are much lighter that I have no trouble playing either of them straight after playing the organ. Plus they stay in tune a lot longer. You just have to get used to that click feel under the fingers as the plectrum plucks the string. For pianists, if you can get used to playing an organ, then an authentic harpsichord will be no trouble either.

    Different organs have different actions, as do pianos, so please be aware that my comments and experience are different to yours. Your hands are different to mine, as will be the way your hands and technique develop so you might find that what I have written is not your experience at all, and nothing I have written is beneficial, so please comment and make your own judgements.

    I hope this article has helped and hasn't ended up masking you more confused than before.

    Had to add a second part just to get the last part in, which I could not do in the first part of the article.

    Thank you.

    Please leave your comments.

    Comment


    • #3
      I'm a pianist, but don't own a piano and haven't actively played one in decades. Typically if I sit down in front of one I can play it as well as ever. I have trouble with the light action of my Hammond, which can be heard here as errant notes and loss of timing and concentration:

      I don't have this trouble with my Lowrey which has heavier action:


      I also have a lot of trouble with the variety of voices and registration of organs. The biggest trouble I have is with expression. I have no trouble with the fact that the keyboards of organs are not expressive, but cannot grasp how to properly use an expression pedal.

      Otherwise, going from piano to organ is easier than going from either to accordion, where the keys are sized differently (and of course the bass is totally different).

      Comment


      • #4
        Hello, thank you for your reply. Before I bought an organ, I bought an Accordion, and it is really different to play and not just the key size. I found the shallowness of the keys hurt my fingers too much when I had finished playing the piano, and then went to play the accordion, and vice-versa. And, the accordion is not the easiest instrument to play well or to make it sound good, too loud and not very subtle.The style in which you play the bass buttons on an accordion is too limiting for my taste.

        Yes, some people will find a light action on a piano or an organ not to their liking. So if you want a heavier action on a piano then a heavier action on an Organ would also be beneficial. Although I personally do not know what organs do have a heavier action. I think in general though given that organs do not have weighted keys, and tend to have lighter actions, then a piano with a lighter action would be recommended. If you want a Bechstein or Bluthner with a heavier action, I do know that a Technician would be able to make the action heavier to a point to suite the organist or lighter if preferred.

        Thank you for your comments

        Comment


        • #5
          Yes, accordions are very, very different. I play the bass buttons (standard 120 button Stradella) very conventionally. Frankly I must because I'm very out of practise and get no time to practise. But I've seen a few accordionists who play Stradella very unconventionally, and are able to not only produce more chords than the given ones, but play everything more easily with completely different fingering.

          It's been decades since I played a large enough variety of organs to really gauge actions. I seem to recall playing the console of a very large pipe organ which had very heavy action, but that's really just a memory of a memory.

          The keys in my Lowrey are wooden, and I'm sure that's a big factor. I'm not sure that it would be productive to weight them more than that.

          But we have a lot of members here with far more experience than you and I. It would be interesting to hear their thoughts.

          Comment


          • #6
            I think that you adapt to the instrument that you are playing on. I used to regular play two different church organs. One had an electronic console, (although connected to pipes), with a light key action. The other was a three manual with a tracker console. This was very heavy to play, and as you added couplers, the weight increased significantly. The difference in action between the two was far greater than between a grand piano and a home organ. Additionally one of the organs had a straight pedalboard, the other a radiating pedalboard, so the pitch of the pedals also varied. Whilst my skill was somewhat modest, I generally managed, with a small amount of time to re-familiarise myself with the feel before each service. I am certain that top players can play any organ regardless of console type, or indeed any keyboard instrument, without any difficulties. Hector Olivera is an outstanding player regardless of what he plays!

            Comment


            • #7
              Not only can an organist play piano but some also play cello, French Horn, Saxophone, Guitar, Accordion and other instruments. Peter Frampton and Prince could each play every single instrument of the standard Rock Band (drums, electric guitar, electric bass and piano and Hammond Organ) at professional A level musician quality. I personally only play pipe (and digitals modelled after pipe instruments) organ to the level that allows for one to make a living at it but I play considerable amounts of piano at services. I can also play Violin, French Horn, and Electric Bass, but I don't practice any of them enough to play in public. I have never thought about the differences in touch between organ and piano, I do not agree that a properly regulated piano has any difference in touch between the bass, midrange and treble registers, after a (very) short period of acclimation I can play a Bosendorfer, Mason-Hamlin, Kawai or Yamaha grand piano in my usual 'voice'. I do not even agree that a tracker organ feels all that different from a concert grand piano! The push and sink to the bottom of the keybed of all the tracker actions (three) I have ever played feels identical to me, to the feel of a nice baby grand piano. Standard pipe organs are a different deal, of course the touch is different but that IMO is not what makes them different. It is the idiomatic music that each plays that informs performance practice.

              I rarely, and maybe never, have played the same arrangement on both pipe organ and piano! If I had a pipe organ score and took it to the piano to perform I would 'add' tons of extra notes to it and even that would probably not equal what a truly proficient pianist who has never touched a pipe organ would play. Organists learn to think harmonically, contrapuntally, vertically. Overtime this will influence how you play everything else. I don't think it is good or bad. It is what it is. I am aware though that to be authentic to the instrument, that the piano version of an identical melodic composition will need more 'motion'.

              Comment


              • #8
                I can play piano, organ, guitar, accordion, fretless zither, and drums. I yoosta be very skilled at piano. Nowadays I don't play any of them very well. It's all about practise and persistence, which I just don't have time for. What's frustrating is that I'm teaching guitar and my pupil has far exceeded my current skill level.

                Practise and persistence are the most important things. Somewhere it must be possible to run into physical limits. I can imagine that some people run into that with "heavy" keyboards. It hasn't happened to me, but I haven't spent enough time with something like a tracker organ to run into that.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I am aware that an organist can play other instruments but it has been known for an organist or pianist to ruin their techniques. You can also hurt your hands as I know from experience especially moving from square piano to organ or piano, also playing another instrument such as a guitar can also hinder, as it can cause pain in the fingers, hand and arm. I know this from experience as well. I have pupils that find the piano or organ uncomfortable at times, especially depending on what they own.

                  A lighter action is better when wanting to learn both from the start of playing, as my experience teaching as taught me, you just need more caution when playing both and rest a day in-between is recommended. playing say a heavier action piano and a light action organ. But it is the depth that is the most important, it is easier to damage you hands and fingers when they are not as developed as a mature skilled player.

                  Also the different skills need for playing organ and piano and their music uses some different muscles in the hand, as does playing Jazz and Classical piano, I found this out when trying to learn Jazz from the Classical I normally play. So forethought to approach is a good idea.

                  Also the pianos I have mentioned have even keyboard actions so it just makes that but more comfortable when playing the organ and helps develop the muscles better. Also if you have a heavier action organ you can make the pianos action heavier and it is even just giving you the edge.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Yes. I don't think the action matters beyond being reasonably regulated and consistent end to end.

                    As far as ruining technique, I don't completely buy it. My piano technique has changed a little since learning organ but it hasn't deteriorated. The music written for piano and organ is different and therefore has to be played differently. For each new instrument I learn, I mix techniques and styles until I get used to the new instrument. After that, it is very easy to keep techniques separate.

                    It always hurts a bit to learn a new instrument. You're having to strengthen and control different muscles. It's helpful to have a teacher so that you develop good techniques and don't do any damage but it is still hard and sometimes painful.

                    While I'm a classically trained pianist, I have become a more utilitarian musician. I prefer to find the easiest and most relaxing way to play. If I come across a tricky passage, I will take the time to work out the easiest way for me to play it consistently well. When I learned guitar, the calluses on my fretting fingertips eventually went away because I learned that I didn't need to press so hard on the strings and I developed the muscle strength and control to do that.
                    Last edited by samibe; 08-29-2018, 07:28 PM.
                    Sam
                    Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
                    Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Whilst that maybe true for a more accomplished player, although that can be debatable, it must be considered by a player just starting when their muscles are just developing. Also from a good source a Church Organist near to me who has played for over 60 years has said the same when he has to play piano, also for Funerals and weddings, he said that he had to lay off playing for a while as he hurt his fingers studying both instruments at once for higher academic pieces rather than just Hymns for both occasions. Sometimes highly developed muscles and techniques maybe should not be pushed in another direction.

                      All I can say, is that whatever else you play you have to compromise. I do not think it is just a case of learn them all and develop a compromised technique, but rather find an organ and a piano that will accommodate both. I find this with my Square Piano because of the shallow depth of the keys. I really strained myself once playing the day after I had been on my Kawai. I could not play for a couple of weeks, so damage is possible. I have strong fingers and a fine Piano technique playing the piano for over 25 years and the organ for 2. So finding a compromise between them is vital when choosing an instrument.

                      Has your technique suffered with playing something else such as a guitar, if not even if you can play both, do you find that your technique for piano or organ feels less than, or compromised in any way. Callus fingers feel numb, so has that affected your touch for the keyboard. The debate will go on, as some players might have hands and fingers developed to cope with many, whereas some might find they can only play one or two.

                      If you do want to play organ and piano just choose with keyboards that are suited to each other.

                      Just trying to help with those that might buy both practice and feel disappointed with one or the other.

                      Your thoughts matter.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ButterFingers View Post
                        If you do want to play organ and piano just choose with keyboards that are suited to each other.
                        I can only speak for myself ... over the span of a career in Church Music that is entering it's 40th year, I have played well over a dozen different pipe and electronic organs and in each church there was also a Sanctuary Piano, as well as secondary and tertiary pianos dispersed throughout the building complexes. I NEVER gave it a thought as to what damage I might be doing to my hands or my technique in taking on these various instruments and this went from my earliest times as a musician to more recent days. Yours is a rather outlier position in its intensity of opinion. Few people ever get to choose what organ or piano they will play, and even fewer will know the technical details of the actions of various instruments and their performance characteristics. If it was in fact necessary to satisfy these nuances in order to have a successful and healthy experience of learning keyboard music ... OMG ... I for one probably wouldn't be a musician. Some parents are only so accommodating and no more ...

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I worked for several years as a piano technician. What you (ButterFingers) describe in your experience with your square piano and some of your other experiences with pianos sounds a lot more like mis-regulation (which can be a problem regardless of how nice the pianos is or what brand it is). If a piano is not regulated to be within spec, it gets increasingly difficult for a pianist to play. They have to push harder (2-4 times normal force) and still get dismal volume or they get thrown off with weird tactile response. That can be very painful and damaging to anyone playing the piano. If there is no aftertouch on the piano, players tend to push too hard and feel like they have less control. There is also less cushion at the bottom of the keystroke. Pianist typically describe mis-regulation as having too heavy or too light of a touch. There are heavier and lighter actions from a balance-weight perspective, but usually what pianists call light or heavy is variations in regulation. The majority of reasonably modern pianos fall within window of balance-weight so that everything functions like it should. Your square piano is definitely not modern (and would likely fall outside of the typical balance-weight window) and I seriously doubt it has been regulated (unless you know how and have or have specifically asked someone to).

                          The pianos at my church are all way out of regulation (mainly because the budget tuners that are supposed to service them do not regulate). I will be regulating them all this month because I will be playing them regularly. I'd rather have them regulated correctly so that I don't have to fight them in public.

                          In learning new instruments, my technique doesn't suffer but my active abilities do a bit (because I'm not practicing the other instruments as much). At this point, I haven't played my guitar much for a couple years (because I have been focusing on organ). My fretting strength and control is gone because I haven't used those muscles but my technique is still there. I still know my notes, scales, and chords. I still know how to read chords, tabs, and notation. My hands know what they are supposed to do and how to do it correctly. My left hand just lacks the strength that it needs to play for very long. So, what took me several months of intense practice and lessons to learn (technique and ability) would only take me a couple of weeks of practice to get back (because I just have to work on my strength and ability).

                          Another example: I started playing trumpet in middle school. I did well (mainly because I already knew how to read music). My sophomore year of high school, I picked up trombone while still playing lead trumpet. Initially, switching between mouthpieces, method (valves and slide), and keys (Bb and C) was really weird. After I learned how to think like a trombonist, though, it was a lot easier to switch between instruments. I ended up filling in for the lead trombonist when he played guitar on certain songs (during performances and at festivals). It wasn't a big deal. I just had to put in the time to get familiar with them both.

                          I would not try to learn both piano and organ together, though. I would pick one and spend at least a couple hundred hours learning and working at it before beginning to work on the other. I would also not recommend switching back and forth while learning the second (at least initially). My rule of thumb is 20/100. The first 20 hours of learning a new skill are awkward and difficult (this is also the stage that most people give up in). After 20 hours, the skill starts to be more comfortable and feels less weird, though it is still weird. After 100 reasonably consistent and focused hours, the skill begins to feel normal and comfortable. I recommend not switching back and forth during the first 20 hours of learning the second instrument. Jump in with both feet initially. After the initial 20 hours, you can start switching between instruments. The transitions will be weird for the first few but it gets pretty easy after that. When you're past 100 hours for both, it may be harder to make as fast progress with both (since practice time is being divided up between them) but switching between them should not be difficult. I don't know how many hours I have on piano, but I'm getting close to 500 for organ and the last Sunday of this month I'll be playing prelude and two congregational hymns on the organ and then playing all of the songs for the children's program and postlude on the piano. Except for the discussion on this thread I wouldn't have given it a second thought.
                          Last edited by samibe; 09-01-2018, 10:56 PM.
                          Sam
                          Home: Allen ADC-4500 Church: Allen MDS-5
                          Files: Allen Tone Card (TC) Database, TC Info, TC Converter, TC Mixer, ADC TC SF2, and MOS TC SF2, ADC TC Cad/Rvt, MOS TC Cad/Rvt, Organ Database, Music Library, etc. PM for unlinked files.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Thank you so much for your constructive comments. You are both right of course, but the persons hand development does have to be taken into consideration. My square Piano was fully regulated last year. I have found the same problems with Fortepianos, I hired one a few years ago to see if I could get along with it before buying and couldn't make the adjustment, since over the years my fingers and hands have developed, I bought the square have a similar problem but play it after a day away from the organ and Kawai so it is getting better. However I have been giving lessons at a pupils home, who has a Broadwood and the action is that light, it feels uncomfortable to play, maybe I am just spoiled with German actions.

                            Had a Yamaha keyboard a few years back and it had a horrible feel to the keyboard, maybe because it was a cheaper end option.

                            For a starter though a more responsive action is encouraged for both Organ and Piano, my little SL-100 Ahlborn has a really good action with depth and key weight. Not tried any other classical organs to make a comparison. Ahlborn is an Organ that is underrated.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I should have really put 2 separate threads for this, as ruining you technique is different to ruining your hand and finger muscles. Robert Shumann ruined his hands playing a dummy keyboard he thought would strengthen them, again it was to do with action and weight basically a mechanical device to strengthen weak fingers.

                              The same can be said if you pick the wrong keyboard instruments or ones with starkly different actions you might injure those developing or developed muscles. So it is to do with depth of key and response of action, care and attention.

                              I say this not through an arrogant self righteous attitude, but through knowing other professional organists, pianists and through my years of teaching, just observation as well as personal experience.

                              Technique though is always a compromise for any pianist and organist, but if you have sensitive fingers in the first place, there should not be any problem. You can always tell when a pianist plays an organ without learning the proper technique, but an organist always has that advantage when playing a piano.

                              These days with both the actions of digital Pop & classical organs and pianos digital and acoustic, there should be no problems at all.

                              This subject needs higher academic scholarly analysis than what is written here, as this is not my area of expertise.

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