How do Organs Work?

Note: The pictures linked below are of the Allen organ in the York Rite Memorial Chapel
at the Masonic Home for Children in Oxford, North Carolina.

The Player: An organist plays the organ using its console, which resembles a piano keyboard with several exceptions:
  • Organ consoles typically have more than one keyboard.

  • Banging harder on organ keys will not increase the volume of the sound the organ generates -- the organist selects the combination of sounds by pulling drawbars -- more on this below.

  • There is no sustain pedal as on a piano, which makes playing music smoothly much more difficult. Pianists who are unfamiliar with the organ really miss this. To compensate for this loss, organists gain the use of a pedalboard, a much larger version of a keyboard. To the beginning organist, though, this extra set of keys to worry about can be much more of a hindrance than a help.

The Sound: Pipe organs create sound through, well, pipes. The following pages are part of a larger organ revival site by Marya J. Fancey at the University of Florida, and offer excellent explanations of the different facets of the organ: The Mechanics: Several sites offer well-written diagrams on the workings o f present-day pipe organs, and offer looks back into older organs from times gone by.

  • The Young Person's Guide to the Pipe Organ
    The American Guild of Organists' guided tour to the instrument.
  • Pipe Organs Exposed
    An in-depth look at the many different parts of an organ. The site requires some time investment to see most of the content, but it is thorough and worth the trouble.
  • Aeolian Duo-Part Pipe Organ Rolls
    Remember the old player pianos of saloon fame? Such a thing existed for organs. You can read more about them and even order copies of old rolls here.
Organ History  

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