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I've never played pipe organ. I'm a pianist and a friend of mine ask me to play on the church on his wedding on a pipe organ.

Are the enough difficulties playing a piano song on the pipe organ to make any problem? What considerations I have to take on the performance?

I've been asked to play the wedding march only.

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Keep attention, if the instrument is an ancient one: if the lowest octave is only partially present, it may have compressed layout, so (semi-)tones are missing and the remaining are crammed to the existing keys - good luck. –  guidot Apr 1 at 14:55

8 Answers 8

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The black and white bits are the same, except you will probably only get 49/61 of them instead of the 88 you're probably used to. The action will be rather different, too. No matter how loudly or quietly you try to play, the volume will remain the same.

There is no sustain pedal, so that will be different, too. You'll have to acclimatise yourself to playing with your two hands on separate boards. Instead of the sustain pedal, you'll use your right foot on a swell pedal, but once set, it can be left alone - till you accidentally knock it!! Don't bother with the pedals, that's a skill for another day.

A basic knowledge of what the stops do will make what is played more listenable - using the same sound for everything gets quite boring. Certainly get some practice in before the big day. Good luck!

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You wouldn't necessarily play on two manuals for something like the Mendelssohn or Wagner wedding marches: they're homophonic pieces, and the sound should be more or less consistent through the whole texture. You'd only use separate manuals if there was a second voice in the texture for which you wanted different registration in order to give a tonal contrast. –  Marnen Laibow-Koser Apr 3 at 17:02

It's obvious when you think about it, but the biggest difference between an organ and a piano is the way their sounds decay.

A piano is a hammer hitting a string. The loudest sound is right at the beginning, and from there on the sound decays organically as the string returns to rest. If you let the dampers do their thing, the decay is shortened, but it's still there. The shape of the volume envelope of a piano is a sharp peak, followed by a progressively more gentle slope eventually settling back to zero.

An organ is the opening and then closing of a valve that pumps air into a pipe. There is no decay at all until you release the key, then the air and sound shut off virtually immediately. The shape of the volume envelope is like a table: straight up, then flat across the highest level, then straight back down to zero. If you use the swell pedal to open or close the enclosure around the pipes, you are affecting volume (that is, making the table top uneven), but you are not changing the fact that there is no gradually flattening decay. Of course, the reverberation of the room/church does it's thing after you release the note, but this is not at all similar to the way a piano string decays, and in any case you can't control it by, say, hitting the key harder.

This all means that you have to be very precise about something when you play an organ that you do not have to nearly as precise about when playing a piano: the moment you release the key.

On an organ: Release is an important as attack. Release is as much a rhythmical event as attack. And release changes the harmonic content suddenly.

Don't be worried about this. See it as a very cool additional feature of the instrument. You get two rhythmical elements for the price of one. It's really interesting to focus on the end of the sound as much as the beginning. It will also improve your technique and musicality on the piano.

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This. A consistent leggiero is so much harder to achieve than on a piano that it is not funny. Those differences distinguishing "a child plays the instrument" and "a musician interprets music" are totally different between piano and organ. Perhaps try the instrument out with a reasonably large safety margin, and if you can't feel satisfied with your play in a reasonable amount of time, pull the plug in time for a replacement. –  User8773 Apr 1 at 17:04

Organ playing requires more legato, learn to slide around the keyboard. Sometimes it helps to change fingers while the note is still held down so that you can move more smoothly to the next note. It's a good exercise for a pianist wanting to get a cleaner legato line.

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Organists who are learning to play the piano tend to make a heck of a lot more finger substitutions than pianists do. They are easier on the organ because you don't have to strike the key with as much force, and more necessary because you can't connect notes with the sustain pedal. –  BobRodes Apr 1 at 20:35

It sounds like you're probably going to play the Mendelssohn Wedding March. If so, this should be okay for you to play on the organ. Just looking on Google, there are loads of arrangements of this piece, both for piano and organ. Of course, a piano version will suit you much better, as you won't need to play the third stave, which is the pedal part played with the feet, and you'll be able to practise it on piano.

I think the most important thing to do, is make sure you have practised the piece plenty, and are confident playing it on the piano before the day; then, you should be able to play it on the organ more easily.

If the range of the music is too large to play on one manual (keyboard), you can play with different hands on different manuals. This will sound more interesting too, as you can set different sounds for different manuals using the stops.

If you are able to, it might be worth trying to get in touch with the church; they'll know if the organ has any peculiarities - organs do tend to differ quite a lot. It would be even better if you had a chat with their organist...

Have fun!

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I have to play the wedding march only (I don't know yet which one). And I will have only time to practice the organ on the wedding day –  SysDragon Apr 1 at 12:56
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Aha! I'll completely rewrite my answer then! –  Bob Broadley Apr 1 at 14:58
    
Thank you very much; nice answer –  SysDragon Apr 2 at 6:30

There are slight differences between keyboard technique on organ and piano, but if you're a good pianist and have a decent ear, you'll probably make a lot of the adjustments automatically. As an experienced pianist, I did not find it difficult to learn to play organ manuals. Note that organ notes sustain as long as you hold the key, but there's no sustain pedal as on the piano.

However, you should get familiar with how the stops work (if you're not already), and also develop some basic pedal technique if possible.

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It really depends on how much time you have to prepare. You can probably adjust to the organ well enough to play a simplified version of the march at the wedding in 6 months, assuming you find a qualified private teacher and diligently follow his instructions. It will require a lot practice for you but is doable if you have the time.

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xD Wedding is in less than two weeks and I will have no teacher neither possibility to practice on a pipe organ –  SysDragon Apr 3 at 6:22
    
@SysDragon Well, you'll need to get some time to practice on the instrument before the wedding, even just for an hour or two, if you want to be sure you can play it. –  Marnen Laibow-Koser Apr 3 at 16:57
    
@SysDragon I would suggest you turn this down. The organ is a very unique instrument, if you don't learn how to play it properly (and you'll certainly need more than 2 hours) it will sound very bad. –  abr314 Apr 4 at 1:00

The pipe organ itself is not related to the piano in any way other than the scales of notes, and is about as similar to a piano as a xylophone is (actually it is more similar to a harpsichord). To be a good organist, you have to scrap much of what you have learned about piano technique, because very little of it will help you when you get onto the organ bench. You may be able to play it, but if you're playing the organ as if it were a piano, you might as well be playing the cello as if it were a violin.

There are vast differences between the two instruments. To play the organ well, you need to start from the beginning and learn the basics of registration, pedal technique, tracker and electropneumatic organ playing, and expression (that is, the use of the swell pedals.)

That said, it is possible to play tunes on the organ, such as arrangements of the Mendelssohn Wedding March, by playing the organ as if it were a piano. Some Allen organs have something called a "Great Bass Coupler" which makes it sound like a pedal part is being played when activated, which is frowned upon for permanent church musicianship but is occasionally necessary.

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I like your piano/xylophone and cello/violin analogies here! I often describe the differences between playing classical and electric guitar as being as different as playing saxophone and flute. Having said that, it seems as though quite a few answers on this page have been giving the questioner a pretty hard time; it sounds as though he wants to contribute something to his friend's wedding, rather than start a career as an organist! –  Bob Broadley Apr 2 at 12:20
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I'd downvote this if I had enough reputation. My piano technique helped my organ playing greatly—I didn't have to scrap it to get good on the organ. I also play harpsichord, and don't find the technique similar to organ at all. –  Marnen Laibow-Koser Apr 3 at 16:59

If you are sure you can press the right keys at right time, it will probably sound like a music for the most of the listeners (excluding serious organists, these will probably see many things done unprofessionally). I tried to switch my digital piano into "organ mode" - no touch sensitivity any longer but sounds interesting and nice, while I only play very simple pieces.

I would say go an try, will be a great day to remember anyway. Just be very careful not to break anything on the unknown instrument.

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