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

I've been asked to play the Wedding March only.

  • 4
    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, 2014 at 14:55
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    Others have given great descriptions of the differences between the instruments, so I just want to tack on this half-answer: Since the biggest adjustments are getting used to not having a sustain pedal and the volume not being touch sensitive, you can practice fairly effectively by using a keyboard set to a non touch sensitive sound and ignoring the pedal. It might also help to use an unweighted keyboard if you have one handy.
    – MattPutnam
    Jul 28, 2015 at 20:45
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    Do you have easy access to a synthesizer? If so, you can set it to play like an organ, with the constant loudness in place of the piano's percussive attack and sustain. It's even better if the synthesizer includes a swell pedal. If you ask nicely at a time when business is slow, and explain your situation, they might let you practice on their keyboard.
    – Steve
    Feb 7, 2018 at 5:13
  • I know this is a very old thread, but I'm curious about how it worked out with the wedding music. Were you able to successfully make the transition to playing the organ? Feb 19, 2018 at 3:14
  • I've loved playing on both the piano and pipe organ since I was in my early teens, and I've researched them extensively! I learnt how to utilise the bass pedals and finger substitution, and I now have a pump organ from the late 1800's! Jun 24, 2023 at 10:55

12 Answers 12


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. Apr 3, 2014 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, 2014 at 17:04

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, 2014 at 12:56
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    Aha! I'll completely rewrite my answer then! Apr 1, 2014 at 14:58

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, 2014 at 20:35

In a situation like this, the present church organist/pianist should be contacted regarding the organ for any helpful pointers, etc. This is an especially respectful approach to take. It's best to meet with this individual before the wedding day so that there aren't any surprises.

If the organ is locked, someone needs to be there that has a key or knows where the key is kept so that you have access.

Once organ is unlocked, you need to know where the power switch is. It's not always obvious.

When an organist approaches the organ bench, we slide onto the bench, we DON'T stand on the pedals.

Like a piano bench, you can adjust an organ bench to your comfort level by dismounting the bench and moving it to your comfort zone.

If you do play pedals, you play them with FLAT shoes. When you're not playing the pedals, you can rest your feet comfortably on the back of the bench rail.

You can place your music on the rack just like you would at the piano.

Before the week or day of the wedding, it's best to make arrangements with church personnel sir you to show up to practice on organ so that you can get the organ sound you're needing, prior to day and of wedding.

FYI: There are preset buttons under each manual. Choose one of the manuals and try each preset button under that manual. Play a couple of measures from your music. You will be hearing soft and louder to much louder as you go from one preset button to the next.

I would do this with each manual and presets. These have been set by an experienced organist, so I know that you'll find something you like.

If you don't hear one on that manual, go to the next manual and try each preset button.

Continue to do this, until you hear what you like..

The day of the wedding:

The pastor will take his place which is the que for the groom, best man and other groomsmen to take their place by the pastor.

I always got a signal from the wedding coordinator that all was well and ready.

I played the "Trumpet Voluntary" for the bridesmaids processionsal down the aiisle and get into place.

I started the Wedding Processional only after the bridesmaids were in place up front and bride and Dad were standing in place at back of sanctuary.

When you play that octave F intro on the organ of the Wedding March, that's the signal for the congregation to stand up and turn toward the back of the church to watch the bride and her Dad start processing down the aisle to the front of the church. I rarely ever had to go to the second page of the Wedding March. The organ sets the tempo for them to walk down the aisle.

Once they are standing in front of pastor, you can delicately end the Traditional Wedding Processional.

If you are responsible for playing the traditional Wedding Recessional. After the pastor says "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You you may kiss your bride" the congregation rises and applades and then the traditional Wedding Recessional is played.

Best of everything and most of all, have fun!

  • 2
    This seems less like an answer to the posted question of differences between piano playing and organ playing and more like an answer to a question of what to possibly expect as an organist playing his or her first wedding.
    – Neal
    Feb 8, 2018 at 17:55
  • "There are preset buttons under each manual." This only applies to certain organs, definitely not all. Dealing with stops without presets would be something to discuss with someone who knows that instrument, or at least who knows organs in general.
    – MeanGreen
    May 2, 2019 at 9:49

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.


You'll manage! Don't try to be clever. Set up a loud sound on one manual of the organ, a softer one on another. Play with both hands on the same manual, but move to the other one as appropriate.

Make sure you can play the pieces on piano with no pedal and no pianistic tricks. You have to plonk ALL the notes down NOW. Don't worry about legato, the acoustics of the church will take care of that.

If it all shows signs of turning pear-shaped, rather than playing handfuls of wrong notes, just play the top and bottom notes of the music. It will sound fine.

If possible, get help. Ask if the church organist will give you a little time on the morning of the wedding. Church people SHOULD be kindly and charitable (funny how that doesn't always happen, isn't it?). Set up suitable sounds. Show you how to turn the thing on! He will appreciate your desire to contribute to your friend's wedding. If absoultely necessary he will probably be prepared to rescue you.

Alternative - most churches have a piano. Or a digital one can be brought in. Tell your friend you'd love to take part, but would be much happier playing a familiar instrument. Maybe you could also play something during the registry signing?


One large aspect in organ-playing not present in piano-playing is the decision of which stops to pull for certain parts of the piece. This decision will vary from organ to organ as each will have its own set of stops (sounds). Sometimes, the editor of the piece will give suggestions at the top of the first page, and will sometimes tell you to pull (activate/turn on) or push (deactivate/turn off) certain stops throughout the score. Most of the time, it will be up to you to decide to see which combination sounds appropriate.

If you haven't had the opportunity to tinker around with a pipe organ, I'll give you a few quick and dirty pointers:

  1. The number on the stops, if divisible by 2, signifies which octave will sound when you press a key. 8' is the same pitch as the piano. 4' means an octave higher than the key pressed, 2' means two octaves higher. 16' means one octave lower than the key pressed. Adding higher octaves produces a brighter sound. The 16' gives more volume, but be careful that it can cause a passage to sound muddled.
  2. You will notice that there may be more than 1 stop marked 8'. Each of these 8' stops have a different timbre or sound. Typically, there is the diapason, which is supposedly the signature organ sound, the flute, and some string imitations like gamba or viola. Each of these different sounds may also have their 4' and 2' stops. The choice of which "sound" depends on the piece and you as the organist.
  3. Some organs will have reed pipes, whose sound resemble reed or brass instruments. They are also marked with a number that is a power of 2 as with the other pipes. Newer organs will print the pitch and name in red to indicate that it's a reed stop. Typically, you will want to use a reed stop if your piece has a solo and accompany setup like Trumpet Voluntaries. You will typically play the melody an upper keyboard using that reed stop, while your left hand plays the great (lower or lowest) keyboard using diapasons and/or flute stops.
  4. Some stops are marked with a Roman numeral starting with II and up. These are the mixture stops. These are a series of really high-pitched pipes, several of them sounding when you press a single key. These add brilliance to the overall sound. You will want to pull these for loud/grand passages. You will want to use these mixture stops for that Wedding March at the end, but maybe not the Bridal March (too loud/bright).
  5. Some organs may have stops marked with 1 1/3' or other mixed number. These are high-pitched pipes that are not of the same octave as the note pressed. These tend to make the overall sound "nasal" like a clarinet or other soft single-reed instrument. They are not the "shrill-sounding" mixtures.
  6. For prelude pieces, you will want softer sounds. You'll probably stick with 8' and 4' non-reed stops most of the time, no mixtures. You will also use similar soft settings if you would accompany a singer or solo instrument player.
  7. For that Bridal March, you can add 2' stops, but maybe not mixtures. Experiment. That organ's mixture may be soft enough.
  8. Go all out on the Wedding March, but I would still be cautious about 16' in the manuals. Add reeds and mixtures.

Another aspect is pedals. You don't just tap every single note with the toe of your left foot, as I've seen many first-time organ players do. If you tinkered with an organ's pedals, you'll discover that you will need to use your heel as well, and both feet to achieve the required legato. You may end using your right foot to the lower pedal notes and your left foot on the higher pedal notes, which may cause you to lose your balance and fall over. You will gain the balance over time, but I don't think there are very many technically demanding organ pieces and arrangements for weddings.

But as already mentioned, you will need to make arrangements with the church to allow you in during the week to practice. You will need to do this for every other church's organ you're playing for each wedding, since each has a vastly unique feel compared to the variation between 2 different pianos.


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.

  • 1
    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, 2014 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. Apr 3, 2014 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, 2014 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.

  • 1
    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! Apr 2, 2014 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. Apr 3, 2014 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.


Forget it! If you are playing a large organ with 3 to 4 keyboards and upwards of 30 or 40 stops or more you may be eaten alive or worse - disappear for good. To play an organ well needs a lot of time and effort, without that you don't stand a chance against the beast. It won't sound right without using the pedal board and a least 2 manuals for the wedding march. Saying a prayer isn't going to help you much either.

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