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Pipe organs may have as many as five "manuals", each of them almost the size of piano keyboard, and if would not be enough may even feature the feet keyboard. And my 88 key piano keyboard already covers the majority of the hear-able sound range, probably no more than 20 or about keys could be added to the sides, unless to play ultrasound for bats and whales.

Is it so that organ has multiple keys for the same note? How common is to play same note using different keys/pipes on the same piece of organ music?

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    I don't think the manuals are always as extensive as a pianoforte keyboard. Apart from that I believe the manuals are wired to a different set of organ pipes, and hence have a different tone color. I think this wiki entry may be of some use: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_console Commented May 31, 2014 at 9:46
  • This is regional thing. European keyboards now typically extend to 4 1/2 octaves (5 in France), while in America much wider manuals occur, but fewer aliquot stops. Commented Aug 19, 2016 at 6:54
  • @KilianFoth I've never seen an organ manual with more than 61 keys, nor a modern one with fewer than 61 keys. All of the modern ones I've seen up close have been in the US, so I'm perfectly prepared to believe that there are builders still making smaller ones. Can you name an actual American organ with larger manuals? All those for which I've found descriptions or photographs online have 61 keys.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 16:17

5 Answers 5

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The different manuals are assigned to different stop combinations. By pulling out different stops, different sets of pipes sound when you press a key (or pedal). Having more than two manuals allows the performer to rapidly switch from stop-combination to another, or to make the left and right hands sound different. In addition, the different manuals can be linked to one another, i.e. depressing a key on a given manual also causes the corresponding key on a different manual to be depressed. Since this linkage can be achieved by pulling a single lever, it is an easy way to significantly modify the sound produced by the organ.

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Important addition to Daves answer: Note, that an organ does not support touch dynamics. As soon as you press the key you get the sound, no matter how soft you touch. To achieve different dynamic levels you need another, weaker or stronger registered manual. By the way, this is also the reason for harpsichords having more than one manual.

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  • A well made organ with mechanical action allows you to influence the velocity of the valve opening and closing. This lets you modify the "attack", i. e. the development of a stationary sound can be delayed and a softer sound can be achieved. But this is already high art. Also electric and pneumatic action prohibits it entirely.
    – Johannes
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 23:41
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In addition to what everyone else said, having more manuals making it easier for the organist to change sounds quickly but, also, each manual is called a division and all the pipes for that manual are generally in its own location. Here is a recording I made utilizing all the divisions rapidly.

This isn't a good recording in that the camera which also recorded the audio was placed near the console and you can't hear the room. The lowest manual (Choir) sounds from the balcony. The second one (Great) sounds behind me RIGHT IN MY EAR. The third (Swell) sounds across the chancel. The fourth (Solo) is across the chancel up above the Swell. The people in the pews can hear the sound coming from and bouncing about different locations.
Toccata et Fugue in D Minor

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Some pieces call for distinctly different sounds for the melody and accompaniment. This is often a requirement for trumpet voluntary type of music. The right hand usually plays the melody on the Swell with a reed, and the left hand plays with Diapason stops on the Great. On slower pieces, you might want just the melody to have a tremolo, and be able to open/shut the swell box for dynamics, but those effects would not be applied to the Great manual.

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  • Modern 'popular' music instrumentalists also often use multiple keyboards (see many current music videos of stadium concerts). The different keyboards play different "instruments" - not a piano keyboard five times as long, or five times as loud.
    – david
    Commented Apr 16, 2023 at 5:46
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I wish to mention that many baroque-era organ pieces have "contrapunctus" or "stretto" sections in them and playing those on a single manual would inevitably cause the musician's hands to collide. In case of double contrapunct (which was trivial matter for the genius of J. S. Bach) one needs maybe 3 or 4 keyboards to avoid trouble.

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  • Did you intend a question mark at the end of your post?
    – Aaron
    Commented Dec 3, 2022 at 23:07

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