When I say "wind instruments," I am mainly referring to those you would find in a concert band, to be more specific, here's a mock-up list of instruments I could potentially choose from:

Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet (Bb), Bass Clarinet (Bb), Alto Sax (Eb), Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Bassoon, Horn (F), Trumpet (Bb), Trombone, Euphonium/Baritone, Tuba, String Bass

If you're curious, I'm just writing up a concert band piece, and as you probably guessed, I would like to achieve a sound similar to that of a pipe organ, and the above instruments are currently the ones that I'm working with right now, but there's room for other concert band instruments outside of those.

  • I'd take a wild swing at "everybody down to oboe... but only if you beat them about the head until they stop putting any emotion into it" Everyone after that is not going to work, esp the saxes. All the horns are going to have too much attack... & the poor end of line string bass has a bow...
    – Tetsujin
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 19:33
  • @Tetsujin Do you think "horns have too much attack" to imitate this? youtube.com/watch?v=7mM46lVVarg FWIW modern pipe organs also have stops imitating saxophones - and there have been stops imitating string basses since before Bach's time.
    – user19146
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 20:35

2 Answers 2


It depends what you mean by a "pipe organ".

You can't really simulate the "traditional church organ" sound of the diapason (or principal) stops - the length/diameter proportion of the pipes doesn't match any common wind instruments, and you can't really imitate the sound of the "mutation" stops that are at pitches a fifth or a major third above the basic pitch of the note. Those organ pipes are tuned in just intonation, not the equal-temperament that band instruments are used to playing in.

On the other hand, for organs voiced with a more "orchestral" sound (including theater organs) it's more a matter of the instrumentation and playing technique, because these organs were voiced to imitate the orchestral or band instruments. The most important differences are the organ's lack of vibrato, and its more "perfect" intonation than you will get from a large ensemble of monophonic instruments.

Understanding how pipe organ registration "works" can help. For example, it is quite common to boost an imitative organ stop by adding a neutral flute sound in unison with it - but the average concert band arranger might not think of having the flutes playing (marked mf or f) in unison with a quiet trumpet solo!

  • 1
    Look up Brahms's "Tragic Overture in D". There is a very convincing (possibly unintentional) pseudo-organ effect in bars193-203, achieved largely with the wind instruments you named. Commented May 19, 2017 at 6:15
  • Composers sometimes imitate organ "mutation stops" via parallel doubling. The most famous example of this is rehearsal number 45 in Ravel's Boléro, in which the melody is played by a french horn, celeste, and two piccolos, all playing in parallel but in different keys (C for the first two instruments, G for the second piccolo, E for the first piccolo.) Commented May 19, 2017 at 14:31
  • (Correction: "Figure 45" is the figure number from that particular website. The measure number is 149.) Commented May 19, 2017 at 14:37

Just write a tutti. A common criticism of wind band is that it 'sounds like a fairground organ'. That's close enough to a real organ if you leave out the percussion and write organ-like music.

  • Not sure if this helps but in Musescore, when I have both the flute and the piccolo in their high register and they are doubling each other, I get a pipe organ effect. I'm sure it is just because of the software but I experienced this pipe organ effect when orchestrating the Pathetique Sonata last year before I got distracted from it.
    – Caters
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 6:43

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