I have been playing piano for about 13 years now. I want to go to the next level: playing church pipe organs.

A few weeks ago, my dream to play a church pipe organ became true, after a Catholic mass from a very important popular from Europe.

The experience was amazing. I must say that it sounded great, and the organist and the priests loved it too.

However, I found it hard to play the bass notes with the legs. It went fine, but obviously, I wasn't comfortable with that.

My question is: how does someone learn to play the pipe organ?

  • 1
    Ionică - regarding getting access to them (which is off topic here) have you tried asking? Go to churches or other places with pipe organs and ask the organist.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 10:58

4 Answers 4


If you are serious about learning the organ, you must of course arrange for regular access to an instrument. However, there is a great deal you can do in your own home.

Nowadays digital pipe organs have become very satisfactory for home practice. Many are equipped with key mechanisms that somewhat mimic the tracker action of a proper organ. If you are in Europe, Johannus is one manufacturer you may add to the list given in Doktor Mayhem's answer.

I will assume you are mostly working on your own and offer a few comments that may help someone with your background to avoid traps.

Access to a teacher with a strong performing standard is highly desirable to give you a solid foundation. Organ technique is significantly different from piano technique, and I have found that self-taught players with a piano background underestimate these differences.

While it does take some time to acquire good pedal technique, the true obstacle, typically taking much longer to overcome, is coordination. The left hand and the pedals are felt to be 'bound together' and tend to follow each other, so that contrary motion between them often results in mistakes. If you find it takes you months or even years to overcome this, your experience is normal.

In my opinion, the best way to tackle this challenge is with the Bach sonatas. These beautiful works will stay with you throughout your organ career. They are not for beginners, and are so exacting that many performers avoid them. Despite this, they sound like child's play. Do not expect to master them any time soon, but it's never too early to carefully begin. The Bach sonatas directly attack the fundamental problem of organ playing.

Even so, the most insidious technical challenge in playing the organ is balance. With one hand on one manual, and the other on another higher manual, we tend to turn our shoulders. With both feet engaged in the same extremity of the pedalboard, we tend to turn at the waist. We can easily find ourselves in dangerous twisted positions. If we persist, serious long-term injury can result. The organ is not as difficult as the piano in terms of manual dexterity, but is much more difficult in terms of posture and balance.


I would go to the American Guild of Organists (AGO) website. This is the national headquarters site in NYC. There you can find a local AGO chapter nearest to you. Almost all of them will have links to organ teachers, and most have them as part of their memberships.

As for technique on the manuals (keyboards) the focus is more on the release of the keys than on the attack -- though the attack of course is still important. This is because unlike the piano, which is percussive, the notes on an organ immediately stop (not counting reverb) when the key is released. So, often times, one has to use finger substitutions and finger/thumb sliding. Also, unlike the piano, the organ note continues to sound as long as the key is depressed. The keys are attacked a bit differently also. No matter how hard you come down on the keys with your fingers, it will not change the volume or the notes being emitted.


In order to practice, you don't actually need access to a church. You can have a home setup with a couple of manuals and pedals driving an organ. On one of the organ forums I saw pricing ranging from a couple of thousand pounds up to tens of thousands for Hammond and Wurlitzers, but you can successfully practice on much cheaper if your main challenge is the pedals.

  • 1
    Just make sure the instrument is a "classical" organ, with both manuals directly above each other. Avoid "pop" organs with built-in rhythms, manuals that are diagonally aligned, and pedals spanning only 1 octave. tinyurl.com/smjlny4 vs tinyurl.com/uds5evt
    – MeanGreen
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 13:20
  • I've seen used organs pop up on Craigslist and even Freecycle, so inexpensive alternatives are also possible.
    – Duston
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 16:08

As a somewhat low-cost alternative: you can get MIDI organ pedalboards (example). Combine with any MIDI keyboard, a computer MIDI interface and an organ sound bank and you have something to practice on.

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