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An organ (especially a pipe organ in a church) is the most expensive instrument in the world, I saw some even cost in the millions of dollars. I've read a lot of mixed things about weighted/unweighted keys but the general consensus, at least in the realm of keyboard synths/controllers is people consider weighted keys to feel more "premium" and consequently they cost more too. So I was wondering why doesn't the most expensive instrument have weighted keys?

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The main point of weighted keys are that they give more feel for the dynamic response of a piano-like instrument. Specifically, weighted keys make it so that gentle playing only results in gentle velo, i.e. low dynamic level. To play forte on a weighted keyboard, you literally need to put in some force, and that makes sense for the performance. With an unweighted keyboard, the force-dynamic relationship is much harder to control.

But: an organ doesn't have dynamics (or rather, the dynamic level isn't controlled by key velocity but by registration, volume pedal etc.), so it's moot.

However, pipe organs do have their own kind of “weight” on the keys, namely the pressure needed to overcome the valve resistance. This is quite different to weighted piano action though. See guest's answer for details.

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    I’ll admit I have a limited understanding of how organs work, but it seems this doesn’t answer the question. In fact, barely any of the answers do. WHY can’t the force just be converted into a volume? More force = more volume. – Cole Johnson Feb 13 at 19:22
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    Because in organs the sound is not produced by hitting anything with force. You could create a contrived conversion mechanism, but that instrument will not play like organ. – Andris Birkmanis Feb 13 at 19:42
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    @ColeJohnson in a simple model organ stops are on or off, they ke is a switch. Air flows or air does not flow. With electronic control perhaps a stop that controls the amount of air per note can be invented(fast enough to change in the time of the keystroke might still be challenging. physically dampening the volume from constant air might be more practical (this is how organ stops that do have a volume pedal work, they're behind doors that the pedal opens)) and then couple it to the force encoder from a weighted manual. As Andris said this is almost now a new instrument you have invented. – Affe Feb 13 at 21:12
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    @Affe: The pitch of an organ pipe will be affected by the amount of air flowing through it. As noted, most pipe organs do allow for control over dynamics by enclosing some of the pipes in boxes with shutters on the front that are opened and closed by a pivoting foot pedal, because that won't affect the amount of wind going through pipes, but that doesn't allow for control over the volume of individual pipes. – supercat Feb 13 at 22:32
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A so-called "tracker action" organ keyboard, where there is a direct mechanical connection between the key and the valve that lets air into the pipes to play the notes, has a very distinctive feel that is completely different from a piano "hammer action" and from the "dead" feel of a cheap spring-loaded keyboard.

The force to start pressing the key down is high, but as soon as the air valve is cracked open the key force decreases. This has the double advantage that the initial high resistance tends to reduce "wrong notes" when your fingers mis-hit the keys, but the effort to hold down long notes is reduced. Compared with piano playing, you often need to hold down a long note with one finger (or thumb) while playing other shorter notes with the same hand.

In good quality large instruments which do not have this direct connection between the keyboard and the pipes, the keyboards are designed to have the same "feel" as a real tracker-organ keyboard, not a piano keyboard.

Most organs have more than one keyboard, and it is a standard technique to play notes on two keyboards at the same time with one hand, usually with the thumb playing notes on one keyboard and the fingers on the one above it. This is a completely different hand and arm position than piano playing.

Since large organs may have four or five (or even more) keyboards, the position of each keyboard relative to the player is different, and the two hands are often playing on different keyboards. Again this results in very different hand and arm playing position than for a piano.

In other words, just because pianos and organs both have "keyboards" the actual playing techniques are quite different, and there are good reasons why the "feel" of the keyboards is different.

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    Very good point that just because they have keyboards they are not the same – Bob Kerman Feb 14 at 3:55
  • viscountinstruments.it/media/wysiwyg/pdf/supporto/awk_v_1_4.pdf As in this pdf explains actual organ keyboard are also in different shape and material compared to piano keyboard. Also electric and electronic organs have a different feel compared to a synth one. Not to mention that in case of Hammon organ the defects become a signature of their sound. – Michele L'Intenditore Feb 17 at 15:38
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A piano doesn't have weighted keys to "feel premium", but because the hammer is part of how the piano works.

The hammer isn't part of how an organ works, so it doesn't have weighted keys.

the general consensus is people consider weighted keys to feel more "premium"

If you're talking about a keyboard to trigger a piano or piano-like sound, there's probably a consensus, as it makes for a better imitation of a real piano. I doubt there's a consensus that a weighted keyboard makes for a better organ-playing experience.

  • The more force is needed to hold down an organ's keys, the harder it is to play. (As long as the action isn't so light that notes sound inadvertently!) Piano keys are played with various muscle groups and joints, from knuckles through shoulders to even hips. Organ keys are played only with the fingers, which would fatigue quickly for typical repertoire if they had to transmit much force. – Camille Goudeseune Feb 15 at 21:30
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Because an organ does not have hammer action? It is not a percussive instrument. The notes sound the same regardless of the transferred momentum.

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Organs are not "expressive" keyboard instruments. In other words the volume of a key press on an organ isn't dependent on how hard you press the key like it is on a piano. Organ keys are only "on" or "off". Volume is controlled separately (usually by a pedal or other control) and all keys will have the same volume based on that setting. Key weighting on electric pianos is intended to mimic the hammer action of a mechanical action piano. The action of these mechanical hammers is what gives "real" pianos their expression when you push the key hard or soft. Electronic pianos use a sensor to determine how hard you hit the key and don't require the weighting to produce this sensation. "Premium" weighting on keyboards just makes the keys "feel" like a "real" piano, where the sensor responds to the weighting mechanism instead of the pressure on the key itself. Since an organ doesn't have any "expressive" feedback, it wouldn't make any sense to offer a weighted action because the action wouldn't "do" anything. That being said higher end organs will have a more consistent and "robust" feeling spring return to the keys vs. a low quality organ, but organ keyboards have never been made with the intention of feeling like a piano.

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The previous answers thoroughly cover the differences in organ vs. piano mechanics, but I'll add one small point of consideration when discussing modern electronic keyboards and the pros/cons of (what I learned to call) "weighted" vs. "synth" action designs. While weighted keys would likely be preferable to anyone accustomed to playing a "real" piano, they do come at the cost of added instrument weight. And that becomes a negative, if that electronic instrument is going to be lugged around and set up in clubs, halls, bars, etc.

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Weighted keys on an electric piano certainly are a selling point and cost more. But there is a practical reason. The weight provides some resistance and that resistance help you gauge how much velocity you put into the keys with your fingers. It sort of feels like an acoustic piano keyboard action, but it isn't the same mechanically, and in my opinion they don't feel exactly the same. Whatever the case, there is a practical point to weighted electric piano keys.

The other answers already point out that organs don't (as far as I know) have weighted keys, because there is no touch sensitivity, volume control in the keys.

Most of the electronic pianos I have seen (with weighted keys) also have settings for organ and harpsichord and key velocity can change the volume of those sounds. Also, the key size on real organs and harpsichords is much smaller than modern full sized keyboards.

A really versatile and experience keyboardist probably knows the different feel of these various instruments old and modern. But for someone who plays organ, harpsichord, clavichord on a modern, full sized, weighted electric keyboard and then tries the real instrument, the difference will probably be a surprise.

  • "In my opinion they don't feel the same": in my experience, weighted keyboards feel objectively different because they lack any simulation of the escapement action in a piano keyboard. – phoog Feb 17 at 4:06
  • @Phoog. That's exactly right. Real piano keys aren't heavy, it's the resistance of the action that creates the feel. Both provide something to gauge a sense of touch, but they don't feel the same because of the different mechanics. – Michael Curtis Feb 18 at 14:54
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Organs don't have weighted keys because of two facts. First, weighted keys are supposed to make keyboards feel more like pianos. Second, organs were invented a thousand years or more before pianos. Organs and organists had centuries to develop ideal organ actions and playing techniques adapted to those actions before the piano began to be developed.

Modern organs have not begun using weighted keys in their keyboard because existing organ repertoire would be ill suited to such a keyboard. It was designed to be played on an organ keyboard.

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A weighted keyboard is a relatively recent development which attempts to replicate the feel of a good old fashioned hammer action acoustic piano (which did not actually have weighted keyboards). The only reason they even exist is to try to duplicate that original feeling when playing an electronic keyboard. It is more expensive to manufacture a keyboard with weighted action, so the cost increases for the customer, leading to the premium classification in a lot of folks minds. Weighted keyboards were developed for use on portable keyboards. I personally am not familiar with the existence of any portable pipe organs, so I don't think any modern day engineers or designers have ever even considered the use of weighted keyboards in their products. As a point of distinction, I'm assuming you are asking specifically about actual pipe organs, as opposed to the sound of a pipe organ program often included in a synthesizer package.

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