Organ Vs Piano – What are the Differences?

To the untrained eye, the organ and piano may look like the same thing. But for enthusiasts and professional musicians, there is a whole world of difference between these two instruments. What is the difference between an organ vs piano?

The main difference between an organ vs piano is that they produce different sounds. The organ is a woodwind instrument, while the piano is considered to be a percussion instrument.

An organ’s sound can be altered in various ways to sound like different instruments, while the piano can only play the sound it was built for.

The below table shows other differences between an organ and a piano:

ORGANPIANO
Instrument TypeWoodwindPercussion
Sound QualityCan be altered to sound like other instrumentsCan and will only make the sound it was built for
Historical Age200 to 300 BCAround 1700s
Number of Keys61 keys88 keys
How It WorksPedals and keyboards are used to open & shut pipes allowing the flow of pressurized air to produce soundKeyboards, Hammer, Strings and Pedals are utilized to produce sound
Conventional Organ and Piano Price$200,000 – Entry-level Version$170,000 above
Digital Organ and Piano Price$3,000$1500-$3000

Read on to learn more about the differences between a piano vs organ.

Organ Vs Piano

organ vs piano

To fully understand these two instruments, we must look closely at their histories and how each has shaped the music industry in its own way. If we compare how far back these instruments go, then the organ surely would win hands down.

But there is more to the organ vs. piano debate than just how old these instruments are.

Historical Background

Organ

The earliest form of an organ is believed to have been developed in the 200 to 300 B.C. by Ctesibius of Alexandria. The very first organ was called the “hydraulis” because it utilized an intricate hydraulic system to function.

It worked by increasing and decreasing water pressure to provide the means to produce a multitude of melodies.

Historical records show that the hydraulis was of common use during the Greco-Roman era and was used both as a solo instrument or an accompaniment to other instruments and singers. It was also seen as an instrument of great significance, value, and prowess.

This great prowess comes from its sheer size. The largest organs would have around 30,000 pipes, which would be so overwhelming and intimidating at mere sight.

Church organs would also have as many as five manuals aside from its pedalboard. Its build’s intricacy is magnificent, to say the least, and it would greatly show in the sound it creates.

And now, almost a thousand decades after, modern manufacturers have developed a simpler way to build organs by using bellows instead of water to supply pressure.

Onward from the 19th century, the older versions of organs that relied on windmills and blowers were phased out to make way for contemporary versions requiring electricity.

Piano

The piano is also one of the oldest musical instruments in existence, played for hundreds of years. It is well-loved and probably the most popular instrument that has stood the test of time with very few changes along the way. 

The piano was first conceptualized by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who was a professional harpsichord maker.

He devised the piano to compensate for the flaws of the more ancient instruments, harpsichord (produced a loud sound that was difficult to control) and clavichord (produced a sound too silent for bigger audiences). 

To put it simply, the piano became the middle ground for tone management and audio volume compared to elder stringed instruments.

The earlier version of the piano is still much quieter than the modern design, but it was considerably louder and easier to navigate than its predecessors.

Difference Between Organ and Piano

Historically different but similar in many ways, the piano vs. organ can still be confusing to beginners and non-musically inclined individuals.

Here are the differences between piano and organ, from the most obvious ones to the more technical of contrasts:

1. Piano Vs Organ – How Do They Work?

Organ

An organ is built with metallic pipes, most of which are concealed from sight. As the wind is pressurized through the pipes, the pipes vibrate to produce sound. It also has lines called whistles that sit along with a chest. 

To effectively play the organ, the artist will use the pedals and keyboards on the instrument. One difference between piano and organ is that the pedals on an organ do not restrain or alter the sound like how a piano pedal would.

Instead, these pedals assist in opening and closing pipes for pressurized air to flow through.

Piano

The piano has a more comfortable mechanism than the intricate organ, although it can have 12,000 components. Three major assemblies present in a piano to help produce sound are the hammer, strings, and pedals.

The hammer strikes the strings, then bounces back to its resting place and for as long as a particular key is pressed. The vibration produced by the strings produces the piano’s sound. The strings’ density, stimulation, and duration will determine if the series will produce a high or low note. 

The pedals on a piano will allow the artist to control what sound they would like to produce. There are three pedals on a traditional grand piano – the proper, the left, and the center pedal.

The right-hand pedal will retain the damper off the strings allowing for the reverb to continue. The center pedal, also called the sostenuto pedal, retains a damper of the strings to maintain specific notes while at the same precise time playing brand new notes.

Lastly, the Corda pedal located on the left-hand side helps produce a softer, mellower sound by ensuring that the hammer strikes only one or two chords rather than the usual three. 

2. Sound Production

difference between piano and organ

Now that we recognize the similarities and differences between organ and piano in terms of mechanism let us look at how they produce sound.

Both instruments have a unique way of sound production:

Piano

Being a string-based instrument, the piano produces sound entirely depending on how the felt hammers hit the keys. As the artist moves a key, the activation lever mechanism is discharged, which allows the dampers sitting at the top of strings to rise.

The hammer will lift at the same speed to strike the key and hit the strings. Since the damper is still raised, the series will then vibrate, resonating the pitch.

Organ

Organs, on the other hand, seem much complicated when it comes to sound production. For example, in a traditional pipe organ, the electrical connection between the keyboard and the pipes enable sound production through an intricate tracker activity.

The pressurized air can travel through direct tubes, with each key providing a specific degree of pressure to the correct pipe to produce the right pitch.

There are also quit knobs that organ players must utilize to alter the sound. There are easy tabs in digital organs to switch on or off into individual devices, but for conventional organs, one must use these knobs to control how much-pressurized air flows through the pipes.

But for pipe organs and vertical pianos, sound production and management are practically the same. Vertical pianos have a huge projection of sound, especially when the lid is opened.

Pianists will open the top lid when playing in big areas to maximize the sound traveling in the ceiling and across the whole space.

Similarly, since the organ has different sized vertical pipes that produce a specific sound degree, as the artist performs the sound, the organ creates travels around the atmosphere.

That is why huge pipe organs in churches and recital halls are architecturally designed to fit the space to make the sound travel better into the whole area.

3. Pedals and Keyboards

Piano

When it comes to keyboards, the piano is far simpler to manage. Artists will only have to deal with one degree of 88 keys. It has seven octaves using all centralized pitch centers C or the fourth C at the very bottom.

The three pedals located under the keyboard will help the artist alter the sound they make.

Organ

On the other hand, organ players deal with one but two degrees of keys known as Manuals. These guides include a specific number of tickets that depend upon the number of octaves the instrument has.

For example, a five-octave organ will have 61 keys. Fewer octave organs will have fewer tickets and fewer guides as well.

The pedalboard at the base of the organ was created specifically to be pushed down to produce pitches from the pipes. It is much like a huge version of the organ’s keyboard.

If you study organ sheet music, most sheets would have an extra staff level signaling the notes to be performed and when.

In general, the piano vs. organ keyboards appears to function the same way. The differences are mainly in the keys’ sizes and how the sound is made once a specific key is pressed.

Organs would need far less touch weight on the keys to produce tones because the organ keys are significantly shorter and slimmer than that of the piano.

4. Digital Keyboards Vs Digital Organs

Electric Organs and keyboards can produce identical sounding notes as an amplifier and loudspeaker will assist both to produce audio.

Digital Organ

For example, in the Hammond organ case, it is assisted by a big speaker cabinet. There is a rotating tonewheel inside this speaker cabinet, producing the sound in the waveform. 

Some digital organs can also be plugged into a system with a 1/4-inch sound cable, similar to an electronic piano. There are certainly many additional features in a digital organ that you would not find in a traditional pipe organ, such as extra pedals for vibrato effects.

A lot of audio products can also be plugged in to simulate different sounds.

As is expected, many digital organs are manufactured to look and feel like traditional pipe organs sans the actual pipes. The activity within digital organs is modified to allow a realistic touch and sound.

Digital Piano

Digital pianos, on the other hand, are made to replicate acoustic versions but with a lot more features to boot. Some digital pianos include built-in speakers, and pianists will hook them up to amplifiers to get the best sound quality.

As for sound effects, you will find that digital pianos will provide an endless stream of possibilities. There are pre-installed sound effects with a multitude of alternatives.

Thanks to newer technological advances, artists can enlarge these effects by attaching a USB cable from their laptop to pull additional wave samples.

difference between organ and piano

5. Price

Organ

If you don’t mind the cost, then a conventional pipe organ is a good investment. It can cost well above USD200, 000.00 for just the entry-level version. Bigger and more elaborate pipe organs start at million.

You have to check the following:

  • Type of metal
  • How many stops the organ has, and
  • The instrument’s overall size.

To add to that, constructing a conventional pipe organ for a church building will require much architectural work to really custom-fit the organ into the building. Compare this to a digital organ, which will only cost around USD3000.00 and produce much of the same sounds.

Piano

Acoustic pianos, much like traditional pipe organs, also come at a hefty price. For example, a brand new Steinway will cost you upwards of USD170, 000.00. An entry-level acoustic piano, however, can only cost around USD200 to USD1000.

While the digital counterparts of piano vs. organ are more practical from the economic perspective, they are not all made with the same quality. Some digital pianos are far superior to others, the same case for digital organs.

If you want to replicate what an acoustic organ sounds exactly, you will need to invest in a digital version on the high-end market. For example, you would have to shell out for electronic pianos to USD3000 to have the best quality that feels almost like an acoustic piano.

Conclusion – Piano Vs Organ

The main difference between an organ vs. piano is the sound they produce. The piano is a percussion instrument, while the organ is a woodwind instrument.

An organ’s sound can be altered to sound like different instruments, while a piano can only play the sound it was built for.

The piano and organ are quite similar in look and feel, especially for a person not inclined to music. However, there are so many different characteristics that set them apart from each other.

Here is a rundown of the difference between piano and organ:

ORGANPIANO
Instrument TypeWoodwindPercussion
Sound QualityCan be altered to sound like other instrumentsCan and will only make the sound it was built for
Historical Age200 to 300 BCAround 1700s
Number of Keys61 keys88 keys
How It WorksPedals and keyboards are used to open & shut pipes allowing the flow of pressurized air to produce soundKeyboards, Hammer, Strings and Pedals are utilized to produce sound
Conventional Organ and Piano Price$200,000 – Entry-level Version$170,000 above
Digital Organ and Piano Price$3,000$1500-$3000

If you are looking at learning how to play the organ, the most important first step and the secret is to be comfortable in your skills and knowledge of the easier counterpart instrument, the piano.