Welcome to The LDS Organist Blog

The purpose of this blog is to help pianists learn to become true organists. Many individuals believe that if you play the piano you can play the organ, but the instruments differ greatly. While this blog is specifically geared towards members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, much of the information shared can be utilized by all. I hope that the information I share here will help you become an effective organist in your ward, stake, or other congregation.

Feel free to browse and search this blog. It was started in January 2010 and while new posts aren't added very often, this blog contains a wealth of information and is a wonderful resource for all organists. If you're a new reader, you can find the first lesson here: Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. Also, please "like" the corresponding facebook page, which is updated more often. A link is provided on the right sidebar, or you can click here.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ

Before we can delve too deeply with our lessons, it's important to know the different parts of the organ.

The Organ Console

The organ console consists of the keyboards, the pedals, and the associated stops of an organ. It is what most of us think of when we picture an organ.

The Organ Console with attached pedal board

Power Switch

Unlike pianos, organs will not work unless they are turned on.

Power switch

The location of your power switch may vary, but it is very important to know where it is.

The Manuals

The organ may be best known to the average person for its multiple keyboards.

Swell and Great

Generally, the organ in a chapel will be equipped with two keyboards, or manuals. The upper is called the Swell and the lower the Great. If a third manual is present, it is generally called the Choir and added at the bottom, below the Great.

The Pedal Board

The large keyboard along the bottom of the organ is called the pedal board, and is played with the feet.

Pedal Board

Pedal boards in the United States generally conform to AGO specifications, consisting of 32 keys arranged in a concave/radiating pattern. This simply means that the outer pedals are slightly higher than the middle pedals (concave) and that the pedals are closer together at the far end than at the end closest to the organ console (radiating).

The lowest note on this pedal board is C two octaves below middle C, also known as C2, to distinguish it from the other Cs on the keyboard. The highest note is G above middle C, also called G4. (Some pedal board end with F4 and only have 30 keys.)

Expression, and Crescendo Pedals

Not to be confused with the pedals of the pedal board, organs also have one or more pedals classified as expression and/or crescendo pedals.

Expression pedals can control the volume of just the swell, individual divisions, or the organ as a whole.

The crescendo pedal incrementally activates stops as it is pressed forward and removes stops as it is depressed backward, starting with the softest stops and ending with the loudest.

When an organ has only one pedal, it generally controls the volume of the entire organ. However, on pipe organs this expression pedal opens and closes the swell box, allowing control over the dynamics of just the swell division.

One Expression Pedal

When an electric organ has two pedals, they are usually expression pedals, with the one on the left controlling the volume of the swell manual and the one on the right the volume of the great and pedal. However, sometimes one pedal controls the volume of the entire organ and the other is a crescendo pedal. Generally speaking, when a third pedal is added, it is to the right of the expression pedals and is a crescendo pedal.

Expression and Crescendo Pedals

You may need to experiment on your organ to identify the function of your pedals.

Stops and Couplers

I discussed stops a bit in the Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials post. Stops are the tabs, rocker tabs, or drawknobs on the organ that have numbers and names on or above them. They are divided into sections that correspond with each keyboard, perhaps with an additional General section, and are located either above the manuals and/or in stop jambs on both sides of the manuals.


Each manual or pedal usually controls a separate division of the instrument with its own stops. Through couplers, keyboards can play stops from different divisions of the organ. The couplers you will most likely see on your organ are Swell to Great, Great to Pedal, Swell to Pedal, Bass Coupler, Melody Coupler, and possibly one or more Octave Couplers (such as Swell to Swell 4').

Couplers are fairly self-explanatory. If you select "Swell to Great," any stop that you have selected on the Swell will play on the Great. If you have both "Swell to Pedal" and "Great to Pedal" selected, all of the stops selected on the Swell and Great will also be played on the Pedal, in addition to any of the Pedal stops selected.

The Bass Coupler and Melody Coupler are related. The Bass Coupler adds the selected pedal stops to the lowest note currently being played on the Great. It's a "cheater's way" of achieving a full organ sound without use of the pedals. The Melody Coupler adds the selected Swell stops to the highest note being played on the Great, accentuating the melody of the piece being played. This can be a good way to help the congregation hear the melody when they're singing an unfamiliar hymn, or to help add interest to prelude or postlude music.

Octave couplers work within a manual to double the stops up or down one or more octaves. For example, if you have one 8' Swell stop selected, select "Swell to Swell 4'" or "Octave Coupler," and play middle C on the Swell, it will sound as though middle C and the C one octave up are being played at the same time. If you instead select "Swell to Swell 16'", if will sound as if middle C and the C one octave down are being played at the same time. (We'll explain 4', 8', and 16' in the next lesson.)

As I mentioned, stops will be explained in detail in the next two lessons, but here's a quick overview. In a pipe organ, a rank is a row of pipes in one tone color, with one pipe dedicated to each key. Each stop turns a rank of pipes on or off. In electric organs, each stop selects a certain sound based on a pipe organ's rank of pipes.

Pistons and Combination Action

Pistons are part of the combination action system, which allows the organist to capture certain registrations and recall them instantly through the thumb pistons or toe studs.

Thumb Pistons

Some organs only have general pistons, which remember information for the entire organ. Others have general and divisional pistons, so that additionally a keyboard or division can be programmed independently of the others.

Toe Studs

Most organs have both preset and programmable pistons, and some of the couplers are conveniently repeated as pistons or toe studs. Many even have a "Cancel" piston that removes every stop that has been selected on the organ, which allows for faster manual registration changes. A "Tutti" piston functions like a crescendo pedal that is all the way down--selecting practically every stop of the organ.

Newer organs have multiple levels of memory, which allow each piston to be programmed more than once so that each organist has access to his/her own unique memory.


The organ bench is an essential component of the organ. The best benches are adjustable. Some have a knob that turns to raise and lower the bench. Others have removable and flippable blocks that can be adjusted for three separate heights. There are other adjustable options as well.

Organ bench

In conclusion

Please take the time to familiarize yourself with your organ. If you have any questions about components that I haven't covered here, please let me know. After you are familiar with all of these components and how they relate to your organ, continue on to Lesson 2: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 1.


  1. is it allowable to play foot pedals also while using the bass coupler

    1. The bass coupler works by taking the lowest played note on the Great, and coupling the pedal stops to it. After a certain note, near middle C, it stops pulling the pedal registration. So if you are playing a hymn in the manuals, the hope is that the bass coupler will make it sound like the bass is being played in the pedals.

      Generally speaking, there is no need to use the bass coupler while also playing the pedalboard. Since the left hand should not be doubling the bass when the feet are playing it, using the bass coupler might pull the tenor note down and muddy the sound.

      On my home organ, using the bass coupler actually turns off the pedalboard.

      I hope this answers your question! If you are not playing the bass part in the pedals, but something else, let me know and I can answer any specific questions you might have.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. me again. I have practiced with playing the two together and with specific stops set, the sound is great

    1. There may be times when it works. I'm curious to hear how and what you did.

  3. So is it acceptable to just play the great keys on the manual and not play the pedal board? I'm filling in at church today and the pedals are stressing me out.

    1. Yes, most new organists don't use the pedals, or use them in a very limited capacity. Many organs have something called a bass coupler, which will take the pedal stops and add them to the lowest note played by the right hand.

      Good luck, today!

    2. Sorry--that should say lowest note played by the LEFT hand.

  4. About the monarke(monarche) organ, what is that white buttons in the left and right side of an organ? is that something that also add volume to the organ?

    1. I'm not sure which model you are referencing. http://www.johannus.com/en-us/collection/home-organs/monarke-home-organs

  5. Hi,

    Thank you for your informative articles! Do you happen to have any references that speak specifically about old Conn organs? I was just given one, and am excited to learn about this model.

    Thank you