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 18, 2010

Lesson 2: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 1

Click here for Lesson 1: Understanding the Parts of the Organ

This lesson covers one of my favorite topics--the stops of the organ. Today we'll cover the nitty-gritty of the stop numbers and Roman numerals, and next lesson we'll cover the beauty of the different tonal families.

Before we begin, however, it's important for you to familiarize yourself with the action of your stops. Some stops are simple tabs, like my older home organ. You push them down to select a stop, then lift them back up to deselect a stop:

Stop tabs

Other organs may have rocker tabs or draw knobs. Most rocker tabs are selected by pushing on the bottom of the tab and deselected by pushing on the top, however some will select or deselect in either place. Draw knobs are pulled out to select a stop and pushed in to deselect a stop. Your organ may function differently, so take the time and learn how your organ works.

Once you are familiar with your organ's stop action, it's time to pull out the stop list you compiled in Before We Begin: Acquiring the Essentials. You'll notice that in addition to the names of the stops, two different kinds of numbers are also present. Almost every stop has a number such as 16, 8, or 2 2/3. Some stops may also have a Roman numeral, such as II or IV.

Traditional numbers

All electronic organs herald back to pipe organs and lengths of pipe. A rank of pipes with the longest pipe being 8 feet long will sound at unison pitch, like a piano. 8' stops are the foundation of organ playing. A rank of pipes with the longest pipe being 4 feet long will sound an octave higher than a piano. (The exception to this rule is a rank of stopped pipes, where the lowest pipe is 4 feet in length but sounds at unison pitch, so it is known as an 8' stop. Fortunately, you don't need to worry about stopped pipes--just the numbers on the stops which tell us the pitch they sound.)

The lowest stop on some church organs is a 32' stop. This stop sounds two octaves below the 8' foundation and is found in the pedal division. While the 32' stop adds powerful, rich bass tones to a full organ, it should rarely be used in hymn accompaniment.

16 foot

The 16' stop, which sounds an octave below unison, is the foundation of the pedals in congregational accompaniment. When paired with an 8' stop, the 16' provides the substantial bass sound the organ is known for.

8 foot

As mentioned before, the 8' stop is the foundation of the organ, as this "unison pitch," or fundamental pitch, is in the same octave as the piano. However, it must be paired with a 4' principal or flute stop in order to support congregational singing.

4 foot

The 4' stops sound an octave higher than the fundamental pitch.

Yes, there is a pattern here! A 2' stop is two octaves higher than the fundamental pitch, and a 1' stop, which you may or may not see on your organ, sounds three octaves higher.


Along with these stops that represent various octaves, are mutation stops with fractions that produce non-octave tones of the harmonic series. Stops with 3 as the denominator of the fraction always produce a perfect fifth above the fundamental note, so 2 2/3’ produces a pitch that is an octave (since it's shorter than 4' but longer than 2') and a fifth higher than the fundamental pitch. 1 1/3' is two octaves (shorter than 2' but longer than 1') and a perfect fifth above the fundamental pitch. Stops with a 5 as the denominator will produce a major third above the fundamental, so 1-3/5’ sounds two octaves and a major third above fundamental pitch.

Here's a visual from the Pipe Organ Education Project that may help with understanding mutations:


Since mutations feature a tone between the octave-sounding pitches, their addition adds an additional timbre to the bright, full organ sound. They are also useful in building solo registration when coupled with 8' stops. We'll discuss them more when we cover various registrations.

Roman numerals

Roman numerals mean a very different thing than the numbers we just covered. Roman numerals represent compound stops, or stops that pull more than one rank, or simulated rank, of pipes. The Roman numeral tells you how many ranks of pipes sound on that particular stop. If it's II, two ranks sound. If it's IV, four ranks sound.

A common compound stop is a Flute Celeste II 8'. A celeste rank is pitched slightly higher than a regular rank. Combining it with a rank of the same family (such as Viole 8' and Viole Celeste 8') produces a warmer sound similar to the string section of the orchestra where all the players are using vibrato. This Flute Celeste II 8' stop will pull both a Flute 8' and a Flute Celeste 8'.

Mixtur IV

Another common compound stop is a Mixture IV, which includes four different principal ranks. Most mixture stops include only octave and fifth pitch levels, such as 2 2/3′, 2′, 1 1/3′, and 1′. (Often the pitches in a mixture may change, or break, depending on where you play the keyboard. Breaking simply means a higher pitch drops out and is replaced with a lower pitch.)

In Conclusion

At your organ with your stop list in hand, play middle C while selecting different stops. Make notes next to the stops on your list if you like. Familiarize yourself with your mutations and compound stops. In Lesson 3: Demystifying the Organ Stops, Part 2 we will cover the different organ tonal families and there will be a lot of listening hands-on activities which continue into Lesson 4.


  1. Jennifer - Thank you so much for a great article. It is just the help I was looking for. I have been playing piano in church for years, and am now struggling to play the Allen organ. I appreciate your help in understanding the stops.

  2. Hello! I just noticed that the Rss feed of this portal is working correctly, did you somehow complete all the settings by yourself or you just turned to the original settings of this widget?

  3. These articles are SUPER helpful! I am one of those "pianists" that was called to be ward organist and for three months, I have been using the same preset stops for all of the hymns. I am so excited to use this now!

  4. Hello, I recently had the opportunity to try out our organ at church, after reading your blog. I found that the previous organist we had kept a record of which stops to use written in a notepad beside the lower manual!

    I expected the organ just to come on after I pulled out the stops required, then I found the "ON" button.

    Thank you for your very helpful blog. I would appreciate any extra tips anyone on here could give me as a pianist-turned-organist.


    1. I'm glad this blog is helpful for you! If you ever have any questions, please ask.

  5. Thanks for this - helpful and clear. Tom (UK)

  6. Just to add a little 'fine tuning' (no pun intended) to the article. A Flute Celeste rank is usually a bit FLAT of the unison rank. A String Celeste is a bit SHARP. Occasionally, you will encounter two String Celestes, one sharp and the other flat of unison.