We Know: All About Music Organs

What's the difference between a piano and an organ?

The primary difference is the length of the note. Pianos are designed to sound a single note for an instant, and the reverberation after the note dies away. With an organ, as long as you are holding down the key, the note will sound.

The first music organ was probably invented in the third century BC, about 2300 years ago, by Ctesibius of Alexandria, a Greek engineer; it worked with hydraulics. The remains of a pipe organ 1700 years old were dug up near Budapest, and we know they were played at coliseums and amphitheatres throughout the Roman empire, though we have no idea of how they sounded.

What are the Basic Types of Music Organs

There are three basic types of music organs still in use. The first is the pipe organ, famous for its grandiose sound and somber music. Pipe organs are a permanent part of the room in which they're installed. After the pipe organ, the reed organ was invented. Instead of generating sound through a bellows-and-pipe system, it used reeds more like an accordion; it's small portable compared to a pipe organ, and can still be found in use in many small churches. The most recent organ is the electronic organ, or synthesizer.

The pipe organ comes in three types as well: the church organ, designed to accompany a chorus; the cinema organ, designed to accompany a silent movie by itself and enhanced with sound effects like drums and cymbals; and the concert organ, nearly identical to the church organ. Though the cinema organ has fallen into disuse, it's the most likely predecessor to the synthesizer, the most common organ in use today.

The electric organ is the most commonly found music organ today. Invented in the 1930s, the first ones were about as portable as an upright piano. Jazz music soon found them, and they were an enormous part of the development of rock and roll. Frequency divider organs were the next electric organ to become popular; they took advantage of the power of transistors in producing their sound, and became a key part of the sound of bands like The Doors and Iron Butterfly. In the 1980s, the polyphonic synthesizer, light and portable, became the predominant form of the electric organ; this and similar electric organs worked more and more through digital sound sampling.

Which Organ Is Right For Me?

The answer to this depends on why you're buying an organ. Is it for your home, and should it look nice as well as sound good? Are you an experienced pianist or a novice? Or are you purchasing it for your church?

Today's modern organs come with options never dreamed about by medieval organists, including sound samples, special effects, and even keys that light and help you learn how to play. When you're buying an organ, the best thing you can do is shop around and ask lots of questions. Compare prices carefully; with some of the high-end organs, you're paying more for prestige and the look of the organ than for the actual sound. Ultimately, whether a music organ is right or not depends on your individual taste.

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