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FAQ

1. What is a manual?

The notes you press on piano are normally referred to as a keyboard but on an organ the word keyboard changes to the word manual.
Organs can have from one to seven manuals, therefore we speak of two manual, three, four or even five manual organs.

2. Why is there more than one manual on the average church organ?

When you look at a pipe organ you will see fairly large pipes at the front of the organ chamber.  These pipes are called the great organ but hidden away out of sight are the other organ chambers housing the swell/choir/positive and sometimes the bombarde organs all being played from different manuals.

3. Why do you call the pipes you can see on a pipe organ the “great organ”?

The great organ pipes are not enclosed in an organ chamber but are able to sound (speak) freely into the church building.  You cannot make the sound of the great organ softer or louder.  However the pipes enclosed in organ chambers have shutters controlled by swell pedals or expression pedals.  These swell/expression pedals are in turn controlled by the organist – this enables the organist to make the sound louder as he opens the swell/expression pedal, or softer as he closes the swell/expression pedal.

4.How do you know when you are playing the organ which is the great/choir/positive etc organs?

That is the reason the organ usually has two, three or four manuals.  Taking the average two manual organ, the bottom manual is normally known as the great organ, for it is on the manual,the organist can play all the un-enclosed pipes of the great organ.  The upper manual would normally be called the swell organ for you would be playing the pipes situated in the swell organ chamber.

5. Why does the average organ have 30 or 32 pedal notes?

The pedal board notes are like another keyboard/manual but this time they are played by the feet and sound the very low notes of the organ you can hear. These pedal note pipes are not usually found in an organ chamber but were often placed behind the organ chambers, where  they can speak freely.

Many organs only have 30 pedal notes as found on the Father Willis pipe organ at Truro Cathedral but organs are built with 32 pedal notes, it is matter of the organ builders or the organist choice or sometimes even a lack of space.  There is not a great deal of organ music written where the extra two notes are required but most modern organs are now built with 32 pedal notes.

6. What is the purpose of couplers on the modern organ?
The purpose of couplers is to enable the organist to couple one manual to another i.e. swell to great, choir to great, swell to pedals, great to pedals etc…

7. Why does an organ have thumb pistons, sometimes referred to as a “capture system”?

There are two types of capture systems a general capture system and a full capture system.  The purpose of the thumb-pistons is to enable the organist to change stops without reaching for the stops and pulling each individual stop out by hand.

With thumb or toe-pistons, the organist can change the stops he requires, by just pressing a thumb or toe piston.

The general capture system (sometimes referred to a presets) means that one thumb piston will add or subtract stops from the whole organ i.e., swell organ, great organ and pedal organ therefore these pistons are called general pistons i.e. they are known as general thumb pistons.

A full capture system is a system where there are thumb and toe-pistons for each division of the organ i.e. the swell organ the great organ, pedal organ, choir organ etc.  In accordance you will have separate thumb pistons under the swell manual and when pressed will only be activating the stops on the swell organ.  Similarly for the great choir, bombard pedal sections they will all have separate thumb pistons for each division of the organ.

8. Why are there different number of notes on pedal boards?

Straight pedal board with 27 or 30 notes will mostly be found on the Continent whereas in England and the USA most organs will have radial concave 30 or 32 note pedal boards.

9. What is the purpose of the general crescendo pedal?

The general crescendo pedal enables the organist as he opens the crescendo pedal to add stops from the soft ppp to fff (i.e full organ) and visa versa when he closes the general crescendo pedal.

10. What is the difference between tab-stops and draw-stops?

To activate the tab-stops you normally press them down for on and up for off.  With Draw-stops you pull them out to activate the stops and visa versa to turn the stop off.

11. Why have external and internal speaker on an electronic organ?

A modern digital electronic organ can have loud speakers placed in the organ console.  These are known as internal speakers.  Where more sound is required external speakers can be added and placed in strategic parts of the building to ensure that the organ sound is spread evenly throughout the building.  Extra amplifiers would be placed in the organ console where external speakers are required.

12. Is a digital electronic organ affected by cold or warm air?

Generally speaking you will find modern digital electronic organs in cold, damp or hot climates and are not affected in any way.  It is virtually impossible for the modern digital electronic organ to go out of tune.

13. Are they expensive to run?

No!