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Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
#3003576 08/16/19 09:51 PM
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Hey guys! New to the forum but finding lots of great info here. Question....any tips or guidance for a decent blues, jazz, rock pianist trying to learn how to play organ? I’ve always been able to fake a small organ part or blues riff but really have no organ chops whatsoever. I doubt I’ll learn pedals but would love to develop some real organ skills. Other than buying an organ (which I’m about to do), where should I start?

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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003584 08/16/19 10:17 PM
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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003597 08/16/19 11:35 PM
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Here's a few tips to get you started.

- when you chord, play an octave higher than you normally would on piano, when using 16' stops or drawbars, or you will be down in the mud.
- organ has no sustain pedal. You will want to develop an organ touch to switch among chords smoothly without hearing gaps.
- play less busy than you would on piano. You can hold a chord for bars and with the leslie swooshing around sound glorious.
- in a band situation with a bass player, sit on your left hand some. Use it for adding tonal interest by switching chorus vibrato and percussion off and on, and adding or subtracting drawbars.
- the volume pedal is your friend. Use it to add dynamics when you do chord stabs, to crescendo or decrescendo like a horn would when playing single note lines, etc.

Last edited by mate stubb; 08/17/19 12:38 AM.

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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
mate stubb #3003604 08/17/19 12:26 AM
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Originally Posted by mate stubb
Here's a few tips to get you started.



excellent post, Moe. thu


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Plus, old gear has a story. I like that.
Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003608 08/17/19 01:00 AM
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No two instruments or amplification systems are alike. No mics, rooms, desks, etc are the same. Learn to use your ears to find drawbar settings that work for you.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003614 08/17/19 01:32 AM
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One of the first tricks I remember learning about playing organ differently from piano is from the Booker T. Jones Tiny Desk Concert when he talks about learning to “crawl” — keeping notes sustained while moving your voicings using strategic finger crosses.



Also, I listened to a lot of Billy Preston. He tends to play very simple but powerful organ parts that take advantage of the tone of the instrument, rather than just shredding like he would on any other keyboard. His solo on the Stones’ “I Got the Blues” is something I try to keep in mind whenever I’m tempted to overplay or overthink.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003616 08/17/19 02:07 AM
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When I was 18 I didn't even know how to turn a Hammond on. I spent a couple of afternoons with Darel DeCounter. RIP. He taught me a lot.

A couple of sessions with a real organist will go a long way in shortening your learning curve. There are fundamental differences in the playing mechanics.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003617 08/17/19 02:26 AM
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I think it might be helpful to know what end those "real organ skills" will go toward. Are you hoping to solo in blues and rock tunes? Jazz too? Or hoping to bring more to the table for pads and the like? In a band context? For enjoyment at home, or to offer professionally on gigs? One manual or two? Etc.

Anyway, I think padding out choruses is a great place to start for pianists, since you'll automatically be thinking in long chordal moments, rather than percussive ones. I try to use vocals as my touchstone when possible; at best, chorus pads will sound like a subtle (or not) choir or additional voices.

While doing that, listen for where some vibrato (in the form of swirling leslie) might signal the "opening up" of the sound. Think of how singers often start with a pure pitch and then vary it with vibrato--that's a great approach to start with for getting used to deploying the leslie.

We are not supposed to admit we use bread-and-butter sounds around here, but the 888X0000X, 888888888, and 0008X0000 are some good places to start, and then vary from there by ear. The all-stops-out sound gets love and hate, but there are plenty of moments where it can serve you well. The "all white bars" sound is useful as well for a bright lift under choruses or bridges. The rest you will develop as you go and learn.

The biggest thing is to adjust your thinking away from percussion (until later), and toward broad, horizontal strokes that lift parts of songs in ways the instruments can't.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003635 08/17/19 05:23 AM
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Tremendous feedback so far! Thanks so much and keep it coming!

Honestly, I’m not entirely certain what my end game is. But I do know I love blues and blues-rock organ and would love to be able to hold my own with a band on a dual manual organ.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003745 08/17/19 11:34 PM
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Great posts Mate Stubb & MOI!! smile

MOI - what does the x in your organ registrations stand for? is it secret, inslide knowledge that cannot be publicly shared?.... Or does it just mean any number?


"Turn your fingers into a dust rag and keep them keys clean!" wink Bluzeyone
Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
xKnuckles #3003747 08/17/19 11:42 PM
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Any number 0-8.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
MathOfInsects #3003750 08/18/19 12:14 AM
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For the OP, here's a video.. in the space of about 2 minutes, he demonstrates a some great concepts



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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003768 08/18/19 02:30 AM
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Some excellent advice in these posts. I'm only a basic keys player, but I'm much more into organ than piano. What others are saying about learning to hold the notes/chords while you play other notes is essential. You can solo over held notes/chords and play rhythmic riffs forever and a day and it all sounds organ-tastic. Notice how in the Roger Smith vid he glisses with his left hand while holding notes/chords. You can also do this with your right hand. You can sweep and even attack the keyboard as a percussion instrument. Lots of things work that don't work on a piano sound. Also the organ keyboard is not like a piano. You don't have to physically press harder to make the notes sound so you end up using very different fingering techniques. You can hit the keys like a conga player or trill or noodle, smear up and down, or put your whole arm on the keys. You can get a simple rhythm going in LH bass and do horn-like stabs with the right hand. And by all means, learn to work the volume/swell pedal and the drawbars and the others settings like tremolo and vibrato and chorus and harmonics. Oh, and distortion. You'll want a little for grit and grease, not too much until you're ready to handle the full on overdriven sound. There are lots of good Leslie (rotary speaker) emulations. Some keyboards like Nord have pretty darn good Leslie speaker emulations built in, there are also good outboard effects boxes like the Ventilator that will make it sound like you're playing through a Leslie speaker. But there is no substitute for actually moving air in a rotary speaker cabinet. It's breathtaking in person if you're really into organ sounds. Whatever you do, you must play an organ with at least a good emulation of a Leslie, if not an actual Leslie. Organ without that sound is just .. well, meh. To me, pointless.

Oh, and listen to lots of Hammond organ + Leslie music. On Youtube, type in Jimmy Smith. Start listening.

Last edited by El Lobo; 08/18/19 02:32 AM.
Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
xKnuckles #3003776 08/18/19 03:14 AM
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Very touched by Roger Smith’s organ work on TOP’s Sparkling in the Sand. That album “East Bay Grease” was murder for me as a fledgling organist. No organ anywhere but the baddest brass I had ever heard. “Just play the brass parts” they said. (On that album we played “The Skunk the goose the fly” and it just about killed me.)

Then, next album, Chester comes along.

Savior and axe murderer all in one. Just wow. Take a listen to Squib Cakes. (and the organ solo on “Just When We Start Makin It”)

(Oh yeah, you must know how to START and then RUN Hammonds at the very least.)

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
TommyRude #3003796 08/18/19 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by waygetter
For the OP, here's a video.. in the space of about 2 minutes, he demonstrates a some great concepts


Thanks for this Waygetter. What an excellent video.... I am going to look up some more of his stufff. smile


"Turn your fingers into a dust rag and keep them keys clean!" wink Bluzeyone
Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003828 08/18/19 03:32 PM
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Get a matchbook and keep it with you. wink


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Joe Muscara #3003839 08/18/19 04:31 PM
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“Hammond Organ Complete” by Dave Lumina, Berklee Press.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003890 08/18/19 09:58 PM
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Here are two pointers. Both are a different way of saying some things that were already referenced in this thread.

1) Learn how to use a volume pedal. If you don't have a real Hammond, or a clone, turn off the velocity curves for organ voices . One main difference between piano and organ- On the organ, you can change the volume of the note you are playing after you strike the note. Some organ lines call for voicing each note with the volume (or expression) pedal. Other times, you change the volume gradually over a specific melodic line (Crescendos and Decrescendos).

When I play organ on my Motif (I know that the organs are much maligned on this keybaord), I have one foot riding the volume pedal constantly.

2)Playing legato - there is a different technique for organ and piano. If you press an organ key very slowly, you can detect the exact position that the organ voice "speaks". On a real Hammond, you can actually hear the harmonics (depending on drawbar settings) start to "speak" one at a time. Also, if you release the note very slowly, you can detect the key position when the voice stops speaking. This means that to play legato on an organ, you actually have to start playing the second note before the first note is fully released. If you play the second note after the first note is released, it sounds "choppy". For this reason- it is actually more difficult to play a legato line on an organ than on a piano.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003902 08/18/19 10:55 PM
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Make sure you follow through and buy that organ like you're saying you will. Hopefully it's a half-decent console. Then invite some people over to jam.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003909 08/19/19 12:00 AM
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This thread is 🔥🔥🔥. Thanks so much for the valuable input. Can’t wait to put it into practice.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
mate stubb #3003916 08/19/19 12:36 AM
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Originally Posted by mate stubb
- the volume pedal is your friend. Use it to add dynamics when you do chord stabs, to crescendo or decrescendo like a horn would when playing single note lines, etc.


I completely agree with Mate Stubb and Piano39. Additional pointer from Joey Defrancesco: Don't constantly tap the beat with the volume pedal. It will sound like you have engaged a tremolo pedal, or something. As much as I have love for many of the things that Keith Emerson did, I do recall seeing him barely touching the volume pedal. I love the way that Dr. Lonnie Smith uses it, but you'll have to have band mates that are sensitive to dynamics to make that work.

I was once hired for a recording session with a very good local funk band. The guy who hired me told me not to worry about bringing gear, as there was an M3 and a Leslie 145 all ready to go in the studio. I showed up and found a chopped Hammond M3 that had dirty drawbar contacts(?) and NO volume pedal. Some of the band members showed up to see me attempt to coax a dynamic performance from the instrument using only the drawbars to control dynamics. Sometimes, depending on luck and how I moved the drawbars, the organ would go silent. I did my best, but as the organ kept cutting out and I had to keep one hand on the drawbars 98% of the time, we did many corrective punch-ins that day. I'm not sure if the other parties in the room understood what caused the difficulties and, needless to say, that was not a pleasant experience, even though the recording did see the light of day.

I would like to add one more idea to this thread: For many of the "song writer" type songs that I have performed or recorded for other folks, I got a lot of milage out of using the 8' drawbar, and applying constant Leslie fast/slow switching, volume pedal action, simple major and minor sixths and thirds and the Floyd Cramer type crushed intervals.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003920 08/19/19 01:06 AM
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I think the pedal aspect is fantastic advice, and at the same time, I would worry that it's a bit confounding to a piano player who is just trying to get his head around the instrument at all, let alone one of its most subtle and sophisticated nuances. I would consider that next-gen, although I agree it's worth keeping in mind as one develops.


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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003964 08/19/19 12:46 PM
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I was in a very similar situation to you. In fact, I still am. I was a piano player, but now 90% of my playing is "organ" on my Electro... I've never even been in the same room as the real thing, so I'm in no way an organist, as much as I'd love to be. However, you'll get further a lot quicker if you have the real deal. If you've got a deal for a console lined up, jump on it ASAP.

Couple of things I've picked up going on the same journey as you; google search "organ site:musicplayer.com" and have a browse. There have been some fantastic threads on this subject over the years, with pages of advice. It's certainly helped me a lot.

I'm by no means an organ player, but much prefer it to piano. My limited advice would be: experiment and play often, especially in band settings. Reading guides and youtube tutorials are good, but the way I've learned how to use the drawbars and other little bits and bobs was through playing live. For example, one website might say "use 008x0000x for this tune/style of music" but when you try it in real life in a band/recording situation you might find that it just doesn't work in that particular context (or on your instrument). The only way you get to know the drawbars is through trial and error and lots of playing and experimenting. After just a few years of non-stop trial and error, I can now in a manner of seconds find a drawbar registration that works from scratch, and edit it in real time as the tune develops - not because I've studied the guides, but because I've played enough to kind of have a handle on what each drawbar adds to the mix.

Other than that, just listen, listen, listen. Rock, blues, gospel - a good player doesn't just play the organ, but makes the instrument SING. Find guys that inspire you and copy what they do. I once got a call back for recording session because the songwriter liked what I did in one particular recording - and all I did was a little swell on the 8' drawbar between lines in the verses that I'd picked up from listening. Pick up the little organ specific techniques that you hear (not just the chops) and it'll seperate you from everyone else.

Last edited by N4dr0j; 08/19/19 12:58 PM.

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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003970 08/19/19 01:51 PM
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Some good points here, thanks (from someone in the same boat as OP).

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
PianoMan51 #3003979 08/19/19 02:24 PM
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Originally Posted by PianoMan51
“Hammond Organ Complete” by Dave Limina, Berklee Press.


This x1000.
I'm in the same situation of the OP, though arguably I'm a bit more advanced as I've been practicing for 2 years on a double manual clone with pedalboard, and I have occasional access to a C3 in a local studio.
All the previous advice is great, but Dave Limina's book is really essential. Just the introduction and the first ten exercises can keep you busy for months and get you a LONG way in learning the basics...and much more!

The rest is listen, practice, listen, practice, listen, practice. Then listen some more. Then practice some more.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003984 08/19/19 02:39 PM
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In my experience they are a totally different animal. Most guys around here are all organ players. In some ways I think piano is harder to be good at. Pat Bianci didn't agree with that when we were talking at a seminar but I understood his point...with a Hammond the organ does a lot of the work itself and you have to learn your way around it. Once you do it becomes easier. I understand what he said but it's far easier to go from piano to organ. Get yourself a console and play around with it. Videos are OK but you have to use it in a live context. There are things you can't do equally on both instruments. I don't worry about the standard drawbar preferences. They are nice to know but you have to develop the ear and instinct for it. You should really listen to the gospel organists. In my opinion those guys are on another level than even some jazz organ players are. The market for this stuff is in the churches anyway, that's where the good music is centered on the console sound.

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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3003992 08/19/19 03:46 PM
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Totally agree. To me jazz organists coming from, ehm, jazz, tend to sound like pianists playing organ, even when they're awesome players.
But you can immediately tell when an organist has gospel roots. Totally different vibe, and they really make the most out of the expressive possibilities of the instrument.

Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3004107 08/20/19 01:27 AM
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This is Aretha, I think from the '71 Grammys. It is interesting that the overlaid video is shot across the Hammond so we get to see the action. I was told by someone that the pinky ring was a clue that it was Billy Preston on the B3, though I have nothing other that that. Whether or not, it was a masterful performance of just the things discussed here earlier. Drawbar selection, expression pedal and note choice to complement the song.


Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Bradley B #3004108 08/20/19 01:37 AM
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Re: Tips/guidance for piano player learning organ
Teeter #3004199 08/20/19 04:10 PM
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If you haven't priced Hammonds yet an A100 is usually the least expensive way to get into a full-featured console model. Watch CL and Facebook Marketplace as good deals come up for $1000 or less but more typical is $1200-1500. The A100 has built-in speakers and reverb but you may want to add a Leslie Speaker at some point. A C3 is in the next price tier often sold with a Leslie speaker which will typically starting at about $2500. B3's are at the top end with sellers asking $5000 on up with Leslie. Then there are the RT and D models but these are bigger and heavier and have more bass pedals which you probably don't want. Also the E-100 has many of the console features and can go for free up to about $700. If a console is beyond your budget you can still get into a Hammond for cheap with a spinet. The M3 is very close in sound and feel to the console models but can often be had anywhere from free to a few hundred dollars. A Leslie will cost much more than the organ. Other spinet models worth getting are the M100 or L100 which are also often in the free to few hundred dollar range. Of course a Leslie will again likely cost much more than the organ.

For Leslie speakers the most desirable two-speed models are the 122, 142, 145, and 147. There are earlier single-speed models which can be converted to two-speed. Prices range from under $1K and up depending on condition and seller motivation.


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