Piano or Organ – The Key Differences

This is a guest post by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of an online university. Many people can’t really differentiate between an organ and a piano. We can’t blame them because the keyboards just look the same on both. Let Holly tells you her story.

Growing up, I was part of a choir that sang from a loft in a church. Unlike most of my choir-mates, I enjoyed waking up early on a Sunday morning and trudging through the snow or through fields of flowers (depending on the season) to the small community church where we celebrated mass. I loved climbing those spiral stairs and taking my place with the others beside the organist. And most of all, I loved singing those hymns at the top of my voice and enjoying the feeling that comes from offering praise to the almighty.

The instrument that accompanied our refrains was an old organ, but for a long time, I labored under the misconception that it was a piano. And even when someone (I think it was my mom) explained the difference to me, I was not too embarrassed to have made this particular mistake. Piano or organ, what does it matter? They both look the same and almost sound the same. It was only when I grew older, and hence wiser, that I realized that the organ is as different from the piano as a drum is from a flute. In fact:

  • An organ is a woodwind instrument while a piano falls under percussion group of instruments.
  • If you’re surprised to find the piano lumped in with the drums (most of us think drums the moment we hear percussion), then you’re probably not aware of the definition of percussion – instruments that produce music through the act of striking, strumming or plucking are all percussion. And so the piano becomes a percussion instrument because we play it by striking the keys. And the organ comes under the woodwind category because even though a key is pressed to generate a note, the sound is generated by mechanically compressed air that resonates through pipes (pipe organ). In the case of an electronic organ, a circuit is complete each time a key is pressed, and this leads to the resultant note.
  • A piano’s keys have to be struck again and again in order to sustain a particular note. But in the case of an organ, simply continuing to hold down a key will produce a prolonged note that is sustained as long as the key is pressed.
  • An organ can come with many levels of keyboards, each of which is called a rank.
  • Each rank in an organ can be used in combination with others to produce the sounds of other woodwind and reed instruments. A piano is not as versatile as an organ and can only sound like a piano.
  • A piano is often a leading instrument in an orchestra while an organ follows the music and plays the supporting rather than the main chords.
  • An organ has its bass controls in a pedal.

I’ve heard people say that it takes a certain skill set to be able to play the piano and a different one to master the organ. But the organist I knew from my days at church was a good pianist at well. Maybe all it takes to master the two instruments is a mixture of a little talent and a lot of practice.

This post was contributed by Holly McCarthy, who writes on the subject of an online university. She invites your feedback at hollymccarthy12 at gmail dot com.

About The Author


Online Musician, Pianist, Song-writer, Vocalist, Music Arranger


  • Ivan

    Reply Reply March 15, 2015


    could you please tell me do the notes for piano have to be transcribed for an organ player and vice versa?


  • Adalyn

    Reply Reply May 28, 2019

    I am a beginner. Should I go for piano or a keyboard and also how much is the price difference? I can not afford too expensive one.

    • KCLau

      Reply Reply August 5, 2019

      Go for an affordable electronic keyboard. You will save regular maintenance, and try out your interest until you really need an acoustic piano.

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