How to Play the Electric Organ

Written by la vera frazier
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How to Play the Electric Organ
Electric organs have many switches, knob and pedals, which can make them complicated to play. (pipe organ on black image by Jeffrey Zalesny from

Electric organs are popular instruments in the gospel and jazz genres of music. Their sounds and design are inspired by keyboard instruments; such as pipe organs, harmoniums and theatre organs. Today, Hammond organs are the most popular electric organs; especially their B3 and C2 models. Many electric organ companies build “Hammond clones,” which are organs based on the Hammond B3, such as the Diversi organ. With practice, you can learn how to play one of these organs.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Follow the operation manual’s instructions for starting your specific type of electric organ. Newer models use a simple on/off switch; whereas older model organs, such as a vintage Hammond B3, use a dual switch set-up: one switch is labelled as “start” and the other “run”. Hold the “start” switch in the up position for 15 to 30 seconds while the tonewheels wind. Continue to hold the “start” switch while flicking on the “run” switch, then hold the “start” switch for an additional 10 seconds.

  2. 2

    Pull the drawbar out (towards you) to increase the volume in incremental steps from 0 (no sound) to 8 (maximum volume). Pushing the drawbar in (away from you) decreases the volume of that drawbar. Organs have 9 drawbars divided into 3 groups; the “sub” group includes the first 2 drawbars and creates deep tones; the “foundation” group includes the next 4 drawbars and creates mid-range tones; lastly, the last 3 drawbars make up the “brilliance” group and creates high tones. These drawbars allow for approximately 253,000,000 possible sound combinations.

  3. 3

    Use the percussion switches and knobs to add and control harmonic overtones. Whether or not these switches add a second and/or third harmonic overtone to the original tone depends on the specific make and model of your electric organ.

  4. 4

    Use Leslie switches if your electric organ is plugged into Leslie-model speakers. The speakers are noticed for their spinning treble horn, which produces a sound known as the “Doppler effect”. Leslie speakers are usually mounted to the front left side of an organ console and control the chorale and treble effects of the Leslie speaker.

  5. 5

    Play the manuals (or keyboards) of an electric organ the same way you would play a piano or keyboard; or in the case of a two-manual organ, two keyboards at once. The upper and lower manuals are identical, with the exception of the upper manual having the option of additional percussion.

  6. 6

    Play the bass pedals (also known as the pedal board) by using the heel/toe method. This requires that you play the “white” keys with your heel and the black keys with your toe. Keep in mind, however, that the “white” keys on the pedal board are usually polished wood, and are not painted any colour. To the upper-right of the pedal board is the effects pedal. Many organists control the effects pedal with their right foot and play the bass pedals with their left foot; however, some organists learn to play the bass pedals with both feet.

Tips and warnings

  • Many electric organs have presets (these are usually black keys on the left side of the manuals). These presets create the sounds of specific drawbar settings without having to change the actual drawbars.
  • Keep in mind that the drawbars and presets control the volume of the organ. Additionally, the effects pedal (which is located on the pedal board) also controls the volume of the organ. Therefore, if the presets are turned off and the drawbars pushed in; in addition to the effect pedal being up right, you will not be able to hear the organ, this is a position of “zero volume”.

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