Organ Workshop: Using Drawbars Part 2

A vintage reprint from the May 1981 issue of Contemporary Keyboard
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Last month we talked about how the drawbars work, and how to make basic drawbar tone colors sound brighter or more muted. This month we’ll continue our study with an examination of how to create the four families of organ tone—diapason, flute, reed, and string—with drawbars.


Diapason is defined as a typical organ sound, used as a foundation setting. It has a strong fundamental and second harmonic, with weaker upper harmonics. As an 8' combination, it makes an excellent accompanying sound. With a 16' setting, it is the basis for a full theatre organ sound. When other families are emphasized in the combinations, you may have a flute diapason, a reed diapason, or a string diapason. In its simplest form, the diapason might be created with a drawbar setting of 00 7754 000, or 00 6665 000, or 00 5521 000. A typical diapason accompaniment that would contain string and reed combinations would be 00 8765 432. Occasionally you’ll hear the terms open or stopped preceding the name of the designated family—a term such as open diapason or stopped flute, for example. This refers to open or closed (stopped) organ pipes. When the upper end of a pipe is closed, the pipe produces a softer and somewhat different tone quality. An open diapason might be created on the drawbars using a 00 6655 000 setting, while a stopped diapason might be 00 7010 000.

Flute is one of the simplest families of timbre, originally known as accompaniment stops because of their fairly colorless quality. The tibia stop is equivalent to the flute, and suggested registrations use these terms interchangeably. However, the tibia is considered more of a solo setting, with the addition of a small amount of higher harmonic to add a hint of reed tone color. The pure flute uses only consonant harmonics. Study the following combinations.

16' — 60 2000 000
8' — 00 6200 000
4' — 00 0602 000
2' — 00 0006 002
Piccolo 2' — 00 0106 004

For the tibias, a small amount of third harmonic is added:

16' — 73 0000 000
8' — 00 7030 000
4' — 00 0700 030

Reeds can be divided into two groups—woodwinds and brass. The reed stops are the solo stops of the organ. Here are some reed woodwind timbres:

Clarinet 8’ — 00 8482 430
Oboe 8’ — 00 3675 320
English horn 8’ — 00 3678 660
Bassoon 16’ — 26 3675 660

And here are some brass timbres:

Trumpet 8’ — 00 6777 771
Trombone 8’ — 00 7666 540
French horn 8’ — 00 7654 321

Strings are versatile and can be used for both solo and accompaniment. The violin, viola, and ‘cello settings shown below are solo settings, while the string celeste, gamba, and dulciana are accompaniment settings.

Violin 8’ — 00 1575 653
Cello 8’ — 00 1444 431
Viola 8’ — 00 2463 332
String celeste 8’ — 00 2564 411
Gamba 8’ — 00 3484 432
Dulciana 8’ — 00 5550 000

Please remember that the above drawbar combinations are random choices made from a considerable number of variations of the basic tones. For a highly detailed study of drawbar registration, read the Dictionary Of Hammond Organ Stops (G. Schirmer) by Stevens Irwin (no relation). This volume lists more than 3,500 stops and states that “...if every possible variety of every basic pattern in this dictionary were worked out, the number of stops resulting would be in the neighborhood of 74,000,000.” Gosh—and I thought there were only 7,000,000 possible settings! Another book I have quoted in my workshops is The Well- Timbred Hammond Organ (Charles Hansen, Inc.) by Maurice Grudin. You might also look into the General Guide for Tonebar Organs (Hal Leonard Publishing).

Now, for the shape of things to come. Drawbar patterns are conventionally remembered in general shapes—that is, the overall shape of the drawbar combinations. We can generalize the combinations of the four families of tone in the following shapes:

I suggest starting the shapes from the first white drawbar (8'), making the following combinations: diapason—00 8765 432; flute—00 8400 000; reed—00 4687 542; string—00 5666 665. This permits a rapid registration change from a thin 8' setting to a rich 16' setting simply by adding the 16' (first brown) drawbar.

In theory, it’s better to remember the functions and relationships of each of the drawbars as well as the general shapes of the families, rather than commit many numerical combinations to memory. I agree with that premise, but I also believe that in the process of using the drawbars, both by following the harmonic suggestions in various published texts and through personal experimentation, there are advantages to writing down specific numerical drawbar combinations. There are so many combinations and permutations available with the nine drawbars (at one time, eleven drawbars were used, but the two additional high harmonics were later discarded) that it is easy to find particularly appealing combinations that are lost before you have time to “digest” the settings. So I suggest you make a list of your favorite drawbar combinations, which you might want to break down into the four basic families. (It’s easier psychologically to remember things once you’ve written them down, because you’re combining your visual and tactile senses.)

Here are some combinations for you to add to your list: Jazz (trem off)—70 8000 808; 68 8080 008; 88 0080 808; 60 0880 800; 80 0080 008. Accompaniment—00 6543 332 (move the three center drawbars in or out to balance). Full organ—70 5434 567 (notice shape), with a quick change to a brassy sound—70 8888 567. Flutes (both hands on same manual, middle register)—00 8008 000. Oboe—00 2586 521 (small vibrato or chorus). Ballad, single-note, heavy—88 8800 000; light—00 8888 000 (use for jazz with tremolo off). Novelty—08 8008 888; quick change to 88 0008 888. Xylophone (?)—00 0800 808 (tremolo off).

This article originally appeared in the May 1981 issue of Contemporary Keyboard magazine.