Intra-Manual Couplers
(for organists only)

By Richard Huggins
From AccompaList, a Resource for Church Accompanists
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A recent experience as a supply organist reminded me of what may be an under-used feature on some organs (even by experienced organists), what I call "intra-manual couplers." Not every organ has them, but for those that do they can extend an organ's sounds significantly. Intra-manual couplers are couplers that don't couple sounds to a different manual (such as Sw. to Gt. 8'), but rather cause the sounds on that same manual also to play at higher/lower pitches (such as Sw. to Sw. 16') or NOT to play at their given pitches (such as Sw. Unison Off).

Obviously many of you organists know all of this, so you can go grab a Coke if you wish! But for any of you organists who don't know how you might use this feature creatively, read on. (This also will re-state a theme I bring up for organists now and then: the concept of DISCOVERY, where you set time aside to make sure you are not overlooking your organ's "hidden" sounds.)

This particular instrument had no 16ths on either manual. In such a situation the Sw. to Sw 16' coupler can be useful in adding the 16' pitch to the 8' pitch (as if, for example, you had separate Flute 16' and a Flute 8' stops). If you don't WANT the 8' pitch also sounding you would add the "Sw. Unis. Off" coupler (see next paragraph).

A unison-off coupler means that whatever the given octave of the stop is (8' for example), that octave will be silenced. (Thus if you selected only the Unison Off coupler you would get silence!) For example, your organ might have only an Oboe 4' but you prefer to play it at the 8' octave. Using the Sw. to Sw. 16' coupler in combination with the Sw. Unison Off would lower the pitch one octave plus cancel out the 4' sound, meaning you could play the Oboe notes at the normal place on the keyboard (rather than an octave lower).

So then, by combining various combinations of these couplers with various combinations of stops, you can get all sorts of refreshing sounds to think of a way to use! The best education you can get about this is EXPERIMENTATION! This would include selecting various single stops and listen to that stop while trying various combinations of the intra-manual couplers. You then would select several stops together--especially of different lengths (such as Flute 8' and Flute 4')--and trying them with various combinations of the intra-manual couplers.

When using stops of differing lengths (such as 8' and 4') remember that the same Sw. to Sw. 16' that puts the 8' down an octave also puts the 4' down an octave. But if you add the Sw. to Sw. 4' to that, it will add an octave to each stop: Your 8' would be playing at the 16' and also the 4' octaves and your Flute 4' would be playing at the 8' and 2' octaves. One 8' stop, then, would be sounding at three octaves as would your 4' stop, for a total of four octaves sounding at once. This is easier to grasp if you'll refer to the graphic below, which gives two examples of what pitches would be heard when certain intra-manual coupler combinations were used.

To give an example of how I used this in the church where I supplied--where the organ had neither a Flute 16' or a Flute 2', a stop combination that's one of my favorites-- I was able to get it by using the intra-manual couplers.

These couplers have no effect on the inter-manual couplers. For example, if a Flute 4' was selected and the Sw. to Sw. 16' plus Sw. Unison Off couplers were used, it wouldn't affect your using the Sw. to Gt. 8' coupler. Along that line, here's an interesting possibility, again using our friend the Flute 8' stop:

SW: Flute 8', Sw. to Sw. 16', Sw. Unison Off, Sw. to Sw. 4'
GT: Sw. to Gt. 8'

In this example only ONE stop is being used, yet you can accompany your Swell manual melody on the Great manual with the same Flute 8' stop! And by the way, when experimenting don't leave out adding/removing the mixtures, or at least the moderate ones. Sometimes some pleasant ensembles can be created that way, for use on such bright and quick things as "Pat a Pan."

One last point: some sounds you will create may make good solo sounds while others will be useful for ensemble playing (as with a hymn). In some cases, adding the 16' pitches would make it possible to play a hymn verse on the manual only yet retain a certain bass foundation, which would add some variety to a hymn verse. But be careful about your left-hand notes, because since they are sounding one octave lower as well they can get muddy if they are too closely spaced.

Now, if your eyes are starting to glaze over, just move back up to the fifth paragraph, note the word EXPERIMENTATION, do it, make notes to yourself about combinations that you like, then delight that you have discovered some new sounds you didn't know your organ had.

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