Tracker action

Tracker action in Jørlunde church. Organ by Frobenius (2009)

Tracker action is a term used in reference to pipe organs and steam calliopes to indicate a mechanical linkage between keys or pedals pressed by the organist and the valve that allows air to flow into pipe(s) of the corresponding note. This is in contrast to "direct electric action" and "electro-pneumatic action", which connect the key to the valve through an electrical link or an electrically assisted pneumatic system respectively, or "tubular-pneumatic action" which utilizes a change of pressure within lead tubing which connects the key to the valve pneumatic.


Ancient history

Organs trace their history as far back as at least the 3rd Century B.C. with an organlike device known as the hydraulis. Also known as a "water organ" or "Roman organ," the Hydraulis was an instrument in which water was used as a source of power to push wind through organ pipes. (It is not to be confused with the hydraulic action of a hydraulophone, an instrument that actually uses water to produce the sound, not just as a source of power). While the control of air pressure was controlled by water pressure, hence the name, the action was a rudimentary form of modern action.

It was not until the mid 14th century that the action needed to be explored and expanded as finally more pipes were added, as well as the addition of stops, and ultimately multiple cases and keyboards.

Baroque and Classical

This continued in the 17th and 18th centuries. No particularly great developments took place in the Classical Period.


In the Romantic Period came a new style of organ building. The organ became larger and louder and pneumatically assisted action became the norm in large instruments, to offset the extreme key weight caused by high wind pressures.


Although tracker action was less utilized in the early twentieth century, particularly in England and America, its use has enjoyed a strong renaissance in the same areas since World War II, especially in instruments modeled on historical antecedents. Today, many builders are using tracker action throughout the world, and it has been successfully employed in organs of many styles. Some active builders of tracker action organs include Taylor and Boody of Staunton, Virginia, Paul Fritts of Tacoma, Washington, Flentrop Orgelbouw B.V. of Zaandam, the Netherlands, and C. B. Fisk, Inc. of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Currently, the world's largest mechanical (tracker) action organ was built by Ronald Sharp in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, and includes over 10,500 pipes.

Components of the action

A roller board with rollers and trackers from a 1970 D. A. Flentrop organ
Interior of the organ at Cradley Heath Baptist Church showing the tracker action. The rollers transmit movement sideways to line up with the pipes.

The action consists of many types of devices used for the playing of such said organ, as listed below:

The above is a list of mechanisms unique to tracker action. Steam calliopes, such as those built by Thomas J. Nichol in the early twentieth century, used a very simplified tracker mechanism. For actions used in all forms of pipe organs, see pipe organ construction.


Tracker action at Cradley Heath Baptist Church showing adjusters on tracker ends which engage with the keys of the great organ.

Because of construction tolerances, a means of adjustment, or regulation, of the action has to be provided. This is commonly done by having a threaded wire end on the wooden tracker rods. A circular nut varies the effective length of the tracker where it engages with other parts of the action. One objective of correct regulation is that the keys on each manual have the same rest height and distance of travel when pressed. The regulation wrongly set at one extreme can cause a note to sound when no keys are pressed. This may also be caused by the action sticking after the key is released. The other extreme is that notes do not sound, or sound feebly, when a key is pressed.

Kinds of action

Besides tracker action, two other kinds of action used in pipe organs are as follows:

Advantages and disadvantages of tracker action

Currently, some organ builders use tracker action in new organs, others use electric action, and still others use either type depending on the instrument. There are builders and organists who have strong feelings regarding the advantages of one type of action over another.



This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/19/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.