Pedal playing is arguably one of the most attractive skills that an organist needs. In order to develop a high level pedal technique, one has to practice pedal playing correctly. However, many people fail to move their pedal technique to the next level because of incorrect practicing habits. Are you making these common mistakes in your pedal playing? Read on to find out.
The height and the distance of the organ bench are incorrect. Sitting too low or too high on the organ bench will form an incorrect playing habit. Try to adjust the bench so that your feet should be hovering and touching the pedals but not pressing them. The distance from the keyboards should be adjusted that when you sit normally, your feet should be almost touching the sharp keys. Some people like to position the organ bench diagonally with the left side further from the keys. This habit is incorrect and actually unhealthy for our body because we would then always sit stretched a little to the left side.
Completely different story is with historical organs. If you ever have a chance to play organs from the 17th, 18th, or 19th century, you may notice how low or how high their organ benches are. It is just the way it is. We have to accept it and adjust to the instrument, not the other way around. But with modern instrument there is often a way to sit on the bench in a convenient position.
Playing with the outside of the foot. This is perhaps the most common of all mistakes an organist can make. I see it over and over again in many of my students as well. Look at your technique and see if this is something you should work on. Try to always play with the inside of your feet. The contact is made with the big toe. When you play with your heel, also depress the pedals with the inside of your heel. Note that you should not lift the part of your foot which is not playing higher than necessary. That way you will avoid unnecessary strain.
Not keeping your heels and knees together. The previous mistake is actually connected with this one. If you play with the outside of your feet then naturally your knees are looking outward. On the contrary, try to always keep the knees together, at least for smaller intervals. The heels then should also be connected and both feet would move as one unit. This is crucial when playing pedal scales and other fast pedal passages. Of course, when we have to play wider intervals, it is not possible to keep the heels together. In this case, just try to play with the inside of your feet.
Not writing in pedaling. Many people find the task of writing in fingering and pedaling boring and too much time consuming. This is partly because they might be quite good at their piano technique, in which case writing in fingering is not always necessary. However, pedal playing is entirely new skill for any organist. Whether or not he or she has any experience on the piano is not as important for their pedal technique. It only seems time consuming.
In reality, it saves a lot time because once the correct pedaling is written in, then all you have to do is to stick with it. Of course, sometimes we may write in an incorrect or awkward pedaling and then we have to change it. That’s OK. As long as you know what is correct, what works, and what doesn’t you should be fine. By the way, as you advance in your pedal technique and organ playing in general, there will not always be any need to write in fingering and pedaling. You will just form correct playing habits will be able to play on the spot.
These are the mistakes that many organists do when playing with their feet. But the list continues in Part 2 of this article.
I have written earlier about the secret to a perfect pedal technique. That's an article about Marcel Dupre's rocommendations. You might find his suggestions surprisingly simple yet very powerful.
If you would like to know more about pedal playing, I highly recommend studying Organ Technique: Modern and Early by George Ritchie and George Stauffer. This method book has separate chapter on pedal playing with many important exercises.
By the way, do you want to learn to play the King of Instruments - the pipe organ? If so, download my FREE video guide: "How to Master Any Organ Composition" in which I will show you my EXACT steps, techniques, and methods that I use to practice, learn and master any piece of organ music.
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Drs. Vidas Pinkevicius and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene
Organists of Vilnius University , creators of Secrets of Organ Playing.
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