This is Part 2 of the series of articles about common mistakes in pedal playing. You can read the Part 1 here. These mistakes inhibit the progress of an organist and form incorrect playing habits. The quality of the music also becomes not as good as it could be. Therefore, it is important to recognize these mistakes and try to correct them.
Using heels in the Baroque music. There are exceptions to this rule, but the tradition is that we should avoid using heels in early music. This is because the pedal boards of historical organs very often are built in such a way that playing with heels would be quite difficult. For example, the pedals of the French classical organs are very narrow and short. Even more so is with Renaissance organs.
By the way, using toes only technique it is much easier to achieve the desired articulation – articulate legato touch. However, not every organist is taught this way even today. This is partly because the legato school of organ playing was applied to the early music for a long time.
Avoiding heels in the Romantic and Modern music. I have met some organists who play even the 19th century and 20th century compositions with toes only. Toe-heel technique has strong foundations in the Romantic organ tradition and we should not hesitate to use it when it is appropriate.
My guess is that some organists avoid using heels for various reasons but one of them might be that they don’t know the principles behind toe-heel technique. They don’t know how to do efficient and solid pedaling for scale passages. In consequence, the pedal part performed in such a way might sound too choppy and detached.
Using left foot only. This is quite normal way of playing for theater organists and I am not criticizing them now. They need their right foot for many toe studs they have on their organs; they also use this foot for swell pedal and crescendo pedal excessively. Their left feet technique becomes very efficient and virtuosic.
However, there are some organists who hesitate using the right foot for pedal playing. This is partly due to the lack of proper training. They are only capable of playing long sustained notes in the pedal part and much of the concert organ music is inaccessible to them. Although people who start playing organ from the beginning using the correct technique definitely have an advantage here, but it is never too late to start forming the right playing habits.
Playing with too much power. Have you observed organists who play the pedals (and the manuals for that matter) with such tremendous force that you could even hear the unnecessary noise coming from their feet (or fingers)? I have met such people and they really would benefit much more if they could try to relax their feet (and hands) and not hit the pedals with too much power.
Actually, we should have the feeling of playing about mezzo piano on the pedal board. Use only as much energy as you need to depress the pedals and not more. Anything above the minimum power just creates that extra noise, makes the articulation imprecise and creates a chance of even breaking a key or something in the mechanics of the organ, like a tracker.
The list about these common mistakes in pedal playing continues in Part 3 of this article series.
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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Don't have an organ at home?
Download paper manuals and pedals, print them out, cut the white spaces, tape the sheets together and you'll be ready to practice anywhere where is a desk and floor. Make sure you have a higher chair.