This is Part 3 of the series of articles about common mistakes in pedal playing. In order to have a full picture, read the Part 1 and Part 2 as well.
Not changing the position. In order to play passages in the outer edges of the pedal board fluently, we need to shift the position. This technique also allows us to feel comfortable and avoid unnecessary tension of the body. However, not every organist knows how to use this technique properly.
Actually, it is quite simple. When you need to make a large leap in your pedal part, push off the pedals with the left foot if the leap is upwards. Likewise push off with the right foot when there is a large leap downwards. As you push off with your foot, make sure you shift the entire lower part of your body, too. The upper body has to stay stable facing the music. This technique makes playing pedal scales very easy and comfortable. Just shift the position a few times over the course of the scale. By the way, the great resource of playing pedal scales and other exercises is Organ Technique: Modern and Early by George Ritchie and George Stauffer.
Playing hands and feet together from the beginning in polyphonic music. Because polyphonic organ music, such as four voice fugues can be very exciting yet quite challenging to learn, I don’t recommend learning the fugue by playing hands and feet together right away. Of course, you may sight-read the fugue a couple of times in order to get familiar with the music, but real practice should be done in a different way for best results.
Unless you are very experienced in sight-reading and organ playing in general, learn separate voices of the fugue first. Later practice two-voice and three-voice combinations. Only then you will be ready to play the full four-part texture. Practicing otherwise makes learning the correct articulation quite difficult. In addition, because of complex polyphony you may not be able to pay attention to details in your pedal playing technique.
Note that you can subdivide the piece into smaller fragments and learn them in this way first. Then combine the fragments into larger episodes. It may seem time consuming and you may think that playing all voices together from the beginning would be faster. However, if you want some serious progress in your organ playing, have patience, take your time to learn the piece really well and don’t rush. Then you will be able to master any organ composition.
Not using pedal preparation. If you know what pedal preparation is all about, chances are that you are practicing correctly. The easiest way to explain how pedal preparation works is this: after playing one note in the pedal part, immediately move your foot to the next position and wait for its turn to play. In other words, as you release one pedal, move the foot to the next note in one fluent motion. This technique helps to achieve precision in the pedal playing.
However, even though we may know the right way to play, we don’t necessarily take the steps which lead to success. For some reasons, sometimes we are just happy if we press the right notes on the pedal board. Of course, using pedal preparation takes some serious mindset and patience but I can guarantee that it’s worth it.
You see, if we insist on preparing for the next note in the pedal part and practice that specific fragment repeatedly, after a while it will become automatic and the foot will just know were to go next. At first you may even use the pencil to mark note heads in advance in parentheses. Later, it will all become natural because you will develop the habit of pedal preparation.
The list about these common mistakes in pedal playing continues in Part 4 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.