Vidas: Let’s start Episode 123 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. This question was sent by Lilla and she writes:
“Hi Vidas, could you explain/make a video of how to execute the B minor arpeggios of tonic chord over two octaves? In particular, the low f# is marked to play with the right heel. And also, I need to support myself with my hands keeping on the bench (not on my lap). I am not sure how to change this to keep my balance without hand support. Thank you for your help!”
So, playing arpeggios with feet. It’s not very easy, right Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, that might be tricky sometimes, yes.
Vidas: But I think it’s very beneficial in the long term, because it will develop your heel flexibility, yeah?
Ausra: Yes. But from what I understood from her question, she places the heel on the low F♯.
Ausra: I wouldn’t do that.
Vidas: Yeah, because…
Ausra: I don’t think it’s possible to hit the low F♯ with the heel.
Vidas: She is studying from my Organ Pedal Virtuoso Master Course, and in that particular arpeggio in b minor over 2 octaves, I probably made a typo: on the low F♯, I placed the heel. So obviously, it has to be--
Vidas: Toe. On any F♯s, you need toes.
Vidas: So, this means that you could actually play the b minor arpeggio with the pedaling indicated to f♯ minor, which is R-L-R, then L-L-R-R-R, R-R-L-L, and L. So, to clarify that, B would be played with right toe, the low F♯ with left toe, B again with right toe, D with left heel, F♯ with left toe, then B with the right toe, D with right heel, F♯ with right toe, and then backwards: D right heel, B right toe, and then F♯ with left toe, then D left heel, and the last note B with the left toe. So...is it complicated, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, yes. It seems very complicated when you are telling each note so slowly.
Vidas: Yeah, I don’t want to make a mistake, telling people what not to do! And the other part of the question was that Lilla is not comfortable sitting on the organ bench and playing, right? Keeping her hands on the bench, while playing without the hands, on the pedals. How to change the position and keep her balance without hands. Could you help her with that, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, I hope so. Maybe she’s sitting in that position--I mean, maybe the bench is too close to the keys, or too far away from the organ. That might be a problem, too.
Vidas: Basically, the rule to change position is to always face your knees to the direction of the pedals that you’re playing.
Vidas: If your pedals are left and your knees are facing right, you will easily damage your knees, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas:So, how can you push over with one foot? Is it difficult, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, not so much, I would say.
Vidas: Which foot do you use to push? Opposite?
Vidas: If you go upwards, you use the left foot.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: If you go downwards, you use the right foot to push off, changing direction.
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. And you know, if something feels very uncomfortable for you, it means that you are doing something wrong. It shouldn’t be torture, playing organ.
Vidas: And I think it’s best to adjust the bench’s position, as Ausra says, so that you’re neither too high nor too low, neither too far from the pedals nor too close to them--and actually, sit on the edge of the bench.
Ausra: Yes, yes.
Vidas: Not too deep on the bench.
Ausra: That’s right, yes.
Vidas: Basically, lean forward.
Ausra: Yes. A little bit, yes.
Vidas: Does it take practice to figure out a comfortable position?
Ausra: Of course. It takes a lot of practice.
Vidas: So, I guess people who will be struggling with this need to remember that it’s not an overnight success; because you have to play around, and figure out your comfortable position on the organ bench while playing technical exercises like scales or arpeggios with pedals.
Ausra: And also the bench height might not be correct for your case, so you need to adjust that, as well. And--have you noticed that some organists place the organ bench a little bit...
Ausra: Diagonally, yes.
Vidas: To the left.
Ausra: What do you think about that position?
Vidas: The left side is farther from the keyboards than the right side, right?
Vidas: You sort of face a little bit...strangely. The idea behind this approach is that you put your right foot on the swell pedal a lot--
Vidas: To manipulate the box. And for this technique to work, you need to pedal your pieces extensively with the left foot. I don’t think it’s an ideal position; I think we use both feet equally often.
Ausra: That’s right, yes.
Vidas: Especially if one piece in your repertoire is like, from the 18th century, from the Baroque period, without any swell pedal, and then you suddenly change to Franck or Widor, where you need the swell pedal. Do you think you will have time to change the position of the bench?
Ausra: Probably not. But I know that some organists sit like this all the time. They come to be so used to this diagonal position of the organ bench that they cannot play straight. It sort of amazes me.
Vidas: And they’re very particular about this.
Ausra: I know!
Vidas: They mark the distance on the floor with a special marker!
Ausra: Yes. So, but you need to see for yourself what works for you.
Vidas: And sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes you encounter an uncomfortable bench, or uncomfortable pedalboard. So, that’s ok, too. You have to know that it’s temporary, because you will not play (probably) on that organ for your entire life, right?
Vidas: You will switch to other instruments. And you will get used to this a little bit, and adjust.
Ausra: That’s right.
Vidas: Alright, Ausra--what would be your last, final advice for people about playing pedals without hands?
Ausra: Well, just try to do it, and...
Vidas: Don’t give up.
Ausra: Yes, don’t give up! Eventually you will succeed.
Vidas: Because...your feet also have muscle memory!
Ausra: That’s right. And it’s not as hard as it seems in the beginning.
Vidas: And I think you could also take a slower tempo. A lot of people say, “I’m practicing very slowly!” But when I check their tempo, they’re too fast, actually.
Vidas: Twice as fast as we would advise! Alright, thanks, guys! This was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
Ausra: Miracles happen.
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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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