#AskVidasAndAusra 78: I’m a beginner who still struggles with pedals, I really need your help
Vidas: Let’s start Episode 78 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. And today’s question was sent by Marvin. He writes, “I’m a beginner who still struggles with pedals, I really need your help”. That’s a nice and simple question, right?
Vidas: Imagine, Ausra, you have a student who just started playing the organ. Maybe he or she has piano technique of some sort, and can read the notes, but the pedals are new for them. So what would you suggest for starters?
Ausra: Well, maybe just start with some pedal exercises. Don’t try to play hands and feet together at the beginning. Do some simple pedal exercises.
Vidas: Don’t even try to play pedal scales. Right?
Vidas: In our Organ Pedal Virtuoso Master Course, we have pedal scales and arpeggios over two octaves, over one octave...But that’s more advanced technique, right?
Vidas: If you want to do that, to perfect your pedal technique and advance to the next level, then it will work; but first you have to reach the basic level, I would say. Ausra, do you think that playing hymns, for example, with pedals would be helpful? Melodies of hymns.
Ausra: Could be, yes, why not?
Vidas: Melodies--simple soprano melodies--
Ausra: But even at the beginning, I would say you just play everything in a very very slow tempo. Imagine that each note in the melody is written in whole-note values. And play them as that.
Vidas: Exactly. If you want to make your pedal technique a little bit more fluent, and not hit the wrong notes, then very very slow tempo is the key, and repetitive practice. You have to practice over and over again short fragments, maybe one measure at a time, two or even four measures.
Ausra: Yes, and then, when you will be able without any trouble to play that part in the bass, in the pedals, then you can add hands--and not both hands together, but maybe RH and pedal first, and then LH and pedal; and then everything together.
Vidas: In general, I think students should think about their goals first. And maybe my advice about playing hymns doesn’t work for somebody who is interested in playing real organ music, right?
Ausra: Yes. Then take just, for example, Little Prelude in g minor by J. S. Bach.
Vidas: And play just the pedal part?
Ausra: Yes. Because it’s written in long-note values, it’s very suitable for a beginner. Not the fugue of that prelude, but just the prelude itself.
Vidas: Yes. We have many solutions for everybody, right? But not everything works for everybody. You have to think and adjust personally what would you like, what is boring to you, right? Never play pedals scales and arpeggios if it’s very boring to you. Or never play exercises if it’s too boring. Maybe treat real organ music as exercises.
Ausra: Yes, you can do that. But some people love to play exercises.
Vidas: Exactly. So for some people, it’s gold! And I know one of our subscribers--his name is Leon--he writes (frequently) updates on his practice, so he loves to practice exercises both on the manuals and the pedals. And they challenge him really everyday, and he seems to enjoy it.
Ausra: Good for him. For example, when I was back in the School of Art, I loved these technical skills exams where we had to play scales, arpeggios, chords, chromatic scales, and the scales in different combinations and thirds, and so on and so forth. And you know why I liked it? Because I wasn’t worried about forgetting the text which I had during my other exams, when I had to play repertoire, and I had to memorize it and to play from memory. So it just seemed so easy to play scales, because you just know what it is! And you don’t worry about the text.
Vidas: Well yes, it’s already pre-designed for you: you don’t have to improvise or play something very difficult or from memory, you just play a simple scale up and down.
Vidas: Or other technical studies like arpeggios or chords.
Ausra: So I believe that some people can just love to play exercises and scales.
Vidas: Yes. And in some sense, they feel some sort of improvement.
Vidas: Because they are improving, actually. And they’re improving their technique, right? Of course they will lack the knowledge of applying that technique to real situations, to real music. That’s another side of the coin: you have to read music, real organ pieces, regularly.
Ausra: But going back to the original question, with pedal technique at the beginning you just have to be really patient, and try not to be too much disappointed in yourself. I’m sure that in time, you will succeed, and you will overcome those technical difficulties.
Vidas: Oh, by the way, Ausra, how was your first experience with organ preludes, do you remember?
Ausra: Horrible, it was just horrible! I played this G minor Prelude by J. S. Bach, and I could not get the right notes. At the beginning there is like G and then C in the pedal in whole notes...
Ausra: And I could not get that C. I would hit, like D or something else, instead of C.
Vidas: Did you play with your inside or outside portion of the foot?
Ausra: I don’t remember now exactly, but it just did not work for me.
Vidas: Your first teacher didn’t tell you the exact way to depress the pedals.
Ausra: No, she did not.
Vidas: Well, yes, technique is important, and it might get you quite far with organ playing. But, as Ausra says, be patient, right? And I think we all need to have some kind of reward every day, to feel that we are progressing somewhere, so if you play a set of exercises, then you don’t necessarily feel that you’re progressing. Maybe try to play excerpts of real organ compositions with pedals, too. Or, Ausra, tell us a little bit of your experience with organ demonstration for bankers the other day. Did you demonstrate something with your feet, the lowest voices?
Ausra: Yes, I demonstrated it.
Vidas: What did you play with pedals for them?
Ausra: Well, I just showed some--some excerpts, you know, just improvised, some...
Vidas: Improvised, that’s what I was looking for. Keyword: improvisation. Improvising a pedal melody is not something you should be afraid of, right?
Vidas: And it gets you familiar with the pedalboard, as well. You’re creating a melody, but at the same time, the pedalboard becomes your own, a little bit, more and more every day. So, besides those technical exercises, besides excerpts of real organ compositions--why don’t you play a melody of some sort, that you make up in your mind, on the pedals, too?
Ausra: Sure, that would be a great idea; it would help you to improve your pedal technique.
Vidas: And play hymns on the pedals, if you like playing hymns.
Ausra: Yes, maybe for starters, you could do hymns in closed position. And maybe you could play three voices in your RH, and pedal part (bass line) in the pedal, and don’t use your LH, at the beginning. It would make things much easier, I think.
Vidas: You mean to play the entire harmonization of the hymn! What about playing just the soprano melody with your feet?
Ausra: Well, you could do that; I don’t know how well you could apply it in the church service, I’m not sure.
Vidas: Mhm. So, explore everything, right? And keep something that works for you.
Vidas: That’s the best advice, probably. Excellent, guys. Please send us more of your questions; we love helping you grow. Okay, this was Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: 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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