Vidas: Hello and welcome to Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast!
Ausra: This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better organist.
V: We’re your hosts Vidas Pinkevicius...
A: ...and Ausra Motuzaite-Pinkeviciene.
V: We have over 25 years of experience of playing the organ
A: ...and we’ve been teaching thousands of organists online from 89 countries since 2011.
V: So now let’s jump in and get started with the podcast for today.
A: We hope you’ll enjoy it!
V: Hi guys, this is Vidas!
A: And Ausra!
V: Let’s start episode 581 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Amir, and he is taking our Secrets of Organ Playing course called “Sight-Reading Master Course,” and he writes:
Amir: “Thanks very much Vidas. This should also be interesting as a pedal exercise technique
And I wrote to him:
Vidas: “You are right, Amir! Almost everything that can be played by the hand, can be played by the feet too. In fact, the feet often can be regarded as the third hand in organ playing.”
V: I should give you a little bit of context about this question. Amir is studying this sight-reading course over maybe 17 or 18 weeks now, and sometimes he sends questions about it, and sometimes he struggles with things when he has to count rhythms. But this particular question, I wrote to him that he can actually transform any type of keyboard exercise into a pedal exercise, too. Do you think, Ausra that could be applied in organ playing, let’s say, in the Baroque period?
A: Yes, I’d say it’s possible.
V: Like if you take a Trio Sonata by Bach, and you play a manual part, but not with your hand, but with your feet.
A: Well, it would be really hard. It’s possible, it would be really hard.
V: Or a Two-Part Invention. You could play one part with your hand and another part with your feet, and then switch.
A: Well, you could do all kind of tricks, because there is even one chorale from the Schubert collection where you can play the same voice with either the feet or with the left hand, so it’s up to you.
V: I think sometimes it’s good to experiment with those techniques of placing any particular voice in pedals, let’s say. Because the organ is, back in the day, used to play chorale preludes or variations interchangeably. You used to place the chorale tune in the soprano, alto, tenor, or bass, and be able to play the bass not on the pedals, but let’s say with the left hand. This is simpler, right? But sometimes they do the opposite. Let’s say they play the tenor voice with their feet!
A: Yes, you can use a 4’ stop, and it will work just fine, or you can do the same, to put a 16’ stop for your left hand, for example, and it will sound like you are playing it on the pedals.
V: Have you tried it yourself?
A: Yes, I have tried it.
V: Was it difficult for you at first?
A: Well, no, it was different! You have to get used to it.
V: For me it was a challenge, because when you are not used to doing this kind of trick at first, you mix up your left hand with your pedals, and your left hand wants to read the lowest staff!
A: True, and another problem that you might encounter if you are playing the cantus firmus with your feet, it often has the trills at the end of the phrase, so you have to trill your feet, so it’s not very comfortable, but it’s possible.
V: Like in one of the Schubert’s chorales, the last one. You have trills in the cantus firmus, which is played with the feet.
A: Yes, but you could also do another arrangement. You could play that left hand with your feet, and you could play the chorale melody with your…
V: ...left hand.
A: ...left hand. I have seen two versions of this chorale, and actually I think I have played them both.
V: Which one do you prefer?
A: Well, probably I would do that fast part with the feet. It’s easier for me. It seems, maybe, very scary because you have so many notes in the pedal part, but that way you don’t have to trill with your feet. So basically, if you do this version, it’s more like “Wachet auf.” from the Schubler collection.
V: And “Wachet auf” also can have two versions!
A: Sure. Definitely. Because they are sort of similar in texture.
V: And this is BWV 645, and in one version, you have a cantus firmus chorale melody in the tenor, played by the left hand, and the bass line with the feet. But in another version, you switch parts, you flip parts, basically, playing the bass part with your left hand, and the tenor line with your feet, with a Trumpet registration, maybe.
A: Yes, so that’s just another possibility. So try and explore it, and see if you like it.
V: Again, it’s a challenge sometimes at the beginning, because you’re not used to this kind of disposition, but it only takes a few of the chorales to be played this way where you free your mind from previous preconceptions, and then simply sight-read or practice any other way you want. Right?
V: That’s a good brain exercise.
A: It is! It is!
V: Like solving a musical Sudoku. Do you like Sudoku?
A: Yes! I used to do quite a lot of them. Not now, I don’t have so much time.
V: And what has taken up most of your time today?
A: Well, basically recording organ and grading my students’ assignments! “Distance education,” so called.
V: Do you prefer playing organ and recording to grading papers?
A: Well, playing organ is fun. Recording is not so much fun, because sometimes it gets frustrating and stressful.
V: But you know what I like about playing organ and recording is that when I record, it’s like the finished product, finished result, and you can be a little bit satisfied, be a little bit proud of what you did today. Basically, you achieved something. When you practice, you don’t know if your level is suitable for recording. But when you sit down and force yourself to play the piece without mistakes during a certain number of takes… I know it’s difficult and time consuming and sometimes stressful when you make a mistake in the penultimate measure and have to start all over again, but it’s fun when you have the results.
A: Sure. You know, it’s good exercise for your concentration, too, so it’s worth doing it—at least trying to do it.
V: So guys, lots of different ideas to think about. Not only about playing with your feet, what can be played with your hands and vice versa, but also about practicing and recording your own organ music, and sometimes even sharing with the world! That’s another skill set that we can talk about later. Thanks guys, for listening, for sending your wonderful questions. We love helping you grow! And remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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Would you like to improve your pedal technique in 10 days?
If so, check out my new 10 Day Pedal Playing Challenge. These exercises are taken from the Solfege method book by Frederic Boissiere (1877). I added the pedaling to the 10 opening exercises so that you can practice one exercise per day for the next 10 days. Feel free to sing these exercises too which will also improve your musical hearing.
PDF score. 8 pages. Basic level. 50 % discount is valid until December 20. Free for Total Organist students.
Enjoy and let me know in 10 days how your practice experience went.
Tonya, my student in Pedal Virtuoso Master Course asks why it is so difficult for her to keep her upper body relaxed when playing pedal scales.
This problem might have a few reasons - position of the knees, practice tempo, and position of the feet. Let me discuss each of them in turn:
Turning the knees to the direction of the notes being played is critical, because otherwise there is some danger of damaging your knees if you don't. You see, if you play in the lower regions of the pedalboard but your knees are facing right, you will start to feel tension and pain in your knees. Likewise, keeping the knees facing left but playing on the right side will cause similar problems.
Practice tempo when playing pedal scales should be extremely slow at first. Basically, as you play each note try to feel and check if your body is relaxed or not. Breath deeply and slowly, if you need to.
Position of the feet is important because sometimes the left foot should go under the right and sometimes above the right. It depends on whether you are playing white notes or sharp notes. Keep the heels together and press the pedals with the inside portion of your feet (big toe).
Keep these points in mind when practicing scales on the pedals and it will help you avoid the tension in your upper body. In time you will gain special flexibility of the ankles which is the basis for playing scalar passages with pedals.
What about you? Do you feel tension in your body when performing pedal passages?
If you practice pedal scales and arpeggios regularly, you know that with time it will help you develop a perfect pedal technique. The problem with such training is that there is a temptation to rush through many scales a day, to do many exercises but not necessarily perfecting them all.
Sometimes we do that because we feel we need to attempt to do everything at once. But in reality, when we play too many things, too many exercises, too many pieces in one practice session, we don't accomplish anything substantial.
If we play through 24 different scales and arpeggios a day just once, it takes considerable amount of time but the progress is very small, if any. This is because in every scale we might make a mistake or two. The wisest thing would be to correct that mistake but sometimes it's difficult to force oneself to stop and perfect that pedal scale or arpeggio.
But there is no other way - we have to perfect what we do, if we want to accomplish something remarkable. So it's better to play only 2 or 4 scales a day but aim for perfection instead of rushing through all of them at once.
Of course, once you master all the pedal scales and arpeggios and want to keep up your already polished technique, then playing through them only once is sufficient. But that's after the real hard work is done, after you master scales in 24 different keys in one octave, two octaves, tonic arpeggios, dominant seventh chord arpeggios, diminished seventh chord arpeggios, scales with double pedals, chromatic scales and so on.
By the way, do you want to learn my special powerful techniques which help me to master any piece of organ music up to 10 times faster? If so, download my video Organ Practice Guide.
Imagine you sit on the organ bench and want to play a pedal solo line with the hand part silent. This could be an excerpt from an actual organ piece, such as Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564 by Bach, or a composition for pedal solo, like Epilogue from Hommage a Frescobaldi by Langlais. It could even be a pedal scale or arpeggio.
The question is this: where do you keep your hands in such situation?
There are 3 primary ways to do this correctly which are taught in organ method books.
1. On the organ bench
2. On the sides of the lower keyboard
3. On your knees
With the first method, you play the pedals while holding onto the organ bench. Here you are sort of helping with your hands to keep the balance of your body. This way makes it even easier to pivot to the new pedal position because your hands may involuntarily help to push to the right or left when needed.
The problem with this method is that your hands may not always be free to help you do that when you play the organ. In fact, very often your hands will be busy playing manual parts of your organ compositions.
Another way is to keep your hands on the sides of the lower keyboard. As with the previous method, the hands are a big help for keeping balance. However, the inherent danger here is to press the bottom or the top notes with your palms by accident (I've personally seen this happen) which can make a lot of noise especially if you are using a loud registration.
The third way is just to rest your hands on your knees. Although this method takes perhaps a couple of weeks to get used to but then you are quite sure that you are playing with your feet WITHOUT the help of the hands at all. You should use other techniques for changing position. This is my personal preferred method of playing pedals.
By the way, if you want to perfect your pedal technique, check out my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course - a 12 week training program designed to help you develop an unbeatable pedal technique while working only 15 minutes a day practicing pedal scales and arpeggios in all keys.
Have you ever observed the pedal technique of a world-class organist? It
seems like he or she can play effortlessly for hours at a top speed. How do you develop speed in your pedal technique? In this article, I will share with you 4 tips which will help you to achieve this level of proficiency.
1) Play scales for the pedals. The single most important exercise that the
legendary French organist Marcel Dupre used when he was unable to play the
manuals due to his wrist injury was pedals scales. Practicing pedal scales on
the organ in all major and minor keys will develop flexibility of an ankle which
is the secret to a perfect pedal technique.
2) Play arpeggios for the pedals. If you want even more benefit you can go
one step further. Take 1 new major and minor key a week and play arpeggios on a tonic chord. You can also practice arpeggios on a dominant seventh chord and a diminished seventh chord which is built on a 7th scale degree (or raised 7th scale degree in minor).
3) Practice slowly to achieve speed. Although it sounds counterintuitive, it
is best to take a slow practice tempo in which you can avoid mistakes and play
fluently. Then little by little you can raise the tempo until you reach your desired speed. However, be careful not to force yourself to play faster because it has to be a natural process. You will play faster when you are ready for it.
4) Correct your mistakes. If you make a mistake in pressing the wrong note or playing the notes in uneven rhythms, always go back, slow down and play
correctly at least 3 times in a row. This way you will form correct practicing
Note that if you are a beginner at the organ, it is better to postpone practicing pedal scales and arpeggios for a later date. Instead, take up some easier exercises for alternate toes first.
Use the above exercises and tips and start perfecting your pedal technique
today. To achieve such level when you can play the pedals fast and effortlessly may take many months of practice but I can assure you that you will start seeing some tremendous changes in your pedal playing very soon.
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
Many organists who try to perfect their pedal technique play pedal exercises on the organ. However, it is not uncommon for them to feel the pain in the lower back area. Although the reasons for this pain might be several, today I am going to write about the pain which arises from incorrect playing technique. If you feel the pain in your lower back when playing pedal exercises on the organ, read on to find out the possible solution.
Keep Your Upper Body Straight
In order to avoid back pain, it is best to sit up straight on the organ bench. To achieve that, sometimes it helps to imagine that a string is attached to your head and it extends very far upward. Maintain the erect position and do not slouch. If you hunch and bend your upper body forward with your head down, your posture will not be correct and this situation may be the cause of future problems.
On the other hand, if you sit up straight, at once you will start to feel the difference in your breathing as well. Since breath, our posture, and organ technique are so much connected, it is important to observe the above point about the position on the organ bench.
Point Your Knees to the Direction of the Feet
Now, when your position at the organ console is correct, you can begin to work on the right way to play the pedals which may reduce the lower back pain. As you press any pedal, your knees should be pointing to the direction of your feet. In other words, try to avoid the situation when your knees point outward and the feet – inward. This is especially important, if you play in the extreme edges of the pedal board. Many organists perform such places incorrectly and as a result, they feel awkward. In fact, the lower back pain might arise from the incorrect pedal technique.
If you play in the extreme left of the pedal board, keep your upper body straight but your lower body (the legs) should be facing left. On the contrary, in order to play in the extreme right side of the pedal board – switch to the right side with your legs but face the music rack with your upper body.
You will be surprised, how much easier it will become for you to play pedal
scales and other exercises with your feet this way.
An invaluable resource for pedal exercises is Organ Technique: Modern and Early by George Ritchie and George Stauffer which I highly recommend.
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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