SOPP483: Starting out “with a bang” on the 10 Day Pedal Challenge and Pedal Virtuoso course
Vidas: Hi guys! This is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 483 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Tamara. And she writes:
Starting out “with a bang” on the 10 Day Pedal Challenge and Pedal Virtuoso course. It’s already Day 4 for me! My biggest issue will be making time every day to practice, say, for ½ hr or so, instead of trying to cram everything in on 1 or 2 days per week. So far I’m on a regular schedule. Could use support from the gang here in staying on track! Thanks to Vidas, Ausra, and all organists here!
V: Tamara is our Total Organist student, and she has written this response, What is she working on currently, to our Total Organist community on Basecamp. And obviously, people have responded nicely with their suggestions and support. Let me see if I can find those things. What is your impression, Ausra, before I forget?
A: Well, I think that Tamara is right, on the right track.
V: Mm hm.
A: I think it’s more efficient to practice every day a little bit, instead of practicing only let’s say 2 or 3 times a week for longer periods of time. What do you think about it?
V: Ideally, you should practice more than two times per week. Three times per week minimum, right? Because if you practice two times a week, sort of twice, then you’re just staying in the same level. And then anything more than that adds a little bit of progress to your performance practice. But I think people sometimes manage to practice every day, and people who have more time, practice more hours. People who have less, practice for 15 or 20 minutes or 30 minutes. That will be wonderful, I think. Because then you can progress faster, right?
A: Sure, of course. Because if you will do long intervals between your practices, then every time you will feel like you’re starting over, almost from scratch, from the beginning, so to say.
V: Mm hm. And I found other peoples’ response to Tamara’s answer. And Jeremy writes, “I’m right there with you. We started school again this week. I teach at a university, and suddenly there is little time for practicing.” And Diane jumped in, “Striving for the same, doing my best despite life getting in the way, and a temperamental organ maintenance guy who can’t get here till September. But I will attempt to carry on.” So you see, everybody is on the same boat here, struggling to find time for practice. But whatever they do, I think, is working, right - everybody needs to find their own solution to challenges.
V: But we are here as a community to support each other.
A: And that’s very nice, you know, that we can talk to each other and share our problems and solutions, too.
V: Yeah. Every day, people post to our Basecamp channel their feedback, and people respond. And we have those automatic questions to help them answer them on time, what are they working on, what are some things that they have been struggling with, right? Those things help them think about their organ playing and practice more deeply in detail. Not just go through the motions, but really think what is working, maybe what is not, what needs to change. I think this really facilitates their progress so much. And sometimes, we have questions, like once a month, asking, “How do you like Total Organist so far?” And this feedback gives us really great insights, what are people getting out of our programs.
A: True. And sometimes, when you struggle with your problem and you think that, you know, it’s impossible to solve it, or you feel yourself that you are somewhat maybe less talented than others are, that’s not true. Because if you would share your problem, you would find many, many others who share the same problem. And maybe already have found a solution to it. So.
V: You just need to join others in their quest. Don’t stick to yourself. Don’t be isolized - is it the right word?
V: Isolated, yes. Because to practice alone, it only leads to some progress, and eventually, it’s really hard to continue if you don’t have any support. So obviously, people who are listening to our conversations, or reading them as a transcript, they are getting support in this way as well. They feel that the community is present around this blog and podcast. But what we have around Total Organist is even more focused group, because there are only about 70 or plus people doing this, or maybe more, maybe with people who transcribe our podcast conversations and fingering and pedaling scores are also in this community as well, so maybe around 100 people we have as a team. And this feedback really help people feel they’re not alone.
A: Which is very important, I think.
V: All right, guys. This was Vidas,
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 425, of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. And this time, Colin writes:
Thank you for the bonus materials for the Pedal Virtuoso Master Course, I shall look forward to working on them.
V: Ausra, would you like to take a look at what kind of bonus material I’m sending?
A: Sure, of course, I would be very interested.
V: Okay. I’m sending three things. Right away when they sign up, or the first day after they sign up, they’re receiving a bonus video training, which is “How to play the C Major Scale on the Pedals”. This is my most popular video on YouTube.
A: Ah, interesting. People are interested in fun things. Although it’s not that easy to play, the C Major Scale, on the pedals. I think some other scales are more comfortable.
V: Uh-uh. Let me take a look at how many views it has. People are eager to learn C Major Scale but not so much C minor. (Vidas is looking for the video.) It was published back in 2012 and it has 70’223 views right now.
A: Wow! If you would live, I don’t know, 500 hundreds more years, you might reach the numbers of Lady Gaga!
V: Haha yeah, and Lady Gaga would reach like gazillions numbers! So this is the video sent on day 1, after signing up for this course. Then I’m sending people two more things: 12 weeks and 13 weeks after they sign up, they receive Bonus practice material number 1 and number 2.
A: Which is?
V: Number 1 is “Pedal Exercitium”, BWV 598, by J-S. Bach and some scientists believe it might have been written by C-P-E. Bach, Bach’s most prominent son. Nevertheless, this piece is a classic exercise for pedal playing. And I have prepared the complete pedaling for this piece, and people have to make sure they use detached articulate style, articulate legato touch which is used for early music.
A: I remember I had to play this piece, during my first year of organ studies at the academy of music in Lithuania. And my teacher required that I would play this during my exam actually. I was quite embarrassed actually, because I was the only one that was required to play some solo piece for the exam. But I think I did quite well. And what I like about this piece, beside teaching you to play baroque music, how to articulate, actually it’s quite beautiful in itself. It’s really not a boring exercise. If you listen and study carefully this particular piece, you can find that there’s actually two distinctive melodies in the same piece, even though it’s written in one voice.
V: Right. With Bach and other baroque composers, the case is that the less voices you have, the more fluid the melody becomes. And if you have a solo voice, like in the pedals, somehow the composer needs to make sure that the harmony is there, and he makes use of arpeggios, things like that, and sometimes pretends that there’s a second voice in the top and at the bottom. So at the pedals it’s very prominent because you have two legs.
A: Well, not so much.
V: Not so much, yeah. You’re focusing on the process not on the result. Results probably will come by themselves.
A: That’s true. And now that you have started to talk about that, I remember that beautiful cello piece by Bach (the Prelude from the Cello Suite No. 1), that Yo Yo Ma played so beautifully and other famous celloists.
V: Do you think that people could play it on the pedals?
A: Well yeah I believe so. You could do it on the pedals. But sometimes my students start arguing: “why do I need to learn harmony? What good is it to me?” And usually choir conductors or piano majors understand why we need to understand harmony, because we deal with more than one voice, but flutists or violonists, they don’t think about that. But we really need to know harmony because let’s say you play Bach and have one voice, you still don’t think about it as having just one line, because in itself it contains all the harmony.
V: This is true. It would be fun actually to play all the unaccompanied cello suites by Bach on the pedals. It’s a good exercise. It would be interesting to transcribe.
A: It’s wonderful how in one voice you can hear so many things and do so many things. That’s the genius of Bach I guess.
V: But the pedaling has to be adjusted somehow. I believe that toes-only technique wouldn’t be easy to do.
A: True, true.
V: Because sometimes you need to play with big leaps and almost legato so then heel and toe technique needs to be adjusted because it’s rather advanced.
A: But I guess it would be OK because it’s not originally intended for organ pedals so we could give us more freedom.
V: Right. So guys, if you need something for the pedals, extra-exercises, go take a look at 6 unaccompanied Bach’s cello suites, and if you need some help from us, like extra pedaling let us know. Maybe I could create some videos and send them to our team to transcribe, and prepare the score this way for you. That would be a good exercise for early music Pedal Virtuoso Master Course.
A: And what is your last bonus?
V: Bonus number 2 is a piece by Charles-Valentin Alkan, who was a 19th century French composer and virtuoso pianist, and he created many etudes for piano but also for the organ pedals solo, I think 20 pedals solos. And I prepared a score with pedaling of the first one. It’s again a very advanced piece but now we are dealing with the legato technique and you can play with heels and toes. And if you don’t feel right about some markings, you can adjust, because some people have smaller feet so they have some problems.
A: But it's nice because it teaches different technique compared to Pedal Exercitium by J-S. Bach.
V: Yes. Again, if you would like to learn all 20 of them, let me know and I could prepare those videos for our team and this way you would get transcribed scores with pedal markings as well. Alright, so take a look at our Pedal Virtuoso Master Course, it has 12 weeks of material + bonus exercises, as we were discussing a moment ago. At the end of the course you’ll really start to feel that you gained greater flexibility of the ankle, which is the secret of the perfect pedal technique. At the end of the course you might be not be able to play anything that is written for the pedals, just yet, but I can guarantee that if you go back to some of the pieces that you could not play three to six months ago, you would definitely see some genuine improvement. Right Ausra?
A: Yes, I’m pretty sure about that.
V: People have written multiple times about that, about seeking improvement, and not one person said “No, after 3 months of practicing pedals I didn’t see any improvement!”. People who didn’t finished this course, it was for different reasons: perhaps it was too difficult for them, or they were not into exercises at all: they might prefer genuine organ music. And that’s OK, there are several types of people. But for those who like it, scales arpeggios etc, it is a perfect opportunity to get flexibility of the ankle. OK guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions, we love to help you grow. And remember, when you practice…
A: Miracles happen!
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SOPP278: I'm glad with the quickly received materials and the bonus for the pedal virtuoso course start
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 278 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Dineke, and she writes:
Glad with the quickly received materials, and the bonus, for the pedal virtuoso course start. Although most things went automatically, I wish you to say my thanks. Admiring your lots of work and your knowledge in digital ways.
V: Well, Ausra, It’s so nice to receive a message like that.
A: Yes, it’s very nice, although I don’t see that it’s a question, so what will we talk about?
V: Maybe Dineke, we have to know, is a student of later age in life, and she wants to improve her pedal technique, but not only. But, she is our Pedal Virtuoso Master Course student. So, she started studying this course a while ago, and I guess now, she needs to stick to the schedule of playing those pedal scales regularly. What do you think, Ausra?
A: Well, I think it’s sometimes hard to stick to the schedule.
V: Do you have your permanent schedule, Ausra, like, for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on?
A: Well, I have some things that are permanent, and I have some things that vary time to time.
V: Mhm. I have my little notebook where I put the things on my calendar, but they’re not regular. Right? Not like on 10:00 AM everyday, I will do this thing. So, I have to find practice time in each day separately, most of the time. Is that hard, Ausra, for you? Finding practice time?
A: Oh yes. It’s very hard.
V: Now that the school will start soon, it will be even a bigger challenge, right?
V: I guess for Dineke the challenge is to stick to the schedule not only because of a lack of time, but also because of rigorous material, because people who start this course, do not always finish. And those who don’t finish, don’t see the improvement in their pedal technique. But Dineke, hopefully, is a persevering student, right Ausra?
A: Well, I hope so.
V: So, in order to play those scales everyday, rather dry and unmusical exercises with your feet, what kind of motivation would you like to have, Ausra, if you were in Dineke’s shoes?
A: Well, just to know that if you will be able to learn all those scales you can play a nice repertoire, too, and have no problems with the pedals.
V: Sometimes, when you’re in the middle of the challenge like this course, which runs like 3-4 months, it’s hard to see the progress day by day when you practice.
A: Well, so, you never have to work on one thing only. For example, if you will be only exercising pedaling for those three or four months, of course it will get boring, and I don’t think many would have the courage to finish it. But, practice something else, too! You don’t necessarily have to play only pedal scales. Work on some repertoire simultaneously.
V: It would be like a healthy meal with a variety of foods throughout the day, not one kind of food all the time, right?
A: Of course, you don’t have to eat oatmeal only every day three times a day.
V: Unless you are on an oatmeal diet!
A: Unless you are a horse!
V: A horse! Yes! So, do horses complain, Ausra, about this? What’s your idea about this?
A: I don’t think so.
V: Do they say to their master, “Oh give us some pancakes with blueberry?”
A: I don’t think so.
V: So, obviously, Dineke is practicing something else, because she also is studying with her own organ professor, and he gives her material to practice. So, I’m sure she has a variety in her repertoire, and exercises. And our course, Pedal Virtuoso Master Course will supplement that material. That’s very nice. Another thing in this course that is challenging is this flexibility of an ankle. At first, when people do this, the ankle is a weak spot for people to play with their heels and toes, and slide from pedal to pedal smoothly. What are your thoughts on that, Ausra?
A: I think it’s just a matter of adjusting and getting used to it. It shouldn’t be as hard. If you can walk, it means you can play pedals, too.
V: Mhm. Sometimes, your position is not comfortable, right?
V: You have to adjust your bench, sitting position on the bench, and….
A: ...shoes of course, which we have talked about many times before.
V: Shoes, when playing with heels are tremendously important, because, if you have heels, higher heels, about 2 or 3 inches, then you don’t need to move your ankles so much.
A: Yes, it saves time and it saves energy.
V: Right. You can be a little more efficient with playing with your feet. Have you seen organists play with socks and heels?
A: Yes, I have seen those.
V: And I’ve seen them, too, and some of our colleagues do this, and it’s much more energy consuming thing, because you have to constantly bend your ankles in order to play with your heels. Why do you think people stick to socks sometimes?
A: I think maybe they cannot get or find comfortable shoes, or maybe they are just so used to it that they cannot learn to play otherwise. Or maybe they just want to save some money, not buy organ shoes. Well, there could be a variety of reasons why you do it, and maybe another reason would be that you don’t want to carry your organ shoes with you, and you are always wearing socks, so you are always ready to play organ pedals.
V: Right, you don’t know where you will find this organ, right? Maybe the organ is around that corner, or around that corner, so you carry your socks in your pocket and you are ready whenever you go, right?
A: That’s right.
V: And, washing socks is more comfortable than washing shoes, right?
A: Do you wash your shoes?
V: Not regularly, no.
A: I don’t think you should wash your organ shoes.
V: Nice. So, the last thing that is difficult with this course is for people to move their both feet as one unit, basically to keep their heels together, and sometimes the knees if it’s okay with their physique. What do you think, Ausra, with your physique? Do you feel comfortable holding your knees and ankles together?
A: No! I have a hard time, because my legs are short. No. It’s very hard.
V: Why do they say that it’s the right way of playing modern pedals?
A: I have no idea. Maybe you have? You have long legs, so….
V: Maybe those who say this have longer legs!
A: I guess so.
V: I guess maybe this comes from an idea of playing with your feet as the third hand, additional…
A: Because you know, if I am playing in the middle of the pedal board then it’s okay; I can hold everything together—my knees and ankles together. But, if I’m playing on the left side or on the right side of the pedal board, my legs are not long enough that I could keep them both together. That way I would just fall down on the pedal board, and that’s it.
V: And that’s one of those exceptions you can make, if you are playing in the extreme of the pedal board, you can play with one foot.
A: But that’s what happens when you are playing hard repertoire.
V: What do you mean?
A: Well, let’s see… a Vierne Symphony, or Duruflé, or you are playing something where you use double pedal, and what about that? If you are playing double pedal? Let’s say octaves in double pedal. Can you place your knees and ankles together?
V: I think that works only up until perfect fifths. The interval of perfect fifths. Wider than the fifths is breaking your knees, probably.
A: I know. So, you always need to look at your own physique and at the concrete piece, concrete situation, concrete organ.
V: I guess, we should conclude this conversation with an idea: The technique serves the person and not the other way around.
A: That’s right.
V: Not the person serves the technique. If something doesn’t feel right with these exercises, adjust so that it would feel more comfortable to you, right?
A: That’s right.
V: Thanks, guys, for listening, and for practicing, and we haven’t practiced yet this morning. Right? And we will do that later in the day at church, right Ausra?
A: That’s right.
V: That will be very nice to practice organ duets for our upcoming Banchetto Musicale Festival performance. So, we wish you a great day, pleasant practice, and remember, when you practice,
A: Miracles happen.
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AVA208: Is there a source on the Internet for all of the toe-toe, heel/heel scale patterns?
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start Episode 208 of Ask Vidas and Ausra podcast. This question was sent by Jane. She writes:
Is there a source on the Internet for all of the toe-toe, heel/heel scale patterns? I am playing 15-20 hours per week in preparation for some private lessons in Paris this summer.
I am an accomplished musician, but my pedal technique has become lazy over time. Working it back into shape as I am playing repertoire such as the Guilmant, op. 42 which has very demanding pedal passages.
Thank you for your inspiration!
V: So Ausra I think the best place to look for solutions for pedaling patterns playing scales in all keys is probably our Pedal Virtuoso Master Course.
A: Yes, I would say so because it has all kinds of scales you know and all kinds of pedalization.
V: It’s quite demanding because right away from week 1 we start with C Major pedal scale over one octave and every day for six days in a row you learn four different keys, four different scales in ascending number of accidentals. C Major, A Minor, G Major, E Minor. Then day two D Major, B Minor, A Major, F# Minor and so on. So by the end of week one you have the knowledge of playing those scales over one octave. Is this enough Ausra?
A: For starters yes, but when you need to expand you know that basis and to play not in one octave but in two octaves.
V: Right. We do that in week two. The same order of keys but now we expand into two octaves. And the principle for somebody who has never done it before is very systematic I would say. We try to keep both feet together, and your knees together, and your heels together. Basically you two feet have to move as one unit. Right, Ausra?
A: Yes, but it nevers works for me for example because I have short legs so you know I have to play scale in two octaves I wouldn’t be able to keep my knees together because I would fall down from the organ bench or I would injure my spine.
V: So, this is just for improving your technique or course. In real life those kind of passages over two octaves is rare to find.
A: Because it’s good if you are playing in a middle range. Then it’s OK. It’s fine. You can do that. But when you go extremely high up or extremely lower down then it’s much harder unless you have long legs which I don’t. So...
V: And basically when I first released this course I received a feedback from one of my earlier students playing C Major scale that it wasn’t really comfortable to play with both feet in the extreme ranges you know When you play C, D, E, F. In theory C with left toe, D with right toe, E with left heel and F with right heel. And then turn to G with left toe, A with right toe, B with left heel and C with right heel. So this is system we use, but in reality it is completely unnatural to do this in the lower range of the pedal board up to let’s say bass G. So then I changed the first five notes from C to G I recommend playing just with the left foot.
A: That’s what I would do too because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to reach such lower notes with my right foot.
V: And then the same is with the last few notes in the tenor range. Let’s say A, B, and C now I think is best to be played with the right foot alone.
A: Sure, yes.
V: So the principle is we keep is quite straightforward, right? We alternate toe-toe, heel-heel for both feet wherever possible but of course when you get keys with accidentals then you get into some tricky situations and sometimes you have to think whether to start with the toe or with the heel in order to land on the toe when you are playing this sharp.
A: That’s true.
V: Like in E Minor. E would be left heel, F# would be left toe, and G would be right toe, A would be left heel, B would be right heel and so on. Right? So we have to think about what’s possible and sometimes you have to skip sometimes some notes because when you get to more accidentals like F# Major for example then it’s you have to even do substitutions.
A: Luckily you don’t have many passages in organ music where you have to play F# scales in the pedals.
V: Um-hmm. Um-hmm. But I think it’s useful for people at least from the feedback we received so far. It’s not easy. You have to understand that. A lot of people start with week one, maybe week two and then they stop and don’t continue. Because later we have arpeggios over tonic chord, and then arpeggios over dominant seventh chord and dominant seventh scale degree diminished chord, and chromatic scales, and the same with double octaves you know. This is really a virtuoso organ pedal technique course. But it starts with a single octave scale.
A: Yes, and it doesn’t mean that you have early to work on the pedal course.
A: You need to play repertoire as well you know in addition to this because if you will play only pedal exercises you will get bored after a while.
V: Exactly. And the point of this is just to give you enough tools for later practice because when you learn those scales let’s say over two octaves you can easily incorporate those exercises as a warm-up.
V: After you complete the scores, you know to keep the technique flexible because the entire point or the mystery behind the perfect pedal technique as Marcel Dupre said is the flexibility of an ankle. So while doing those tricky exercises you develop flexibility of an ankle.
A: That’s true, yes.
V: But it’s not for everybody for example people who like real music will get bored very quickly while playing those scales and arpeggios, right Ausra?
A: Yes, that’s true.
V: Would you do the scales yourself?
A: Well, it depends.
V: At which point of your development you are.
A: Yes, if I would get this kind of course at the beginning of my career then yes, I would do it. Now, I would probably not.
V: Or if you need to perfect your pedal technique in a you know rather short period of time to play at a symphony of some sort, or a you know french symphonic piece, maybe Franck’s “Grand Piece Symphonique.”
A: Well, talking about Franck I think his pedal part is so easy. I know very few French organ composers who wrote pedal part as easy as Franck did.
V: Or let’s say Reger, if you wanted to do Reger.
A: Oh yes, you would have to do it.
V: Or Durufle probably.
A: Yes and Vierne wrote also some very tricky pedal parts, but not Franck.
V: So investigate your choices and vision in your pedal technique development in the future. What would you like to accomplish? And if you want to get flexible ankles and be able to play those tricky passages with your feet then this course might work for you.
A: Yes, definitely.
V: Thank you guys, this was Vidas.
A: And Ausra.
V: Please send us more of your questions. We love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: Miracles happen.
Playing D major scale with pedals
Are you struggling in playing pedal scales? I know those heels and toes in alternations might be confusing. And sometimes people in my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course need a little visualization. So here's a video I made on how to play the D major scale with your feet over one octave which I hope you will find useful..
I recorded this video at the request of Dominique Morin who is in my Pedal Virtuoso Master Course. He wanted to know how to visualize some of the directions I give before each week's exercise. I hope this video will help and other organists who might have problems playing in extreme edges of the pedalboard and changing direction quickly so that neither their knees nor back would be in pain.
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?
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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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