In addition to hand and feet coordination and articulation, pedal playing is one of the greatest challenges the aspiring organist must overcome. Everyone wants to play those difficult pedal lines with precision and confidence. However, as we all know it is not that easy to achieve it. It is not unusual that a beginner organist might press the wrong note even in technically straightforward episode, not to mention the fast moving passages and scales. In this article, I will show you how to play accurately pedal parts of your organ compositions.
Use pedal preparation. One of the main tricks which help to achieve accuracy in pedal playing is pedal preparation. This technique helps to program the correct notes in advance and is not very difficult to implement. In order to apply pedal preparation, study the pedal of your organ piece and pencil in the next note for each foot in parentheses indicating toe or heel above or beneath the note.
Then practice your pedal part in short fragments repeatedly (10 or more times). Move the foot to the next position as soon as the previous note is released. If you wait for the moment to play and move only then, it will be already too late. Just move instantly and let your foot stay there waiting for its turn to play. You will begin to notice that the movements of the feet become automatic and that both feet will have a short moment of resting on the next pedal before actually playing it.
Play with the inside of the foot. Try to use the inside of your foot for the depression of the pedal. In other words, play with the big toe or the inside portion of the heel. This technique helps to point the knees inward regardless of the length of your legs. When you play on the outer edges of the pedal board, change the position by pushing off with the opposite leg. Again, at first you will have to think about playing with the inside of the foot. Later it will become automatic because you will form a good playing habit.
Write in pedaling and stick to it. I suggest writing in correct and comfortable pedaling for all your pedal parts, easy or difficult, at least in the beginning stages of your organist career. Use pencil and don’t hesitate to change it if you feel any strain or tension. Even more important is that you stick to the pedaling and play the same way every time. Otherwise your feet will get confused and chances to make mistakes will be greater.
Feel the position on the pedal board with your toes. Try to keep your feet close to the sharp keys. This technique allows you to feel the exact position on the pedal board with your toes. For example, you know that sharp pedals are arranged in groups of two and three. Try to locate the F by feeling the edge of the F sharp with your toe. Similarly feel the C sharp and play the C. Resist the temptation of looking down to your feet. It is OK to make mistakes while practicing. Just play it over and over until you get it right. In order to make it automatic, play some more times correctly. Look at the music at least when you play not from memory.
Keep the feet in contact with the pedal board at all times. When you have to move your feet try not to lift them off the pedal board. Instead, slide the feet to the desired pedal while always touching the surface of the pedal board. In other words, the movements of the feet should be horizontal and not vertical. This technique also helps you to get acquainted with the pedal board and play the correct notes with ease. It is especially important that you pay attention to both feet. Do not forget the foot which is resting – relax and let it touch the pedals slightly without pressing them.
Do not use force. Avoid hitting the pedals with unnecessary strength and imagine you play mezzo piano. Depress the pedals with as little power as possible and keep your legs relaxed. In other words, there should not be too much noise when playing the pedals. Of course, on tracker organs some noise cannot be avoided because of the mechanics. This kind of relaxed manner of playing helps to be in control of articulation. Your movements will become very economic and you will feel the fatigue much less.
If you follow my suggestions every time you sit down to practice your organ music, you will improve your pedal technique tremendously. The accuracy while playing complex pedal parts will become much better. Of course, practicing wisely requires a strong will and patience but I can assure you from my personal experience that it’s worth the effort.
If you are serious about pedal playing, I highly recommend studying Organ Technique: Modern and Early by George Ritchie and George Stauffer. This comprehensive method book has separate chapter on pedal playing with many important exercises.
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.