Vidas: Let’s start Episode 131 of #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Listen to the audio version here. And today’s question was sent by Aleksey, and he wants to know how to play the pedals without looking at your feet. So, this is a challenging situation for a lot of organists, isn’t it, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, it is.
Vidas: Do you sometimes look at your feet when you play?
Ausra: Sure, when I’m trying an unfamiliar organ, then I have to look at the pedal first. Then, there are sometimes tricky spots, where I also have to check the pedal.
Vidas: Me too, from time to time. Especially when I improvise, I need to look down, because I’m not always sure which notes I will be playing in a second or so. And when playing repertoire, especially on an unfamiliar organ, the feel of the pedalboard is not very easy to memorize. And therefore, some looking is okay, right?
Ausra: Yes, some looking is okay. It’s not good if you cannot play pedal at all without looking at it, on the same organ. If you are, let’s say, practicing on your organ every day, and then after practicing for a year you still have to look at it, then it’s not good.
Vidas: True. I think one of the most important things here to do for organists is simply to apply pedal preparation.
Ausra: Yes, that’s a good idea, you know. It’s very helpful.
Vidas: For quite some time--maybe for a few months. And then you get used to the feel of the pedalboard and you no longer need to worry about it; but at first, you have to have a breakthrough.
Vidas: So, how do you do pedal preparation, Ausra?
Ausra: Well, you know, because there are very few pieces that you use pedal all the time without any rests--usually you have some pedaling part and then you have some rests--so, during those rests, you need to know exactly what is coming up next--
Vidas: In the pedals?
Ausra: Yes, in the pedals. And prepare in advance.
Vidas: So, for example, if the passage was ended with your right foot, and the next passage starts with the right foot also, you need to slide your foot to the next key, right?
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: Right away.
Ausra: Or let’s say there are sometimes there are passages that will finish on the same note and it will begin on the same note. So don’t move your leg. That will save time and energy, and you for sure will hit the right note.
Vidas: A lot of times, people do the opposite. They finish an episode with the pedals, and they place the feet on the, I don’t know, maybe some place next to the swell box, or on the swell box…
Ausra: Or behind the bench.
Ausra: That’s what I do often--I put my right foot on the swell box and the left on the organ bench--or a little bit behind it.
Vidas: Because it’s more convenient this way.
Vidas: How to do this without putting your feet on the place to rest, but slide into the next note position on the pedalboard? Is there a trick you could use to do that successfully and comfortably? Do you know?
Ausra: Well yes: just keep your foot above the pedalboard! That’s possible!
Vidas: What about sitting on the bench? Does it help if you sit, for example, too deep, or in the middle, or next to the edge of the bench? For you?
Ausra: Well, if you sit on the edge of the bench, you might fall down on the pedals. That’s not a good way. And also, not a good way to sit too deep--back on the organ bench. You have to sit somewhere in the middle of it.
Vidas: Remember, we usually practice on two organs: here at home and at Vilnius University St. John’s Church. But the height of the bench is different on each instrument, right?
Vidas: Which is lower?
Ausra: At home, of course.
Vidas: At home. Which is more convenient for you, Ausra? Higher or lower?
Ausra: Well, it depends on which manual I’m playing on. Because, for example, at church it’s more comfortable for me when I’m playing on the first or second manual, but it’s uncomfortable to play on the third manual and pedal at the same time--
Ausra: Because the bench is quite high.
Vidas: Exactly. Then, the third manual becomes too far away from you.
Ausra: Yes; and you know, it just gets difficult, after practicing for some time.
Vidas: What I mean is, I discovered that I also play more comfortably at St. John’s Church when I sit higher, and closer to the edge--not on the very edge, but just enough to keep me balanced. But then my feet are also free to do what they want, and they can slide into position without getting me into trouble; and then I can basically focus my looking on my fingers or the music rack, but not necessarily on the feet.
Ausra: Yes, I think that position gives you more mobility.
Vidas: Mobility. And if it’s opposite--if you sit too deep on the bench--then what happens?
Ausra: Well, you cannot move comfortably. It will take you too much time.
Vidas: Then you need to use more of your core muscles.
Ausra: I know, and you need to have really long legs in order to reach, let’s say, you know, very far away on the right side, or pedals very deep on the left side.
Vidas: So, it’s good advice for people to experiment with the bench height and with the position of your body on the bench, and see if you can find a comfortable way to shift your body when you need to move on the pedalboard; and then maybe you don’t even have to look so much.
Ausra: Yes. And you know, sometimes try to play the pedal part alone, and see if you have trouble too, you know, and if you have to watch the pedalboard. But if you are quite comfortable with the pedaling part but you still are watching when you are playing with hands, then maybe it means that something is not wrong with your pedaling, but something is wrong with your coordination.
Vidas: In your experience, Ausra, when you work with students, let’s say, in our Unda Maris studio from time to time, do you notice that people like to play pedals alone, or they want to play everything together, more often?
Ausra: Well, mostly they want to play everything together.
Vidas: Right away?
Vidas: Even though the problem might be just to separate the parts, and learn them alone.
Vidas: Do you think there is a reason why they choose to play everything at once?
Ausra: Well, I think it gives more satisfaction, to hear the full harmony--all the piece.
Vidas: You have to sort of postpone your gratification--
Ausra: Yes, that’s right.
Vidas: --Until you can do this comfortably, both hands and pedals together. And people nowadays have trouble delaying gratification; they want to have results right away. Right, Ausra?
Vidas: Are you one of those people?
Ausra: Hmm, well, yes and no. Of course I am--I want to have immediate gratification; but I also understand that things never happen at once. You have to work to get to your goal.
Vidas: Do you have to force yourself to work precisely, and according to your plan, and not to give up ahead of time?
Ausra: Well, of course, yes. I think everybody does.
Vidas: I see. But it’s worth it, right?
Ausara: Yes, it’s worth it. And it’s worth it when you see the final result: it motivates you to do the next piece right, to learn it in a right manner.
Vidas: Whenever I catch myself playing with mistakes--even on the pedals, or pedals alone, or all the parts together--I think I need to slow down considerably, right? Whenever I force myself to slow down, mistakes disappear, and I can play more comfortably and more relaxed. Do you have the same experience, Ausra?
Ausra: Yes, I have the same experience.
Vidas: So the tempo might fluctuate in the same piece--
Vidas: Because some places are more difficult than others.
Vidas: Is that okay, or not?
Ausra: Well, it shouldn’t be like this. I mean, you can give yourself some flexibility, but not too much.
Vidas: I think it’s okay, as long as you’re conscious of your tempo fluctuations, right?
Vidas: It’s a process of practicing; and you know this is a difficult spot, and you need to slow down, right? You consciously slow down--not because your legs or fingers need to slow down, but your mind says, “I have to slow down, because that’s how I will avoid mistakes.”
Ausra: Yes, that’s right. I do that sometimes, unconsciously.
Vidas: And then when you’re ready, you can pick up the tempo, normally.
Vidas: Good. Do you hope that people can apply this in their practice, too?
Ausra: Well, I hope so. You should definitely try.
Vidas: Great. Please guys, 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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