Picking red currants
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Playing with your feet.
Today's question was posted by Ugochukwu. He wants to know how to improvise with organ pedals.
Listen to the full answer at #AskVidasAndAusra
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Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas …
Ausra: And Ausra.
Vidas: And let's start part 25 of our #AskVidasAndAusra podcast. Today's question was sent by Ugochukwu, and he wants to know how to improvise with pedals. Well, that's an interesting question Ausra, right?
Vidas: Do we usually improvise with pedals? How do you think, does he think you should improvise on solo pedals or in addition to manuals?
Ausra: I think he means in addition to manuals, and if I would have to improvise and use the pedal, I would probably just do most of the time, pedal point.
Vidas: For starters …
Ausra: Yes, for starters, either on the dominant or the tonic.
Vidas: Or subdominant?
Ausra: Subdominant, yes, but it's less useful.
Vidas: Two long sustained notes in the pedal.
Ausra: Tonic and dominant.
Vidas: First scale degree of the scale or the fifth scale degree.
Ausra: But because you are an expert in this field so maybe you could explore a little bit more?
Vidas: So, I think you could imagine that it's okay to be very simple at the beginning. As Ausra says, two notes total, maybe three notes if you need variety. And if you think about it, if you know tonic subdominant and the dominant chords, you can do a lot. You can even improvise, you can harmonize most of the tunes you find in any hymnal. So, the same thing applies in pedal improvisation, you could be very simple with this. If you want to be more advanced, you could play a tune in your pedals. That would be like a nice variety.
Ausra: That's a good suggestion, I think.
Vidas: What would hands be doing at that moment, Ausra, what do you think?
Ausra: Probably playing fast notes, fast note motion. You could do like toccata, in your hands play sixteenth notes, and then slower notes in the pedal with the melody.
Vidas: Or you can reverse, you could play faster notes with the pedal, not really fast, but quarter notes, like a tune, a hymn tune, but placed in the feet, and then your hands could be quite slow then. Accompaniment feature of exchanging a couple of times per measure.
Vidas: Maybe one voice in each hand. If you don't know any tonal harmony, there are some model techniques you could use. You could just check what kind of mode this tune is in, and play only in your hands, the notes of the mode. No accidentals, no additional sharps or flats. That means, that anything you play with your hands, will sound well with the pedals.
Ausra: Yes, if it's only white notes, you cannot miss them.
Vidas: So, Ausra do you think that people should always improvise with pedals? Or not necessarily?
Ausra: Well, not necessarily, but if they are good, and they have advanced organ technique, then why not? It depends on your level.
Vidas: And also, you need variety because when you look at any organ composition, you always see some measures, some episodes where pedals are not playing, resting. Not only you need to rest your feet, that's one thing, but you also need to think about the lowest voice, the pedal voice, the bass. Let's say, it’s as the double-bass part in the orchestra.
Vidas: They not always play, sometimes they do double the cello part, usually they do, but sometimes even the cellos are silent.
Vidas: And the higher instruments are playing, and that's because on the organ, always add 16’ in the bass, playing one of the lower sounds, you feel this sort of gravity. This is very nice.
Ausra: Yes, that's right.
Vidas: But it might be too much if you do this all the time, right?
Vidas: So you need to rest.
Ausra: Another probably helpful idea would be to improvise a chaconne or passacaglia. Then you could have the same melody over and over again in the pedal and just add new stuff in the manual. This would make life easier too. What do think with this?
Vidas: Those passacaglias or chaconnes are extremely helpful in improvisation because your theme is set, you don't have to think about it.
Vidas: Four or eight measures are already set in advance, you just play and repeat them. Well, you could transpose them, right? To have more variety. Let's say, eight variations, or four variations, in the tonic. Then, let's say, eight or four variations in the dominant, and then coming back to the tonic, that's fine. Or relative minor, or subdominant, or any other related key works well. But you see, it's still set, you don't have to improvise really with the feet. What you need to do then, you have configurations of the manuals.
Vidas: Keeping the same harmonies probably.
Ausra: But of course if you are advanced in pedal technique, you could add probably even pedal solo, that would be very impressive during your improvisation.
Vidas: Pedal solo, what do yo mean? Oh, simple solo line where the hands are not playing?
Ausra: Yes, exactly.
Vidas: An example would be the F major toccata by Bach.
Ausra: Well, yes, and C major toccata.
Vidas: Those episodes for virtuoso pedal part. That's nice.
Ausra: Or even like Buxtehude’s that famous preludium in C major the opening is pedal solo.
Vidas: Or Bohm’s C major.
Vidas: That was really very often seen feature in North German Baroque music, solo pedal lines, to establish the key, and to either to end in the tonic, or to go to the dominant, to modulate and then start in another key, with the hands. So, that's a nice idea, Ausra.
Ausra: Thank you.
Vidas: So guys, we hope that this has been helpful to you.
Vidas: And please send more of your questions to us, 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.
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.