SOPP315: I’m struggling with the pedal exercises that call for playing a fourth with heel and toe of one foot
Vidas: Hi guys, this is Vidas.
Ausra: And Ausra.
V: Let’s start episode 315 of Secrets of Organ Playing Podcast. This question was sent by Dianne and she writes:
“I’m struggling with the pedal exercises that call for playing a fourth with heel and toe of one foot... And doing so legato without playing pedals in between. Some of the 3rds, depending on octave and foot called for, are difficult as well. My feet don't bend and stretch that way!”
V: This was a discussion in our Total Organist communication channel on BaseCamp so David jumped in and added a comment…
David: “That really seems an issue for me, too. When I first started, 3rds were nearly impossible... Especially on the organ where I had my lessons because those pedals traveled farther down than the pedals on my practice organs when you press them. Over months, the 3rds got easier and some 4ths are finally easy for me, but not all 4ths. The flexibility does eventually come.
One thing my teacher always cautions me about is making sure to point my knees with the toes so I don't get injured.”
V: And then Jay added a comment to Dianne:
Jay: “I have that same problem as well. I just thought that maybe I need more exercise with the pedals. I’ve also been trying a bit harder to keep my knees together, as we’ve been instructed. I really like David’s comment about pointing your knees with the toes. That’s a great tip.
Thanks, Dianne, for helping me not feel alone with that, and David, for the tip.”
V: And then Dianne answered:
Dianne: “Thanks to you both! I feel better now as well and more hopeful that the flexibility may actually come someday. I will keep trying!”
V: That’s a nice discussion, right?
A: Yes, it is.
V: I think I added to all of them “Don’t hurt yourself.”
A: True. And Dianne you are not alone, I have the same problem too because my foot is quite short so when I have an interval to play legato with one foot it’s really not an easy task for me. But what I do sometimes if let’s say I’m playing in a big acoustics and tempo is fast of a piece I might not be playing such a spot complete legato. And you wouldn’t notice that if the tempo is fast and you have larger acoustics. And another thing if the tempo is slower then I just try to substitute with another foot the same note and then jump to that next note with the other foot so I’m sort of cheating a little bit.
V: Example would be from the note G if you have jump to C up a fourth, you would play G with the left foot and C with the right foot and substitute right away with the left foot, right?
A: That’s right. You know if the tempo allows me to do that. And if as I told you before if acoustic is larger and tempo is really fast then I don’t think anybody will notice that I don’t play both those notes completely legato.
V: This is true I think. For me too I don’t particularly enjoy playing with one foot wide intervals.
A: But you see your foot is much longer than mine is.
V: Part of the solution might rest in playing with higher heels because when you want to play a wider interval without hitting notes in between you need that space between the toe and the heel and that is only possible when you have a higher heel.
A: That’s obvious, yes, you need to have a higher heel. But when you have single melody in the pedal you still can do some tricks. The hardest thing for me is when I have to play two notes with one foot at the same time like for example now I’m playing the second fantasy by Jean Alain and there are a couple spots like that and I’m having a hard time.
V: I think majority of organ repertoire doesn’t require that kind of flexibility.
A: No, but if you would take French music then yes it does.
V: Then you need to be a virtuoso.
A: That’s right, or do a plastic surgery on your foot and make them longer. (laughs) I’m just joking.
V: A good exercise which prepares you for passages like that is to play scales and arpeggios with your pedals. We have this Pedal Virtuoso Master Course with complete major and minor scales in the 24 keys and arpeggios too over one octave and two octaves. So people tell us that it’s really strenuous working. Not too many people finish what they start but those who do always are very happy with their flexibility afterwards.
A: Well, yes, maybe I need to work on your course too.
V: Or choose easier music.
A: That’s right, but I like hard music.
V: Where will you be playing this, Alain’s fantasy?
A: At Notre Dame in Paris.
V: Notre Dame.
V: I see, nice. What else will you be playing at Notre Dame?
A: The second chorale by Cesar Franck, the one in B minor and E flat major Prelude and Fugue by J. S. Bach.
V: E flat major, BWV 552. Which of those three pieces is your favorite right now? Which of those would you take with you to uninhabited island if you didn’t have food or drink?
A: Maybe not Alain although I really much like that piece but it would be hard to decide for me because I really like Bach E flat major, that’s one of my favorite organ pieces ever written, but I also love Franck’s B minor chorale, it’s my favorite out of all three of them.
V: Imagine if you actually are on this remote island and you have all three pieces with you, Bach, Franck, and Alain and this boat with indigenous people is approaching and you have only one piece to offer them in exchange for water or food. Which one would you trade?
V: A bunch of organists is coming by in a sightseeing boat for the remote islands of Polynesia, they want to visit their local organs and here is this stranded organist offering one of those pieces, to organists.
A: You are asking tricky questions and you have such a fantasy that it scares me.
V: Which one would you betray?
A: Probably Alain, because it’s the shortest out of three of them.
V: Would you feel guilty about that?
A: Sure, yes I would.
V: Would you go to confession afterwards?
A: To whom?
V: To me, when you come back home. You could tell me and I say you’ve been forgiven. I won’t tell Alain that. Nice. So we are sort of riffing on this theme of playing wide intervals, right?
A: Yes, that’s right. It’s really a hard thing but somehow you can work on it and make it work.
V: Umm-hmm. Thank you guys, we hope this was useful to you. Please send us more of your questions, we love helping you grow. And remember when you practice…
A: 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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