Mid-Atlantic: Pedal Technique

Greetings from the Mid Atlantic AGOYO! Continuing in our series on transitioning from piano to organ, here is an article written by one of our board members, Peter Bayer, about pedal technique.

The Pedal of the Organ is another keyboard like a manual, but instead of having two hands wherewith to play it, one has two feet. The two feet generally work best if they are treated as a unit, as if they were one hand with two fingers. The primary motion of the feet should be a pivoting motion from the heels, while the legs above the heels remain relaxed, only coming into motion in order to facilitate large movements.

Therefore, good posture is of utmost importance for good pedal technique. The back must be straight, and one must sit sufficiently forward on the bench so that, when the legs are relaxed and hanging naturally, the toes can easily, with a motion from the heel alone, play a nearby key, either white or black.

It is best to begin with heels and knees held together. The toes should be able to reach out to approximately a fifth in this position (depending on the individual), and to an octave with the knees together but the heels separate.

The first type of motion to practice is playing alternate keys with the two toes. This can be done easily by playing two-note sequences. The larger the interval of the sequence, the greater the distance between the feet, and the more difficult the exercise will become. Thus, one could practice with increasing intervals, thus improving coordination.

After one is confident in the use of the toes, it is possible to introduce the heels. The heels can be introduced by playing brief scalar passages with one foot or both feet together simultaneously.

The use of the heels is of advantage in attaining total legato technique. I am of the opinion that most pedal parts can be played more cleanly and more easily by relying on the toes. Of course, there is no universal rule, and if the heels in fact do make a part easier to play, they should be used without hesitation. However, I am of the opinion that a simple solution using just the toes should be attempted before introducing the heels.

Many books containing technical exercises for pedal exist. Roger Davis’s The Organist’s Manual has several useful exercises. Flor Peeters and Marcel Dupré both published books of technique; they of course convey a very old style directed towards an ideal of total legato, but nonetheless, systematically followed, they impart a real mastery. An excellent survey of classical technique is Barbara Soderlund’s Organ Technique: An Historical Approach. It contains overviews of pedal technique and a few historical exercises, demonstrating early techniques, and the Lemmens school.

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