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Thread: Uncomfortable pedalling problem.

  1. #1
    Apprentice, Piano
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    Uncomfortable pedalling problem.

    Hello,

    I must beggin my post saying I'm a self-thaught organ player that spents most time playing in a church organ during services. To the day, I used to play the pedals only with my toes and didn't care much of articulations, as I only had an accompainment function. I recently bought an electronic AGO pedalboard from www.midiworks.ca which is such a blessing and I'm desiring to improve my pedal technique, so I bought Joyce Jones' "Pedal Mastery" book for that purpose. As I come from a poor country, I couldn't import an organ bench, so I asked a carpenter to make one for me. I asked for some official measures, and made it according to AGO specification.

    The thing is, when I sat down and tried to play, I noticed it's quite uncofortable to play low notes, specially with my right foot, and high notes, specially with my left foot. I tried adjusting the bench (getting it back and forth), tried with different sitting positions, but the result is just the same, reaching extreme notes with the opposite side food is painful. I even tried pivoting my body, balancing the weight to the right when playing low notes, and while it does help a bit, I find I have to tilt myself quite a lot, and I'm worried that when I mix this movement while playing the keyboards, it will be uncomfortable aswell (already tried).
    As a matter of fact, I have short legs, and I'm worried the bench is too high for me, but I'm worried of not reaching the keyboards properly.

    Do you have any suggestion to me? Thanks in advance for your answer and comprehension.

  2. #2
    Admiral of Fugues Contratrombone64's Avatar
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    First thing to do is to buy proper organ shoes (they are narrow and have a small but elevated heel).

    As to the aspect of pain when stretching your legs to the treble or bass end of the pedal board ... it's normal as they ARE an odd stretch. I adjust my pedalling to suit and wiggle about a bit to get comfortable. I also have the habit of using my left for to handle the very bass notes (C to F) and my right for to handle the very treble notes (from middle C up to the F above) purely for the sake of comfort.

    This is perfectly legitimate, as when using the swell pedal, you're right foot just has to be seconded for this so your left foot does all the pedalling required if there are crescendo or decrescendo markings.

    Also - you might like to find a copy of Stainer's organ method, it's got some very good exercises for sorting your feet out.

    Now - over to the real experts: Krumhorn, Soubasse, and so forth for their excellent advice
    I'm not an atheist and I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.
    —Albert Einstein.

  3. #3
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    Never ever thought of myself as an expert but thanks anyway CT!

    Stainer's book, The Oxford Organ Method and Dupre's tutorials all have very sound advice when it comes to pedalling. There have been folk who insist that in order to play Baroque pieces accurately, all-toe pedalling is essential (and if you ever get to play a Baroque straight flat pedalboard you'll see why), but the more you become accustomed to using the heel and the toe in alternation, the more fun you'll have getting used to all sorts of things!

    The issue of crossing feet over into a region out of their comfort zone does take some getting used to but with all things, it's practice practice practice. There is this feeling of almost playing the manuals "side-saddle" if the left foot goes high into the tenor register or the right foot low into the bass register. I've usually found that the most useful solution is to find the practical halfway point between pivoting and leaning the body, too much of either and you'll get yourself into all sorts of problems particularly if your respective hands are on different manuals (hope that makes sense). This does of course vary a little (or a lot) from instrument to instrument.

    With past students, I have suggested slow chromatic scales may be useful as a warm up, starting with the left foot and seeing how high they can comfortably go and likekwise in contrary motion with the right foot. In essence, if it becomes uncomfortable, that's the point at which to stop and just decide "okay, the other foot can take over now."

    The other factor to bear in mind is that in drier acoustics we are compensating for the lively acoustics of large, European buildings, wherein it's easier to sound as though you're playing legato when in fact you're playing detached, because of the reverberation time. That's at least one take on how the Baroque and Romantic composers wrote the sorts of pedal lines that they did because they could use the acoustics to "smooth the edges" as it were.

    As CT64 has already mentioned too, the right sort of shoes will also help a lot. Something with a slightly tapered toes and a moderately pronounced heel is very practical when learning (I actually use dancing shoes!). That in itself has been an interesting issue. I have seen professional concert organists (to my surprise) performing in socks, but certainly not as surprised as I was seeing some YouTube clips of Kimberly Marshall playing in stilletto heels!!! :0

    Anyway, hope there's some useable advice there. Once you're past some certain technical "must dos" there is still a lot of "to each their own"
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

  4. #4
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso wljmrbill's Avatar
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    Glad to hear you have pedalboard and bench too. I read your intro several times.. so as you learn good pedal tech. there will be some uncomfortable positions at times until you get used to the pedal keyboard.As CT64 and Soulbassee mentioned- right about a good pedal/basic organ book for guides. another way of saying what others have said sofar is:

    1. you generally sit in front of "D" above middle "c" as a center point for your body.

    2. in most cases you think of your feet as working outward from that center point - left foot to left and right foot to the right .

    When it is necessary for the left foot to play in upper octave areas one usually pivots the body( not move it:but pivot with your hips to the right.. keeping in the center line) this allows the left foot to play in the upper areas without much strain at all .. use this same proceedure but pivot to the left when the right foot needs to play the lower octave. ( of course if you go by the rule of keeping the knees close together - you have to do this).

    Remember to use heel and toe and think of foot being flat in the center line(pedals) and to the outer edge of the sole as you proceed outward and use the ankle to pivot the foot... good pedal exercises will make it all come together and PRACTICE,PRACTICE. I do realize that in some methods for Bach ect..only use the toes.. this is always a debate point;however, some old pedal boards you did not have enough pedal to use anything but your toes. GoodLuck and keep at it.
    ....To play only what is written is the domain of science. To realize what is not written is the domain of art."
    - Jean Langlais

    I wish you the Best for each day, now and always.

    Bill

  5. #5
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    David, expert? Me? Hardly ... I'm still learning, even after nearly 50 years on the bench ... but thanks for the accolades anyway.

    I think the others above have covered lots of great points, so I'll only add a couple of things:

    • Bench height - There are no rules that state you can only play the organ with the bench as a certain height. I'm 6'4", and the standard AGO height is too low, so I have added 3/4" blocks. You might consider chopping off a half inch and see if that makes a difference.
    • Pivoting or 'wiggling' to reach extreme left or right of pedalboard: just pivot the whole torso - try to avoid leaning, as that also throws off their position of the arms in relation to the keyboard and will cause many wrong manual notes.

    The John Stainer Method book will be of great help to you ... another one, called the Gleason Method of Organ Playing is also an excellent guide, although later editions can be pricey - the old old printings are just as good as the new ones. Mine (Gleason) is from 1961 and I still use it from time to time.

    The last thing to add is: practice, practice, practice ... and when you think you are done practicing, practice some more. Just follow the advise in my "signature" below - it really works .
    Kh ~~.
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    Amateur musicians practice until they get it right ...
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  6. #6
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso Dorsetmike's Avatar
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    As mentioned in another post there is a second hand copy of Stainer's book at this site

    http://www.organexpressions.com/organ_music_books.htm

    Scroll to bottom of the page it is the last item at $3
    Cheers MIKE.

    How many roads must a man walk down ... ... before he admits he's lost?

  7. #7
    Commodore con Forza
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    Let's face it -- what is going on here involves what we might call limits of human anatomy. Obviously, organs have always been built with that in mind (how could they forget?), but how far can you stretch a leg to go so far up or down the pedalboard? Some people have longer legs than others, so probably each one has to learn what works best, within reason, of course.

    I still maintain that electronic organs with 25-note pedalboards are oriented slightly higher up than the 32's. I play such an animal at my Elks lodge, and "middle" C is flat out a bit higher up than on a 32. Also, that board is flat, which can also cause a bit of mis-orientation. Assuming one sits with his/her belly button pointing at middle C on the manuals, pedalboards can and do differ slightly in their orientation.

    As mentioned above, the best solution is practice and familiarity with whatever instrument one is playing. I doubt if posting comments on websites will change much of that.

  8. #8
    Rear Admiral Appassionata greatcyber's Avatar
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    This is a very interesting thread to me. It makes sense to me that one would use one foot to play notes only until it is no longer comfortable. Truly it is a form of exercise, so a good warm up prior to playing seems logical, just as one might do before working out in a gym. Stretching those leg muscles in order to get the greatest range of motion.

    When I used to play a real pipe organ as a teen, I remember that heel, toe was important. The first time that I started to use this technique was when I played Bach's Air on a G String. I can still remember most of that piece and how my feet used to accomplish the pedal work and look forward to having my pedalboard back on my system so I can "play it again, Sam" and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.

    Congrats on getting your pedalboard...That must have been a hefty investment as I remember looking at that site before I found an organ locally that had a nice pedalboard for only $500. I kept the pedalboard when I gave the organ away, due to space limitations as I didn't think I could afford to spend $1500 on a new one if I wasn't lucky enough to find another on ebay or CL.

    It also brings to mind the late, great Virgil Fox and watching his feet was like watching a ballet.

    Enjoy! You certainly have gotten some good advice here. (me, too)
    Stephen

    Perform a Random Act of Kindness Today...
    ...You Just May Be in Need of One Tomorrow.

  9. #9
    Apprentice, Piano
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    Thank you for all your kind replies. For the time being, I'll save to buy proper organist shoes, and will then think if it's proper to reduce the bench height. I will also try to do some leg warming-ups (stretching them) before I play to reduce injury risk.

  10. #10
    Seaman, Mezzoforte hauptwerkIII's Avatar
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    I was wondering whether it was time for someone to redesign the pedalboard, perhaps by having two tiers - an upper one for the treble notes and a lower for the bass pedal notes. It might make it easier for for people with short legs.

  11. #11
    Rear Admiral Appassionata greatcyber's Avatar
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    That would never work, IMO, on a real organ. However, if you are setting up a Virtual Pipe Organ then you certainly have the option of setting up the equipment in whatever way you like. After all, it is built to suit the individual. It doesn't really matter that one's "toaster" looks like, only that it sounds pleasant and is enjoyable for the player.

    Pedalboards are not all that inexpensive though, so that might be the main consideration. In a VPO, I don't see why one couldn't just reduce the height of the bench to accommodate short legs, and if that makes the keyboards too high, they could be lowered as well.

    Just a thought.
    Stephen

    Perform a Random Act of Kindness Today...
    ...You Just May Be in Need of One Tomorrow.

  12. #12
    Lieutenant Commander, Concertmaster FinnViking's Avatar
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    "My" organ has an adjustable pedalboard; it can be seamlessly raised and lowered in a range of about 13 cm. All the coupler and swell pedals follow.

    On the attached photo you can quite clearly see the movable part: the whole plate where the coupler and swell pedals sit. There is also a small scale at the top right corner of the plate to show the current height of the adjustment.

    The bench can be adjusted separately, of course.

  13. #13
    Rear Admiral Appassionata greatcyber's Avatar
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    You are one fortunate fellow
    Stephen

    Perform a Random Act of Kindness Today...
    ...You Just May Be in Need of One Tomorrow.

  14. #14
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Toma, you aren't the only one who has trouble reaching the
    bass pedals for I'm only about five feet and four inches tall
    and my legs are short. The main organist who plays is about
    6 foot 3 and he can reach those bass notes. Because it's
    uncomfortable to you is your height. Also when you do try
    to reach it there is a possibility that you could slip off the
    bench. It's happened to me a time or two. For me I gave
    up and got some platform shoes with two inch thick soles
    and four inch heels and that worked. Otherwise I looked
    like one of the members of kiss playing the organ with
    them on. It was all I could do to walk in them. Now with
    the new organist I don't even bother playing it. Because
    it also hurt my legs and I grew tired of the tall shoes.
    Now I prefer the piano since the bench is no taller than
    a chair.
    judy tooley

  15. #15
    Commodore con Forza Soubasse's Avatar
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    That's one handsome console there Finn. Church or home? Real or toaster?
    Music is made to transform the states of the soul, for an hour or an instant (J. Alain)

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