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Thread: Pedalboard

  1. #1
    Lieutenant Commander, Concertmaster
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    Pedalboard

    Hi everyone

    When you were learning the king of instruments, how did you go about learning the pedalboard and how do you get to a stage where you don't have to look - you just instinctively know where to put your feet?

    thanks!

  2. #2
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    There are several issues involved in learning to play the pedals. First you have to learn how to sit on and organ bench and keep your balance while you move your feet around on the pedals, so the first thing I do with a new student is just have them play single notes to get used to the feeling. (I try not to laugh when they look like they're going to fall off the bench!) I teach my students both early and modern technique, so they have to learn two different ways of playing the notes--one, by pivoting at the ankle so you can play with both heels and toes, and the other with the bench a little higher and playing with the toes, both sides of the foot, and allowing the knees to move. These motions are strange at first and take some getting used to, so I have them use exercises using both heels and toes to loosen up the ankles (I still do them, at 45 years old, to warm up) and learn how to use the feet to play just one note at a time (at first it's difficult not to play several notes when you put your foot down!) The most difficult thing to do as a teacher is to break down the motions into easily digestible steps, but this is how it has to be done.

    As far as looking goes, there are two approaches to this. I learned from the John Stainer method, which teaches you to feel for the spaces between the groups of black notes to orient yourself. I still do this on a strange pedalboard, and I find it very useful, though I have had teachers who criticized the extra motion. Some people learn to instinctively find the notes, and this works fine unless you're playing a historic, non-standard pedalboard. In that case, my "feeling around" method serves me exceptionally well. For instance, the 1800 Tannenberg in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has a two octave pedalboard spread out into about the space of a modern pedalboard that goes up to f or g. This means that at the top of the pedalboard, the notes feel like their displaced by as much as a fourth or so. However, I can quickly adjust to this if I feel for the spaces, particularly the space between tenor d# and f#.

  3. #3
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    Question new at organs

    Don't feel bad Thomas! I'm still new at playing the pipe organ and I still
    look at my feet. My problem is that I'm so short! Even with organ shoes
    I have to reach down to touch the pedals. I even have to sit on the
    edge of the bench! Too bad they don't make platform shoes soft enough
    to use as organ shoes. That would really work. I'm only 5foot 2inches
    tall. It's not easy. Well it's easy for you guys who are six feet tall or more. You guys can sit back on the bench comfortably and play the organ.
    In spite of it all I'm finaly getting to the amatour statis and not so much
    being my own student. Toccata & fugue finaly had me pulling my hair
    out and the two main musicans at church rescheduled my practice hours.
    I still enjoy playing other songs and church hymns on the pipe organ.
    judy tooley

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    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by methodistgirl View Post
    . . . . Well it's easy for you guys who are six feet tall or more. You guys can sit back on the bench comfortably and play the organ.
    Actually, I sit towards the middle of the bench, mainly for balance purposes and for ease of pivoting for the low and high notes. Being 6' 5", I keep my bench on blocks (raised) to maintain good pedal technique. So, it's not all that much fun being tall either ...
    Kh ~~.
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    fessional musicians practice until they can't get it wrong ...


  5. #5
    Midshipman, Forte
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    Yes, tall isn't easy either. I'm 6'3" and I have to play with the bench on blocks which can make the bench less stable. Some crank adjustables I can play cranked all the way up and it will be fine, but all the labels on the pedal pistons are out of my line of sight and so are the swell pedals.

    When learning the pedalboard - or any aspect of the organ for that matter - it is important to remember that there is no magic bullet. There is no special secret that will instantly make Bach's trio sonatas effortlessly flow from your body.

    There is good technique. There is good well structured practice. But the heart of it is hard work and experience.

    By the way, in answer to the other part of your questions - my pedaling is done primarily through spatial awareness. In the last month I have played a number of different types of pedal boards: flat with historic spacing, flat with a different (I think wider) spacing, concave radiating from a German builder, concave radiating from an American builder, Hammond (which I guess would be described as flat radiating), and concave parallel. It takes a couple of minutes of adjustment but then you're at home.

    BTW the concave parallel was a real favorite of mine. It was very easy to play, and really comfortable.

  6. #6
    Administrator Krummhorn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Arvin B View Post
    . . . . Some crank adjustables I can play cranked all the way up and it will be fine
    Good point, Arvin.

    I believe it was the Skinner at Riverside Church (NYC) that had an elevator for the pedalboard instead of raising the bench. I would love to have that option at any organ console as raising the bench also puts out arms at a higher position for the manuals.

    Quote Originally Posted by Arvin B View Post
    ... but all the labels on the pedal pistons are out of my line of sight and so are the swell pedals.
    Not to mention the reversibles which are usually above the general or divisional studs.
    Kh ~~.
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  7. #7
    Midshipman, Forte
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    Quote Originally Posted by Krummhorn View Post

    Not to mention the reversibles which are usually above the general or divisional studs.
    Exactly!

  8. #8
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Arvin, I have never played a concave parallel pedalboard, but it sounds intriguing. Having had about equal experience with flat and concave radiating pedalboards, I prefer flat ones as I can find the notes easier on them. It would seem to me that a parallel concave one might be very comfortable and more predictable than a radiating one. Interesting.

  9. #9
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    Were I live almost 99.9% of organs have flat pedalboards. I guess the ones that have concave flat are those build by Cavaille-Coll or his followers (Mutin..Merklin..etc). There are a significant number here and they are extremely confortable to play....but radiating concave pedalboards are very rare here.

    Could someone suggest some book on pedal technique suite to flat pedalboards? I have Gleason's book but it's almost designed to concave radiating pedalboards.
    There are two things that are quiet different IMHO:
    1) the extension of the pedalboard. In flat pedalboards the foot has to travel long distances to reach some notes when compared with flat radiating.
    2) the toe heel techinique..sometimes scales or pedaling works on concave radiating pedalboards but does not work on flat pedalboards.

    thanks
    nachoBA

  10. #10
    Midshipman, Forte
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    Arvin, I have never played a concave parallel pedalboard, but it sounds intriguing. Having had about equal experience with flat and concave radiating pedalboards, I prefer flat ones as I can find the notes easier on them. It would seem to me that a parallel concave one might be very comfortable and more predictable than a radiating one. Interesting.
    I don't think there are many of them in the United States. I found it on a Martin Pasi organ, but I know he also builds flat pedalboards.


    Arvin

  11. #11
    Lieutenant Commander, Concertmaster
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    Hi all

    I was practising on Friday night and decided to play what is the right hand line on the pedals to speed up my ability on the pedalboard. Would anyone recommend this?!

    thanks!

  12. #12
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso methodistgirl's Avatar
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    I would! There is a hymn that is called The wonderful grace of Jesus.
    That thing is like playing toccta & fugue. Or, I would set both feet
    on the bass pedalboard and go up the scale with your feet like you do
    on the upper keyboards with your hands and cross them over as an
    exercise. Believe me I didn't get that far into the piano lessons. I was
    taken out before I ever left the first book callled Teaching Little Fingers
    to Play. Does anyone have that piano book?
    judy tooley

  13. #13
    Commander, Assistant Conductor Albert's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    Arvin, I have never played a concave parallel pedalboard, but it sounds intriguing. Having had about equal experience with flat and concave radiating pedalboards, I prefer flat ones as I can find the notes easier on them. It would seem to me that a parallel concave one might be very comfortable and more predictable than a radiating one. Interesting.
    When I first met the organ, in West Germany, the instrument had a concave parallel pedal board. I now have the second of two instruments with so-called AGO concave and radiating pedals.

    I find that the technique I learned, from books by Ernst Kaller, uses a lot of crossing over of the feet, before and behind each other. He does not eschew the use of the heels, but I am still more comfortable playing with more emphasis on the toes than appears to be the norm in North America.

    I find the AGO board difficult to play rapidly when crossing over because the pedals are too close together when you get any distance from the sharps. On the odd occasion I come across a 30 concave parallel pedal board, and it takes about two minutes to feel comfortable with it. It then takes about 10 to get back into the radiating pedal board.

    I also, a few years ago, had the chance to try out a Halbert Gober organ in Illinois' Crystal Lake. It was, I found, easy to get used to, although I had never in my life played a flat parallel pedalboard before.

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