Author Topic: Playing the bass pedals on an organ  (Read 175 times)

Hugh Wallington

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Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« on: June 07, 2020, 06:47:51 PM »
Playing the bass pedals on an organ

When I had my first organ (the Farfisa Balmoral) the young man in the shop who sold it to me was a boy I used to teach (Maths) and he had just come out of a Music College.  He said to me that the pedals on these 'Home Organs' are very short compared to a Church Organ and don't come under the seat you are sitting on.  So you can't 'toe and heel'.  Here's a video showing 'proper' footpedals on an organ and how to play them.

Quick Tips for the Beginning Organist - Beginning Foot Pedals



The next thing he pointed out was that the pedals on a Home Organ are a lot closer together so it is difficult to play them with a 'flat foot'.  If you did that it was likely that you would also hit the note next to the one you are aiming for.  Which brings up something else with these Home Organs.  On a Church Organ the bass notes are 'polyphonic' ie. play two notes together and both will sound.  Not that you would do that very often when playing the pedals as you're not trying to create 'harmony' in the bass.  The bass pedals on a Home Organ are 'monophonic' ie. they only play one note at a time .. and that is the higher of the two you are playing.  So if you are using a 'flat foot' and hit the note above the one you are aiming for as well as the correct one, only the higher note will play.  Which will be the wrong note!

And another thing.  There are not as many notes available for you to play on a Home Organ.  A Home Organ will typically have 13 notes (ie. one octave, as this number includes white and black notes).
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From Wikipedia:
Pedalboards range in size from 13 notes on small spinet organs designed for in-home use (an octave, conventionally C2C3) to 32 notes (two and a half octaves, C2G4) on church or concert organs. Modern pipe organs typically have 30- or 32-note pedalboards, while some electronic organs and many older pipe organs have 25-note pedalboards.

So what the young man said to me was, "Play the pedals with the ball of your left foot (not with the flat of your foot), don't use the right foot (that is controlling the expression pedal), push your left knee over to your right (which will keep the ball of your foot directly over the note you want to play), and with the short pedalboard you should be able to get to all the notes you want to play."

And he proceeded to play a boogie-woogie bass line at speed.

The Boogie-Woogie Bassline
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Although there are many variations, the basic boogie-woogie bass pattern is a two-bar pattern using quarter notes. The bassline ascends and then descends strongly outlining the notes of each dominant 7th chord in the blues progression.

The basic two-bar pattern goes: | Root-3-5-6 | b7-6-5-3 |

Now I'm sure you 'real' organists will have something to say about all this!  It's just that this is how I've learnt to play my pedals .. but I have noticed that professional organists who come and play for our Weston-super-Mare Organ and Keyboard Club never seem to play with their knee over to the right, or play on the ball of their foot.

Please click on REPLY and let me know your views!

Hugh
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Keith Rose

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2020, 06:23:18 PM »
My first organ was also a Farfisa with two manuals but without a pedal board.  It wasn't until I returned to the UK and acquired my first Yamaha Electone, a D3R that I had to get to grips with the pedals. Consequently when it comes to playing the pedals I am self taught and no doubt have acquired some very bad habits and a bad technique.  As I have become older so my pedal accuracy has deteriorated and I think in part this is due to a lack of confidence in being able to hit the right pedal.

One thing I have noticed is that from time to time I seem to suffer from the Corporal Jones effect.  Those of you familiar with the TV programme "Dad's Army " will recall that when given the order to stand to attention he was always a split second slower than the rest of the platoon in bringing his left leg to the attention.  So it happens that my right or left hands hit the correct beat (or part thereof)  but my left foot is that split second behind.  So frustrating but then there are times, when sat the organ, it seems my left foot lives in a world of its own and does its own thing despite the commands my brain sends it.  Perhaps it is just as well my car has automatic transmission and my left foot can just stay still on the foot rest provided.

As for the top most pedals, D to G,  it is something of a magical mystery tour when it comes to finding the right pedal .  On the infrequent occasions that I do, especially when trying to play with my right foot,  it is such a shock that invariably I stop playing the music to congratulate myself.  ;D

I just marvel at the ability of some professional players who seem to play complex bass patterns with apparent ease using both feet.  Watching Cameron Carpenter playing a pedal solo during "Stars and Stripe Forever" just takes my breath away.

Stars and Stripes Forever-Cameron Carpenter (organ)



Keith

Peter Anderson

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2020, 06:07:13 AM »
If you want to improve your pedal playing, you may find this Pearl helpful, which you can open in a new window by clicking on this link:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=2114.0

At the end of it, you will find a further link to take you to some Pedal Exercises.

Peter
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Hugh Wallington

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #3 on: June 12, 2020, 10:01:55 PM »
Keith,

Cameron Carpenter has an advantage over you.  He has pedals running right under his seat.  If you had that on your organ ... easy peasy!

Here is another YouTube clip showing Cameron Carpenter actually playing the pedals.  You could pick up a hint or two from him!  Again, the pedals come right under his seat.  And this time he is playing a Grand Piano!  I have never seen a piano with bass pedals before.  He must really like playing them!



Hugh
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Peter Anderson

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Hugh Wallington

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2020, 05:44:32 PM »
Tierce de Picardie Member Rev Tony Newnham is a Church Organist and he has sent me this.



The secret of playing bass pedals is you need plenty of practice.  I learned on a church organ so was taught to use a full pedal board, toe & heel and so on.  Navigating the pedals is by feeling for the gaps between the sets of sharps & the groups of 2 or 3 sharps - but after a while you just know where the notes are.  My organ teacher refused to have a light on the pedals, so there was no option of looking, especially if the church was dark.  At one time I was regularly playing 9 organs with 7 styles of pedal board, including this early 1820's example above!  Look closely - it runs from G-G!

There are tutor books out there if you want to develop the technique - and it is possible to "toe & heel" on some spinet pedalboards if the keys are long enough.  Years ago I came across a book about playing organ  pedals, which identified various areas of the foot that could be used for (very) advanced playing.  I still occasionally use a couple of them.

At the opposite extreme, there are those who say you should only use toes for Bach & earlier music (I disagree, and recently evidence has come to light that Bach may have used his heels!)

For many players, especially those coming from playing piano, the biggest hurdle is to stop your left hand also playing the bass line.

If all goes well, I'm planning to record a piece for our church anniversary next Sunday that involves playing the pedal in octaves at times, and also a couple of other tricky sections.  Wish me luck!  I'll try & set up a 2nd camera and do some fancy editing if I have time.
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Hugh Wallington

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2020, 05:47:21 PM »
Tony has now done the video he mentioned in the post above. In this video he is playing his Viscount Envoy 35FV digital organ and has put an insert into his video showing him playing the pedals.  This shows clearly that he has bass pedals that come right under his seat, and it shows how he 'toes and heels' his bass.

Nun Dankett Karg-Elert

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Hugh Wallington

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2020, 04:17:45 PM »
I have also had this from Tony, regarding playing bass pedals with shorter pedals .. like the AR has.

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I'd intended to do a recording of playing with shorter pedals, but ran out of time yesterday.  The techniques are pretty much the same, although short pedal keys do make heel & toe work rather more difficult.  I'll try & do something similar next time I record my Nord C2D - that has shorter pedal keys.  The Viscount is a standard RCO (Royal COllege of Organists) 32 note pedal board - radiating & concave - as found on most recent pipe organs (and probably all real theatre organs).

I'll post in this topic as soon as Tony lets my have it.

Hugh
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Hugh Wallington

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Re: Playing the bass pedals on an organ
« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2020, 06:19:48 PM »
Now here's a novel way to play the pedals on an organ.  Use them to play the melody!

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