A Piano Keyboard for Your Feet
«Watch video demos at bottom of article»
“The organ pedal board” of a full size organ can be intimidating at first but it is just a piano keyboard for your feet. It is really less involved than playing the keyboards with your hands. This is because, for the most part, only one pedal is played at a time.
The design is very different because it must be played with your feet. Looking closely at the pedals it becomes apparent that they are arranged in the same pattern as the keys on the keyboard.
Look approximately in the center of the lower keyboard where middle C is located and then move your eyes from the keyboard to the organ pedal board. Middle C for the pedals should be in sight. Look for the distinctive “two black key group” or where D would be found and it will be obvious that a C is pretty much lined up with the C on the lower keyboard of the organ.
This is middle C for the pedal board. There is another C to the left of this one and yet another one to the right of it. The entire pedal board spans a full 2 octaves plus 7 pedals.
Written music for the pedals can appear in a couple ways.
First, it may appear on the lower part of the bass clef where the notation for the left hand is generally found. However, the stems will be placed pointing downward. If you are playing a hymn, written in the standard 4 part configuration of Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass, just play the soprano and alto parts with the right hand, the tenor part with the left hand, and your feet play the bass part on the organ pedal board.
This is done to easily recognize the pedal note from the notes for the left hand which will have the stems always pointing upward. Playing hymns from a hymn book however, the stems do not always go different ways in the bass clef but this doesn’t change the approach as described above.
Second, the pedal notes may appear on an additional staff that is added below the staff for the left hand. This style of notation has 3 stave’s, one each for the upper and lower keyboards and one for the organ pedal board. This can add clarity in notation especially with complex compositions.
To conquer playing the pedals it is best to work with them alone for awhile. This way you can focus on what you are doing with your feet.
Position yourself on the bench so that you are directly behind the D pedal that is found in the center most part of the pedal board. This is “critical” because this becomes your “point of reference”, the point you will use to locate other pedals.
Always verify this position every time you get on the bench in preparation to play.
Start by slipping your right foot between the D# and F#. This becomes a reference point for the right foot.
Now place your left foot between C# and Bb. This becomes a reference point for the left foot.
When actually playing the natural pedals the toe of your foot should be placed an inch or so in front of the sharp pedals.
Start out by playing the E pedal with the right foot. With your right foot in the reference position described above your foot will already be above the E pedal.
Using the ball of your foot, Press the E pedal down and then release it by using your ankle as a pivot point. Avoid using leg movement, down and up, because it is just a lot more work than is necessary. Also, release the pedal by removing the pressure of your foot on it without lifting your foot off of the pedal completely.
Now do the same with the left foot on the C pedal. Then play the E pedal and the C pedal alternately to get the feel of using both feet on the pedal board.
If you have done this so far, you now know how to play the pedals, with both feet! There are, of course, more techniques for locating and playing pedals but we will discuss them separately at another time.
Important point to remember
Practice all of the above without looking at the pedal board.
At first, if you are at all like I was when I first started to play pedals, watching someone else play as in the videos, my first thought was that I would never be able to do that. However, it is best to never say never to anything. It is fun to play the pedals along with the rest of the organ and it can also be a workout too. I usually practice a few hours each time because I love it so much. I find I have to stop and move on to something else just like one would have to do if they were running or exercising. Who would have thought, you can “play” the organ pedal board and exercise at the same time!
Play the pedals alone for awile before playing your with hands. This actually lessons the time it takes to get going on the pedals. Besides getting acquainted with them you want to get comfortable at playing the pedals. Then later begin to add the hands one at a time if necessary. Take one measure at a time and play it slowly without error before moving on to the next measure. When finished with the first 2 measures then play them in sequence a few times, add the next measure and so on. Once the first phrase is done this way, much of the time 2/3s of the number is done. This is because music repeats and if learned in the first place, it won’t be necessary to learn it again because you already have it.
Have Fun! After all, that’s what playing music is all about!
About the author: OT started playing the organ in the 60′s. First for dances and later at church.