From a harmonic perspective – learning and playing the pedals on the church organ.

Playing hymns on the organ is a lot easier if you use the pedals.
There are two ways to do this … the first is by (or buy) the book then pay for lessons from an organ teacher. This is the best way to learn, however, you may not have the time or money to follow this long-term path, and this website is really for those who need to become capable now!

Right hand and pedals

The second way, and the quickest, is to focus on the right hand and pedals then introduce the left hand gradually as time permits.

I can imagine all the FRCO players scorning such a notion, but they can already play very well … it’s you who has to sound good this Sunday!

So what do I mean by right hand and pedals?

Hymn playing is harmonically structured, that is, the notes come in vertical chunks or chords and this makes many hymns playable by just using chord inversions in the right hand, then underpinned with the pedals.

Why is it easier to play like this?

It is easier because instead of reading and playing every note separately, you can think in groups of notes.

Think chords (harmonically) with the tune at the top. This simplifies the amount of thinking that goes on in your brain. Melody, chord and pedals are easier to process than reading every note individually on the page – as those who are new to the organ tend to do.

Playing a tune with a chord underneath and a bass note (pedal) at the bottom may work well, especially for those who understand something about chords.

The important point to remember is that your feet are part of the chord too!

Another tip is to read the music from the bottom upwards. It takes longer for your feet to arrive at their notes than your fingers because the distance is greater – think feet first!

By using the RH and pedal method you can:

  • Look down at your feet more easily
  • Have the left hand free to pull out a few stops
  • Wave to the choir and make gestures – relating to the music of course!
  • Stop the hymn book from falling onto the keyboard!

A temporary but helpful step

I don’t recommend playing RH and pedals as a long term solution for making the organ and hymns easier to play. It is an option to get the pedals involved at an early stage, making you sound better and using it as a stepping stone to using both hands and pedals.

I once heard an experienced organist play hymns at a service who had broken his left wrist. There seemed to be absolutely no difference in the sound than when he played with both hands!

Left footed pedal playing

One option is to play the pedals with the left foot only. Notes that would be played by the right foot are transposed an octave down and played with the left foot.

I’m all in favour of making temporary fixes, to “get the show on the road” so to speak, so if this works for you then great!

For me, I used both feet from the start as I found it more difficult to play with one foot rather than two.

Organ Shoes

Buying a good pair of shoes suitable for organ playing is very useful. Make sure they have a decent heel so that you won’t need to push your heels down too far to play the pedals. Also, if they are made of material (leather is good) whereby you can easily feel the sides of the pedals, that is good also. A wide lip on the sole of the shoes is unhelpful – you need to feel the black pedals with the sides of your feet.

See:  Church Organ Pedal Breakthrough! simple exercises and tips for those struggling with the pedals!