Organ: Left hand/Pedal confusion
  • In "Sacred Music", Vol. 135, No. 1, page 15, Michael E. Lawrence, in his article "A Primer on Hymn Playing", stated "...often there is confusion between the left hand and pedal."

    I do NOT encounter this problem when playing from two staves; however, I do occasionally encounter this problem when playing from three staves (Trios). I note that my right hand never participates in this confusion.

    Even though I experience this, I am unable to understand what exactly happens. For me it seems to happen only randomly and fleetingly. The best description that I can give is that I have a brain glitch....i.e. my brain "goes pear-shaped" for one or two seconds and my brain sends pedal messages to my left hand and keyboard messages to my feet.

    Could this confusion be caused by a left brain/right brain dominance issue? (My husband's idea!)
    Does anyone have any insight(s)/explanation(s)?
    Is there any training technique to overcome this?

    Thank you in advance for any insight/explanation/technique/remedy/aid/assistance/sympathy/etc.

    Deo gratias!
  • francis
    Posts: 10,697
    I always recommend practicing (slowly!) left and and pedal. I have employed this technique and found it works well for Bach trio sonatas.

    Make sure you finger all difficult passages and practice them at any keyboard at various times during the day. Photocopy the difficult passages. Carry them around with you and go over them in your mind, and even practice the parts on a flat surface if you don't have a keyboard.

    If possible, memorize difficult passages. Then when you are reading the music, your motor memory will keep you on track.

    On hymn playing, the two hands can often exchange alto and tenor parts depending on width of intervals. Practice the hymn without the bass line (three parts between two hands) and then add the bass later.

    I often add a separate bass line in the pedal that compliments the SATB arrangement maintained in the hands alone, but this requires some quick thinking and a very good understanding of music theory.

    Do let us know how these things help out.
  • Actually, I find that the hardest thing to do is to get your left hand playing the alto and tenor together with the right hand playing only the melody (such as using a solo stop for the melody line).

    I think that it lays mostly in the preparation and the familiarity with the music. I don't always have pedal throughout the whole hymn.

    I'm also something of an organ novice. I find that it is much easier to get into pedal parts if you memorise or at least are very familiar with the parts for the manuals and you've decided which hands to play the top three voices.
  • Protasius
    Posts: 468
    What does he mean by confusion between the left hand and pedal?
  • Francis,

    When playing trios, I always practice slowly, but I have not spent time practicing just the left hand and pedal. I will try this on the next trio I work up.

    I am a real BELIEVER in the photocopy to be looked at/studied/read and listened to mentally/practiced mentally/colored with colored pencils/etc.

    What do you mean by "memorize the difficult passages"? I understand the concept of "motor memory"; however, my motor memory is totally dependent upon my having the notes on the page before my eyes. The moment the page of notes is gone, so is my motor memory. I would almost say that once I have learned a piece, that my eyes and my motor memory do the playing.

    As long as I am playing from two staves (such as a hymn), I have no problem exchanging alto and tenor parts "depending on width of intervals", nor do I have any confusion between the pedal (bass line) and the left hand (tenor line or tenor+alto lines). My problem is with THREE STAVES and only rarely, fleetingly, and unpredictably.


    With respect to hymn playing: If I am going to play just the melody line on one manual, the alto and tenor on another manual, and the bass line on the pedal, I will take the time and use Sibelius and put the music on two staves (melody on top stave and alto, tenor, and bass on the bottom stave). This is what works for me.
    I agree wholeheartedly that it is necessary to decide at the beginning of learning a new hymn which hands will play the top three voices and I would add that is is also necessary to determine and label the fingering that works best and always practice consistently.

    For me, the "confusion between pedal and left hand" only happens on trios written on three staves, and then only rarely, fleetingly, and unpredictably. It can happen even with pieces that I have played many, many times and over a number of years.


    When this "confusion" happens, it is as if the two bass clefs of a trio (left hand and pedal) are upside that I mean that my left hand wants to play the pedal note and my foot (always my left foot, by the way) wants to play the left hand's note. I have a physical sensation of my upper body twisting to the left (counter-clock-wise when viewed from above) and my lower body twisting to the right (clock-wise when viewed from above). [My husband assures me that I, in fact, display no such physical motion.] This "confusion" is short of duration - possibly the length of time for one or two beats of the piece being played, then everything rights itself and I can again play the correct stave with the correct appendage.


    Your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

  • Protasius
    Posts: 468
    I would never work out a fingering for a hymn; there are about 800 of them in our hymn book and I don't know which to play until 15 minutes before Mass.

    I have a slight suspect that perhaps your feet are not able to play really independent of the hands; I'm inclined to think it would explain your problems. In this case pedal exercises would remedy the problem.

    However the advice to practice voices independently and in various combinations (L&P, R&P, L&R) might also work and is frequently recommended by organ schools.
  • TCJ
    Posts: 973
    I have a problem with my feet wanting to follow the left hand. Whatever that hand is doing, the feet will copy if I don't pay close attention. Whatever disadvantages there are to that, I at least made use of it to get more familiar with playing hymns with pedal. Unfortunately, that doesn't work with trios, so I recommend what Francis did - practice left hand and pedal slowly.