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Pedalboard (also called pedal clavier) is the name of a large keyboard at the base of an electronic or pipe organ console that the organist plays with the feet. Its layout is roughly the same as any organ or piano keyboard, with long pedals for the natural notes of the Western musical scale, and shorter, usually darker, pedals for the sharps and flats. The layout of the pedals can be either radial or parallel. Organists usually use the pedalboard to produce low-pitched notes for bass accompaniment; in pipe organ music, the pedals are what give the organ music its powerful foundation (though it is less often used to play the cantus firmus of chorale preludes, for example). On a digital electronic organ, the pedalboard may produce a variety of different sounds and registrations. By using the feet to play an independent bass line, the organist is able to play three rather than two lines, adding an additional dimension to the music; it also frees the organist's hands for playing more intricate music on the manuals (keyboards).
As an organist plays the pedalboard, they sometimes appear to be dancing, making the music both visually and audibly richer and more powerful. Most pedalboards range in size from 13 notes (an octave, C2-C3) to 32 notes (two and a half octaves, C2-G4). Pedalboards smaller than 32 notes are usually found in small- to medium-size electronic organs, while 32-note boards are the province of pipe organs and higher-end electronic organs. The industry standard today is the AGO pedalboard, a concave, radial, 32-note board that places all of the pedals within easy reach. Other controls are located near the pedalboard; these can include expression pedals, a crescendo pedal, toe pistons for changing registration swiftly, and, on electronic organs, toe switches and effects pedals. This complexity, when added to the organist's job of playing the manuals, require organists to possess what is perhaps the highest degree or coordination to be found in the musical world.
Thirteen and 20-note boards most usually appear on small spinet organs or synthesizers and are designed to be played with the left foot, while the organist rests the right foot on the expression pedal, which control the volume and dynamics. Twenty-five and 32-note boards are the sign of a pipe or console organ; with these (especially the 25-note board), the organist may also confine the right foot to the expression pedal (or, with larger instruments, expression pedals). However, the pedals are designed to be played with both feet. Playing the pedalboard with both feet usually makes the music flow much more smoothly.
Classical repertoire incorporates a standard, well-developed method of two-foot pedaling. With this method, the organist works the pedals with the heels and toes (or, more accurately, the balls of the feet, although this method is still called 'heel-and-toe'). In popular organ music, especially in custom arrangements and music that incorporates improvisation, the style of pedaling is more flexible and more idiosyncratic. With shorter pedalboards designed to be played primarily with the left foot, for instance, the organist often greatly restricts or entirely omits the use of the heel, working the pedals with light touches of the toes; this allows swifty coverage of the pedalboard.
To feel and play the pedals efficiently, many organists, especially classical performers, wear special organ shoes, while some, especially those who play electronic organs and synthesizers, play shoeless (a famous example being jazz organist Rhoda Scott, who is known as the Hammond organ’s “Barefoot Contessa” and “The Barefoot Lady”).
The many masterpieces written for the organ require precise pedalling with both feet, which can be accomplished only by wearing suitable leather-soled shoes, allowing easy movement from one pedal to the next, or one location to another on the pedalboard. Though some organ benches are adjustable in height, tall organists (those about six feet and greater) must usually use wooden blocks to elevate the bench to a height which will allow their legs to freely move. Otherwise, such organists would have to lift their legs excessively.
Category: Keyboard instruments