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Pedalboard is the name of a large keyboard at the base of an electronic or pipe organ console that the organist plays with her 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 five sharps and flats. Organists usually use pedalboards to produce lower-octave notes for bass accompaniment; in pipe organ music, the pedals are usually what give the organ music its powerful foundation. By using her feet to play an independent bass line, the organist is able to play three rather than two lines, adding an additional dimension to her music; it also frees her hands for playing more intricate melody and harmony on the manuals, or hand keyboards. An organist who is skilled in the use of the pedals can thus enrich and enhance her music to a degree unattainable with any other musical instrument.
Most pedalboards range in size from thirteen (one octave) to thirty-two (two and a half octaves) notes, with the most popular numbers increasing in half-octave steps (thirteen, twenty, twenty-five, and thirty-two). Boards smaller then thirty-two notes are usually found in small- to medium-size electronic organs, while thirty-two note boards are the province of pipe organs or higher-end electronic organs. The industry standard today is the AGO pedalboard, a concave, radiating thirty-two 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 on the fly, and in 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 twenty 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 her right foot on the expression pedal, which she uses to control the music’s volume and dynamics. Twenty-five and thirty-two note boards are the sign of a pipe or console organ; with these (especially the twenty-five note board) the organist may also confine her right foot to the expression pedal (or, with larger instruments, expression pedals), but they are designed to be played with both feet for optimum efficiency. Playing the pedalboard with both feet 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 her heels and toes (or, more accurately, the balls of her 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 very different, being both 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 her heel, working the pedals with light touches of her toes; this allows her to range up and down the pedalboard quickly.
In order to be able to feel the pedals and play them efficiently, many organists, especially classical performers, wear special organ shoes, while many others, 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”).
It is possible to play an organ without using the pedalboard, and many pianists can play simple organ music with little additional training; this is becoming common in church circles with a decline in the number of formally-trained organists and the need for pianists to fill in. (Some organs now sport a coupler which transfers the lowest depressed key of the Great to the Pedal for such players.) But the pedals are responsible for much of the organ’s characteristic sound, and pianists who learn to include the pedalboard in their playing can make their performance, and their music, a richer, more exciting experience for the organist as well as the audience.
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