Why I’m still going to wear my organ shoes

Today’s post is about organ shoes. If you are not aware that [most] organists where special shoes referred to has organ shoes, check out this post for more information on them.

I currently have two videos posted to YouTube. The one for “O Love, How Deep” received this comment:

It’s been 2 months, but I still think about that comment. Was I duped by my teacher into wearing organ shoes? Would I play better with out them?

Should I be taking advice from Carol98? no photo, no videos, no info, just a random comment. So probably not!!!!!!!

Carol98 doesn’t have any YouTube videos demonstrating the “MUCH easier” promise. To be fair, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Maybe it is easier for some to play without shoes. I tried it for a few minutes and did not enjoy it. It would take too much relearning for me to play without shoes. Plus, Michael (my teacher) told me from the start that playing without organ shoes is bad technique.

The comment broken down:

“Regardless what your teacher tells you” – This implies that my teacher doesn’t know what he is talking about. It is very unlikely that Carol98 knows my organ teacher.

My cat Buster with my OrganMaster organ shoes
My cat Buster with my OrganMaster organ shoes

“its MUCH easier playing the pedals without the shoes” If this is true why do so many organists wear shoes? Have we all been brain washed into wearing shoes because our teachers told us to? Then that same knowledge got passed on to the next generation of students? Maybe it really is easier for some. If playing without shoes was easier then it sure seems like professional organists that play worldwide would not be wearing shoes.

When I want to the 2013 Region V AGO convention I met an organist that did not wear organ shoes. This seemed to be due to the large size of his feet. Ironically, he won a pair of OrganMaster shoes at the convention! I wonder if he’s made the switch.

“you will be able to feel the pedals and not press the wrong one” – I can feel the pedals through the thin soles of my organ shoes. My wrong note issues are not because of the shoes.

“Try it for a week and you will never go back” – I like wearing the shoes. changing my routine would likely not help at this point in my learning. I don’t see any benefit in trying to play without shoes for a week. It seems like that approach would be a set back.

I feel better now that I’ve gotten this off my chest. I can stop thinking about it now. I will continue to wear my organ shoes because I want to and feel that is the best choice for my learning.

What do you think about the comment?  If you are an organist, shoes or no shoes? 

You may also like:

April 2014 Organ Lesson and my first YouTube video

Can anyone become an outlier in their profession or hobby?
October 2014 Organ Lesson: Correcting wrong practice
Website | + posts

Heidi Bender writes about her experiences of learning to play the organ. She started on the adventure in 2009.

She also writes on her website Tons of Thanks, which helps people write thank-you notes. Heidi is also a cat lady who writes at The Joy of Cats.

34 thoughts on “Why I’m still going to wear my organ shoes”

  1. Very delayed comment, but sadly I believe that Carol98 is just a person with a foot fetish. I’ve seen them comment on almost every video where the organists feet are shown, mostly women, ridiculing them for wearing organ shoes, and praising them for playing barefoot. To anybody who has been given “advice” by Carol98, please just report and delete the comment. It’s very sad to see somebody trying to manipulate wonderful organists in order to fuel their own sick mind.

    • I am glad you commented! I still get an email every now and then from Carol98 from other organists that have been discouraged by Carol98 comments on their videos. I hadn’t thought to report and delete the comment. That is a good tip and may help someone else in the future!

  2. As an organist for over four decades now, I always play with shoes (e.g. organmaster) because (in part) of the foot odor problem. Think about those European organs that have been in service for centuries, and the potential ‘pew!’ problem. I don’t know of any professional world-class organists that play in bare or stocking feet. (If any, they are a serious minority.) Maybe the real pros know something…

  3. Hi,

    I enjoyed reading your entry above and wanted to offer another data point. My young teen daughter performed a recital piece this Christmas which I uploaded to youtube so her grandparents who live out of state could hear it. I thought it was a fun video because I took it from the pedalboard perspective so grandparents and friends could see how much of her playing is being done by her feet. Carol 98 (her name had no space, it’s the same person you mention in your entry but I don’t want to give him or her any clicks to feed his or her trolling behavior) who I have never met commented on my way “Take this down, nobody wants to hear this garbage.” Thankfully, I saw her reply before my young ten daughter who would have been deeply hurt. I sense her unsolicited advice was hurtful to you as well. So organ shoes or no shoes (my teen is an organ shoe purist) is up to you but I think the greater issue was her tone and the fact that I think she also trolled and spammed you. Play on, Heidi!

    My daughter’s piece is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzGkH55BckQ

    She cringes at her mistakes but truly, she’s a beautiful musician deserving of encouragement and support not spam.

    • Your daughter’s video is very nice! Thank you for sharing it with me. I am sorry to hear that Carol 98 is still trolling organ videos! what a shame. you are right, young people need encouragement!

    • I realize this was about two years ago. I am not an organist or even a musician, but I do love music and like the organ. I started surfing organ stuff after a friend of mine recently showed me a Technics FA-1 (with a 25 note radial pedalboard) he has in his music studio. I watched the pedalboard video and the overall video of “Joy To The World”.

      In the organ world, it may or may not be pretty basic stuff to run heel and toe up and down a pedalboard, but for me who has had but a glancing acquaintance with the keyboard and whose very limited experience with the organ involved crashing down on one of the 13 pedals of grandma’s doily covered Lowrey and hoping I could hold it for a bar or four before having to fumble around and find another one, her performance was extremely spectacular. I found nothing remotely cringeworthy in those videos. Mistakes aren’t fun, but they are essential to learning and no one makes more mistakes than I. Very well done!

  4. Hi Heidi,
    I had occasion to go without shoes for a week, when I had a shoe in the shop to replace a broken heel. I really missed them. I need the 1″ heel and play much cleaner with them than without. Now I have a pair for school and a pair for church so I never need to remember to bring them. And when I perform at a recital I feel classy in my performance attire and black organ shoes. Taking a bow in my stocking feet just wouldn’t seem as professional to me!

  5. Just came across this blog. I’ve been playing organ for 47 years, ever since I was tall enough to reach the pedals. However, I’m still only 5’2″, so I wear shoes out of sheer necessity. There are many organ benches where I can barely reach the pedals, so if I don’t wear shoes, I can’t use my heels. That being said, I’ve been able to purchase shoes that work for me at “regular” shoe stores such as Payless and K-Mart. I play almost exclusively for church, so can make the shoes last a long time. (I just replaced a pair that had lasted me almost 20 years!)

    • Hi Sue,

      Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

      I am only 5’3″ and have used blocks to raise the pedals at home. It was either that or making the organ bench shorter.

      I’ve been wearing the same pair of OrganMasters for other 5 years. Maybe they will last 20 years!

  6. I agree that it’s an individual choice. I learned on my first “organ — a Hamond, at church, without shoes. Full pedals. When I began lessons on pipe, my teacher preferred shoes. So I stumbled quite a bit, re-learning. I never did quite get the hang. I still prefer socks.

    My primary instrument is French Horn. I started that in grade school. When I got to college and began lessons with a new teacher – Chicago Symphony — his technique was so different. But, merging his with my own brought me to a pretty darn good horn player.

    Based on my experience, with the French Horn, organs, other keyboard (piano – grand, upright, etc, electronic, harpsichord and other instruments, I’ve found that I take instruction with different techniques and then grow into the artistry of playing that best suits both my personality and my body.

    As they say, “the proof is in the pudding.”

  7. I learned as a kid with the Yamaha music schools, and they teach us to use only the toe. Now I realize why: most Electones have short pedals, and those can only be played that way.

    When I played a full pedal I fell in love with the ability of using the heel, and opted to use shoes with big heels. But since I didn’t know organ shoes existed, I used dance shoes instead, because they have thin soles made to allow some slippage.

    What I really like about having the shoes is that the heel makes it easier to play a one-note shuffle bass by alternating between heel and toe in a quick aft-to-forward rocking movement (dum, du-dum, du-dum, du-dum…) I learned it to play Keith Emerson’s “Fanfare For The Common Man”, and felt like an idiot when I learned he just uses his left hand to do that!

  8. I got by for many years with ordinary street shoes, albeit ones with thin soles and very little welt (the lip around the edge of the shoe). However I was aware my pedal technique was always in need of improvement.

    Got some organmasters about 12 months ago and was surprised how much everything improved. Stick by it and trust your teacher.

    Incidentally, there is a great new pedal tutor that has been published by Cramer (in the UK) called Pedalling for Organists by Anne Marsden Thomas full of excellent pedal exercises, pictures and technique guide, aimed at the beginner right through to the more advanced player.

    • thanks for sharing your story! I’ve loved hearing about other’s experiences and preferences with organ shoes. I understand that some prefer not to wear shoes, but I am planning to stick with my OrganMasters!

  9. I took organ lessons for about a year before getting organ shoes, mainly because I didn’t “need” them before then, and have always used them in the ten years since then. There were a couple exceptions though, one being the time I somehow managed to not have them with me when I got to my lesson and had to play without them. If necessary I could probably play without shoes, but I will admit it is harder–not just being able to play with your heels, but also the general movement of playing.

    That being said, shoes or no shoes seems more a matter of personal preference/opinion as well as dependent on the kind of organ playing someone is doing. I do know a couple organists who never wear shoes, probably because they don’t really need them. Many organists simply playing for church services would probably only be playing hymns and repertoire with very simple pedal parts or none at all, in which case organ shoes could easily be unnecessary. However, pedal solos and difficult/complex pedal parts found in more difficult repertoire would often be made more difficult playing without shoes. In either case, it would be better to go with the option that is more comfortable and provides greater ease, accuracy, and expression in playing for the individual. (A debate like this could be seen as similar to debating about whether a baton is required while conducting: either approach could be supported by way of personal preference and/or the needs of the ensemble/music/performance situation.)

    • Hi Rachel,

      Based on the comments here and in the Facebook Organists Association group, shoes or no shoes does seem to be a personal preference. I would have a hard time without the 1″ heel if I went shoeless.

      Thanks for reading!

  10. Well I have zero organ experience. The comments have been interesting.
    You are just following the rules you were taught. Wonder what Michael thinks of the comments.
    He has played the organ along time. There is more than one way to do things for example rake the leaves or use leaf blower or rinse or don’t rinse dishes before putting into the dishwasher. If organ shoes feel right for you then keep up the good work.

  11. I sense a little fear when you shirk off the suggestion about trying without for a week. That is forgiveable. Your tutor’s remark equating no shoes with bad technique is not.

    I played with shoes from the very beginning, when I was fourteen years old. By the time I went to the former Polytechnic of Huddersfield (when I was twenty three) I had a special pair just for the purpose. That pair is the last I ever had. Indeed somewhere I still have them…. I just don’t use them anymore.

    About thirteen years, or so, ago I began to stop wearing shoes. Given that I thought a bit like you, fearing the consequences were I to “try” not wearing them, I can’t really remember why or how this process – for it was a process – occurred. Perhaps it all started innocently when I forgot them on one occasion.

    Nevertheless, there was a period when I did both, playing with and playing without shoes, and after about two years I ended up without. I personally would never go back. By being without shoes, I don’t mean bare feet; I still have my socks.

    As to whether this is “bad technique”, I have to put a big red question mark to. I am not a world renowned organist, but I am comfortable with pieces like Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor BWV 548 and Mendelssohn sonatas. If one is talking about technique, there are different pedal techniques too. Before I went to Huddersfield, I only ever used a “toe/heel” method of playing; there I learn a technique that nearly only uses the toes, and I prefer this now.

    So at the end of the day, it is your decision just as mine was. No one should try to make you do anything contrary to your gut feeling. That being said, neither should you be afraid of something either, if that is what your gut feeling is telling you to do. As said, I too started off wearing shoes. I too should once have sworn by them.

    Yet I changed.

    • Very interesting. I wonder now if I had started with a teacher that felt playing in socks was okay, if I would also be playing in socks now and resisting shoes! I suppose “bad technique” is also an opinion, but it definitely shaped my thinking on organ shoes.

  12. Great article, Heidi! I (almost) always play with Organmasters. When I went to the ’14 Boston convention, I was one who got to try the Mother Church organ; I didn’t want to pack my shoes for just 5 minutes of playing, so I played in socks. I made it through the piece, but had some problems with heel playing. It’s hard for my achilles’ tendons to play with my heels without that 1″ heel in the shoe. Toe playing wasn’t affected too much, but I still prefer organ shoes. I’d rather play in my (street) loafers than in socks or nylons (or barefoot).

    • Thanks Heidi! That’s very exciting that you got to play the Mother Church organ at the convention. I didn’t realize how much the 1″ heel was used/part of playing until I tried to go without.

  13. Hello, I totally agree, I started with no shoes and when i got them it took me 1-2 weeks to get used to them. I am glad I didn’t start with shoes, because now I can play with or without shoes. Don’t argue with uneducated people.

    — Aidan Spelbring

  14. I learned with shoes, but rarely wear them these days. All I’m doing is hymns and the occasional postlude. Not much dexterity is required, and playing without shoes means I never need to remember to bring them. If I was to go back to difficult repertoire, I don’t think I’d have the stiff dexterity barefoot to do 16th note runs on the pedal without shoes, so I have no doubt I’d go back. The shoe adds stiffness with little mass to reduce excess motion, resulting in an ability to play faster with cleaner attack. Shoes are important for the “serious” organist. For the Sunday morning hymn leader, meh….


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