Bass pedals

Bass pedals

Bass pedals are an electronic musical instrument with foot-operated pedal keyboard with a range of one or more octaves. The earliest bass pedals from the 1970s consisting of a pedalboard and analog synthesizer tone generation circuitry packaged together as a unit. Since the 1990s, bass pedals are usually MIDI controllers, which have to be connected to a MIDI-compatible computer, electronic keyboard or synthesizer.

Bass pedals serve the same function as the pedalboard on a church pipe organ or a jazz organ, and usually produce sounds in the bass range. Bass pedals used by keyboard players as an adjunct to their full-range manual keyboards, by performers other instruments (e.g., electric bass or electric guitar), or by themselves.



Pedalboards have been a standard feature on pipe organs for centuries, and since the 1930s, electromechanical organs such as the Hammond organ often included pedalboards. As electronic organs became more compact and portable in the 1970s, some manufacturers began building pedals that could function separately from the organ console. These afforded the player great portability, and flexibility in combining them with other instruments and electronic equipment.

1970s and 1980s

An early and very popular bass pedal device was the Moog Taurus. Moog called this instrument a "Pedal Synthesizer" in their literature, and explicitly pointed out that its five-octave range made it "more than a bass instrument". [] . Despite these efforts, most players used them for bass lines, and the nickname bass pedals stuck. Although the Taurus pedals are no longer being made, they are prized as vintage instruments.

Several progressive rock groups (such as Yes, Genesis, and Rush) and the alternative rock groups U2 and The Police used bass pedals. Often, the group's bass guitarist would play in a standing position, meaning that they could only use one foot at a time to play, rather than play sitting down with both feet, as organists traditionally had. Bass guitarists who used the Taurus bass pedals could use the Taurus to hold down sustained, low-pitched pedal points while they performed high-register melodic lines or percussive parts on the bass guitar.

1990s and 2000s

Jazz, rock, and popular music

Since the 1990s, most electronic pedalboards have been MIDI controllers, which do not perform any tone generation themselves. These pedalboards have to be connected to a MIDI-compatible computer, electronic keyboard or rack-mounted synthesizer to produce musical tones. Despite the fact that these pedalboards can control any kind of MIDI device, and can therefore produce a virtually unlimited range of musical pitches (and other sounds), ranging from a high-pitched melody to percussion sounds, they are still often referred to as "bass pedals".

Current manufacturers of these products, such as Hammond, Roland, Studiologic (formerly known as Fatar), R. W. Designs, mostly sell keyboards with 13-note keyboards (C to C, one octave), 17-note (C to F, an octave and a fourth) keyboards, or 25-note keyboards (C to C, two octaves). Pedalboards with less than a 32-note range are often used by jazz, rock, or popular music performers.

Baroque and church music

However, to perform the Baroque church music repertoire (e.g., J.S. Bach), a 32-note keyboard (C to G, two octaves and a fifth) is needed. A smaller number of manufacturers, such as Classic Organworks, sell a MIDI controller in full-sized 32-note AGO layout that can be used to perform church and Baroque repertoire.

In the art music and church music context, MIDI pedalboards and digitally-sampled or synthesized pipe organ instruments are used either as practice instruments or as performance instruments. Some universities and churches use MIDI pedalboards and digital organs as practice instruments, to allow a larger number of students to have practice time. Some churches use MIDI pedalboards to trigger digitally-sampled sounds for the low register of the pipe organ. This has led to some controversy, because this mixes digitally-sampled, electronically-amplified sounds with the wind-driven pipe sound of the rest of the pipe organ; some purists argue that this is inappropriate, or that the sound or tonal quality of the digital bass voices are unsuitable.

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