Simple straightforward question: What is the minimum pedal keyboard range needed to play ALL of J.S. Bach's pipe organ music?

Optional ways to embellish the answer:

  1. Did Bach ever write a piece for which the organs he had at his disposal at the time (let's say during his time at Weimar, 1708-1717) did NOT have sufficient range? One example:

  2. Which organ pieces require a pedal keyboard beyond 2 octaves, assuming the lowest note is C? An interesting etude for pedal by Bach is Pedal Exercitium (BWV 598, in G minor, critical edition score here) which calls for exactly 2 octaves (C-c1) but purposefully left unfinished in the dominant. So organists provide their own extension to make the piece ends satisfactorily in G minor, who usually add more notes beyond the highest c1:

    • Käthe Wright Kaufman's extension takes it to d1. See her performance in this video (minute 3:45-5:42, after introducing pianists to organ pedal technique, organ shoes, and how this piece was possibly inspired by Bach's own Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude).
    • Matthias Havinga's extension takes it to f1. See the discussion of his extension (score of his extension at 0:55, and how he composed it so it naturally leads as a prelude to Bach's Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542) and his performance for the Netherlands Bach Society "All of Bach" project.
  • Short of a definitive resource, but this thread indicates the longest extant pipe in Bach's day was 32', producing a tone between 15 and 18Hz.
    – Aaron
    Jan 22 at 20:39
  • @Aaron The thread references this build of the Schnitger organ (1693). The pedal compass is C-d1 (C=C2 in modern name, see location of "Middle C" here). A 16' stop is sufficient to produce 32Hz for the lowest "C" note, so the 32' stop is added for "oomph" (an octave lower, to produce the bass harmonics that you feel more than you hear). Jan 22 at 21:57
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    As a curiosity, BWV 572 requires the B below the C, but no one is quite sure what to make of that, since it was definitely not present on any organ that Bach was responsible for. Jan 23 at 9:43
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    @Aaron despite the fact that Bach is known to have played organs that were fitted with 32-foot stops, the presence or absence of a 32-foot stop would not be relevant in deciding whether a Bach organ work could be played on a given instrument. Bach did not indicate registrations in his organ works. The question is about the compass of the pedalboard and the manuals, not about disposition.
    – phoog
    Jan 23 at 10:31
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    @KilianFoth apparently there is speculation that BWV 572 may have been intended for harpsichord, but at least one blogger finds it too much to play with two hands alone. It's also worth noting that there's no copy of the piece in Bach's hand.
    – phoog
    Jan 23 at 10:56

1 Answer 1


To play ALL of Bach's music, you'll need a 30-pedal pedalboard (bottom C to F above mid-C). The top F is, as far as I'm aware, the highest pedal note needed for Bach's music (BWV 540 uses the whole range from low C to top F in one glorious pedal solo).

Although, as has been mentioned in the comment, if you want to play all of Bach exactly as (it is thought) he wrote it, you'll want to extend your pedalboard down by one note (B below bottom C) to play the Fantasia in G major, BWV 572, where he inexplicably goes below the range of any organ available back in his day. This has now been solved by Cameron Carpenter in the digital organ he had custom-built for his concert tours (although good luck getting your hands on that!). Other recorded methods of dealing with this are a) play the whole movement a semitone up, or b) just play it up the octave.


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