Incorporating the piano pedals appropriately is an essential way to improve the dynamic and expression of your piano playing. To achieve the desired effect, piano players should understand how to use piano pedals correctly. Modern grand pianos are equipped with three pedals. What are the functions of each pedal and how should it be used?
The Three Piano Pedals
The pedal on the right side is called sustain pedal or damper pedal. Sustain pedal was invented around the mid-1700s. When it is pressed, the dampers will be lifted off the strings which allow the strings to continue vibrating. Consequently, the sound of the notes played while the sustain pedal is depressed will be prolonged and resonated to create a legato effect. Sustain pedal is the most commonly used pedal among the three pedals. It should be pressed with the right foot.
The left pedal is called soft pedal or una corda which is pressed with left foot. Soft pedal was invented in 1722 by Bartolomeo Cristofori and it was the first pedal invented to alter the piano’s sound. Una corda is an Italian abbreviation which means one string. In modern piano, most treble keys are attached to three strings while some bass keys are attached to one string. When the soft pedal is pressed, the strings will be shifted until the hammers only strike at one string which will create a softer and lighter tone. In most of the upright pianos, soft pedal is replaced with piano pedal which produce a similar effect by moving the hammers closer to the strings and prevent them from striking with full force. In sheet music, soft pedal marking is indicated by una corda and the pedal should be released when tre corda is indicated.
The pedal in the middle is known as sostenuto pedal. It is usually pressed with left foot. Sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844. It is not considered a standard pedal but is primarily found in American grand pianos. The sostenuto pedal is able to sustain the notes which are played just before the pedal is depressed. Other notes played after that will not be affected. For example, certain notes can be sustained and heard together with other notes playing as staccato. Sostenuto pedal is rarely used and it usually appear in the music from the 20-th century. In sheet music, the sostenuto pedal marking is indicated by the abbreviation sost. ped.
However, in most upright pianos, the middle pedal is a practice pedal instead of sostenuto pedal. When the practice pedal is pressed, a strip of felt will be lowered between the hammers and strings which will soften and mute the sounds as well as the quality of tone.
Watch the video below for an overview of how to use the three pedals of a grand piano:
How to Use the Sustain Pedal
Sustain pedal is the pedal most frequently used in piano music. Before using the sustain pedal, it is important to adjust the distance and height of the piano seat until you can place your right foot on the pedal and press it down completely without difficulty. While pressing the pedal, always keep the heel of your foot on the ground. The pedal should be pressed and released gently with the ball of your foot.
The sustain pedal markings on sheet music:
The meaning of the Italian abbreviation con ped. is “with pedal”. When this abbreviation is encountered, the music should be played with the sustain pedal.
When the abbreviation appears as the image above, sustain pedal should be pressed down at the point of the word ped. and released at the point of the asterisk.
Similarly, the sustain pedal is pressed down at the abbreviation ped. and released at the symbol __| .
In the example from the image above, the sustain pedal is depressed at the symbol of | and pressed down throughout the horizontal line. At the point of ^, the sustain pedal should be released and pressed down again quickly.
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Sustain pedal for keyboard player:
For piano players who are practicing with a keyboard, an external sustain pedal can be purchased and connected into the keyboard.
Piano pedal extender for young beginners:
For young beginners who can not reach the piano pedal, this is a great tool to extend the pedal to the desired height.
Are you using the piano pedals correctly during your piano playing? Do you agree that using the pedals differently will give a different effect to the music? Leave a comment below to tell us what you think!