A Guide to Piano Pedals
It is time to get creative with tone and colour by experimenting with your piano pedals. By the end you will know about sustain, sostenuto, bass damper, una corda and practice pedals.
Acoustic pianos and digital pianos all have one pedal in common, the sustain pedal. If your keyboard or piano only has one pedal, it is the sustain pedal. When this pedal is pressed the dampers are lifted from all the strings. Notes will linger until they naturally decay or until the pedal is released. The effect is a singing resonance because whether you play a note or not, all strings are free to vibrate.
The best way to experience this is to experiment. Black is beautiful is a pentatonic (5 note) piece. You can use the pedal in each lesson as the Skoove app takes you through the learning process.
When and how to use the sustain pedal
The sustain pedal is so named because it sustains the sound. When the pianist wants extra resonance and when the pianist needs to sustain notes their hand span cannot reach, he uses the pedal.
One of my favourite songs on Skoove is Valse d’Amelie. Use the pedal here to create sustain in this reflective piece. You might change the pedal every bar or every 2 bars (when the left-hand chord notes stay the same). Choose what you prefer.
Acoustic Piano Pedals
What do the other pedals on the piano do? Acoustic pianos usually have 3 pedals. The left pedal is the una corda pedal. On grand pianos, this shifts the entire action to the right. The result is a more mellow tone as the strings are struck with a different part of the hammer, or as two strings are struck instead of three. On upright pianos a similar effect is achieved by moving the hammers closer to the strings. There is no visible difference (as on a grand piano) but the touch is different and so is the sound. This pedal works very well with the sustain pedal. It is often reserved for pianissimo (very soft) playing. Experiment with colour and the una corda pedal while playing Greensleeves.
The right pedal is the sustain pedal, leaving only the middle pedal. This can be either the sostenuto pedal (top of the range pianos), bass damper pedal or practice pedal.
The sostenuto pedal sustains only the notes being held down when the pedal is pressed. The other notes respond as normal. The bass damper sustains just the bass notes, the other notes respond as normal. The practice pedal places a felt strip between the strings and the hammers to make practice quieter.
Anton Rubinstein said, “The pedal is the soul of the piano”, let’s have one more beautiful song from Skoove, The River Flows in You by Yiruma.
Enjoy exploring the pedals on your piano and learning how they can enhance your playing!
And if you want to hear the use of piano pedals and have a look of what’s happening inside of the piano live, take a look at this video:
Learn more about the mechanisms of a piano in our Ultimate Guide To Playing The Piano.
Author of this blog post
Roberta Wolff – Pianist, Teacher, Mentor
Visit Roberta’s website