People have been wondering about pedals for pianos, as some are first time piano owners
by Georgia Zoe Schohl
Q. I just bought my first piano after having a keyboard for a few years. I am not that advanced as a student so I haven’t used the pedals that much. I do not have a teacher right now and am learning on my own. I don’t understand the use for the pedals. Some pianos I noticed have two pedals and others have three pedals. Mine has three pedals.
Why should I use them? How do I know when to use them anyway?
A. First of all, congratulations on buying your first piano. Hope it lasts many years. As you progress as a pianist, you will be using the pedals. Hopefully, you will be able to get a good instructor that can help you use them properly.
Yes, some pianos have two and others have three pedals. The first pedal on the left is often called the ‘soft’ pedal or the una corda pedal, because when the foot depresses the pedal the sound becomes softer. The hammers of the piano shift closer to the strings thereby ‘muffling’ the sound making the sound softer. How do you know when to use this pedal? When you have very soft passages in the music like –pp or ppp this is the time to use it. Also, it some music you will see the words ‘una corda,’ and then you will know that the composer suggests that you should use this pedal. It can be very difficult at times to play very soft without the use of this pedal. Usually the left foot uses this pedal—with heel down on the floor.
The middle pedal often has a different function depending on the manufacturer or make of each type of piano. Many pianos do not have the middle pedal as it is not often used by students.
Depending if you own a grand piano or an upright piano, the middle pedal has a different function. Ask the salesperson (where you bought the piano) what is the function of the middle pedal of the particular make of piano you are purchasing.
The middle pedal is often called the ‘sostenuto’ pedal. The sostenuto pedal on a grand piano forces the dampers to be raised for the keys that are pressed while the pedal is depressed, while it permits the sound of these strings to resonate after the keys are let go. But some upright pianos call this pedal a ‘quiet or apartment pedal’ for students to practice at home so as not to disturb others during practice time. The piano sound is very subdued, muted and quiet sounding with this pedal.
When this pedal is depressed, a piece of felt goes over the strings and hammers. Often, this pedal can be locked into place during practice time so the student does not have to keep holding the foot over this pedal. This pedal is not essential for a piano, so that is why some piano manufacturers do not add it to every piano model.
Last of all, there is the right most pedal which is called the third pedal, and is pressed by the right foot. This pedal is known as the damper or sustained pedal as it can produce a louder sound, if desired by the musician. As the right foot depressed the damper pedal, it releases the dampers from all of the strings and every strings resonates openly, resulting in a resounding, loud sound.
Why use a damper pedal? Because it aids the student in playing a smooth, legato sound as well as enriches the sound of the piano. True, some students tend to over use it so that it gives a ‘blurry’ sound that they like. When overdone, the damper does not sound good. There’s an old saying: ‘The damper pedal hides a multitude of sins.’ This means that some students what to overuse it so as to hide wrong notes from being heard—which it does not do, by the way.
The damper pedal notations or pedal marks are often written in the piano music so the pianist knows when to depress the pedal. You can learn what the markings are in most piano instruction books which often give exercises and short pieces on how to use it. When used properly the damper pedal is a great tool to add drama and beauty to a piano piece.
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