The piano is a musical instrument with a rich history and beautiful sound, and its pedals are an essential part of that sound.
The piano pedals are foot-operated levers at the base of the piano that change the instrument’s sound in various ways. Modern pianos usually have three pedals, from left to right, the soft pedal (or una corda), the sostenuto pedal, and the sustaining pedal (or damper pedal).
Some pianos may omit the sostenuto pedal or have a middle pedal with a different purpose, such as a muting function, also known as a silent piano.
Functions of the Piano Pedals
Each of the three pedals on a piano has a unique function, and they can be used to create a variety of sounds and effects. Let’s take a closer look at what each of the piano pedals do:
The Damper Pedal (Sustaining Pedal)
The damper pedal, also known as the sustaining pedal, is the rightmost pedal on a piano. This pedal controls the dampers inside the piano. Dampers are little felt pads that rest against the metal strings inside the piano.
When you press a piano key, the individual damper for that key is raised, allowing the piano strings to vibrate and make sound.
However, when you lift your finger and release the key, the damper presses against the strings again, and the sound stops.
The damper pedal allows you to keep the sound of the notes you play resonating even after you lift your finger from the key. When you press down the damper pedal with your foot, all the dampers are lifted, and every note you play will continue to sound even after you stop pressing the key. This can create a beautiful, resonant sound, but if too many notes are played at once, the sound can get muddy.
That’s why pianists often hold down the damper pedal for only a few notes at a time and then lift their foot to lower the dampers and “clear” the sound before pressing down the pedal again.
The Soft Pedal (Una Corda Pedal)
The soft pedal, also known as the una corda pedal, is the leftmost pedal on a piano. This pedal makes the sound of the piano a little softer.
In a grand piano, the soft pedal shifts the hammers over slightly so that only one string for each note is struck (una corda means “one string” in Italian).
In an upright piano, the soft pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings so that the hammers can’t strike as hard.
The soft pedal is useful when you want your piano to be a little quieter, such as when you’re accompanying a singer or practicing in the morning before anyone else is awake.
The Center Pedal
The center pedal on a piano can have several different functions, depending on the piano. The most common use of the center pedal is the sostenuto pedal.
The Sostenuto Pedal
The sostenuto pedal, if your piano has one, is located in the center. This pedal works similarly to the damper pedal, but with one important difference. The sostenuto pedal allows you to sustain only specific notes while other notes are unaffected.
To use the sostenuto pedal, you press down the pedal with your foot and then play the notes you want to sustain. Once you release the pedal, the notes you played will continue to sound even if you lift your fingers from the keys.
This can be useful for creating an effect where some notes are sustained while others are not.
The center pedal on some pianos may have a different function such as the practice pedal or the mute pedal, also known as a silent piano.
The practice pedal muffles the sound of the piano, making it possible to play quietly, while the mute pedal turns off the sound of the piano entirely, allowing you to practice without disturbing others.
How to Use Piano Pedals
Using the piano pedals effectively takes time and practice, just like playing the piano itself. Here are some tips on how to use the pedals to get the most out of your piano:
- Start by pressing the damper pedal with your right foot and playing some notes. Try playing a simple melody and observe the change in sound as the notes resonate.
- Experiment with the soft pedal. Try playing a piece and then pressing down the soft pedal while you play. Observe the change in volume and tone.
- If your piano has a sostenuto pedal, try using it to sustain specific notes. Play a chord and then press down the sostenuto pedal and lift your fingers from the keys. Observe which notes are sustained and which are not.
- When using the pedals, be mindful of the sound and make sure it fits the music you’re playing. A well-timed pedal change can greatly enhance the sound of your music.
- Remember that pedals are not just for special effects. Use them to control the sound of your piano in a way that enhances the music you’re playing.
The piano pedals are an important part of digital pianos and acoustic ones, and they can greatly enhance the sound of the music you play.
Understanding the functions of each pedal and how to use them effectively takes time and practice, but it is well worth the effort.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced pianist, make sure to use the pedals to get the most out of your piano.