Piano Pedals (What They Do, How to Use Them)

If you’ve ever seen the piano, you know there are always pedals to it. But what do those pedals actually do? In this article, we’re going to teach you everything there is to know about pedals on a piano.

Standard pianos most commonly have three pedals. From left to right, these are usually a soft pedal, a sostenuto pedal, and a sustain pedal. However, these can vary slightly, particularly the middle pedal, which is sometimes a ‘mute’ pedal instead.

To understand how pedals work, you must first know how the piano works as well. The piano in the back of the keyboard has a set of large strings, which are hit by a hammer each time you play a key on the keyboard.

The corresponding hammer hits the right wire, playing the note. On the wires there are dampers, which are used to stop the wires from resonating to eternity, making the sound of the piano sharp and precise. Click here for to learn more about this.

If you’d prefer to learn about this through a video, check out this great one below!

Sustain pedal (Damper Pedal) – Located on the Right

Sustain pedal is the most used one on the piano. It’s always located on the right side of the pedals. It’s often called damper pedal or sustaining pedal and its job is to actually raise all of the dampers from the wires in the back of the piano. This allows for the much more echoey and richer sound. 

Una corda pedal (Soft Pedal) – Located on the Left

The left pedal is called the una corda pedal, meaning one wire (also known as the soft pedal). As you might have guessed, the point of this pedal is to move slightly all hammers and keys to the right, making them hit only one wire. 

This gives you the effect of much softer and precise sound, compared to the standard sound of the piano. When used properly, it will give you a real ethereal sound. 

Middle pedal (Usually a Sostenuto Pedal)

There are several different types of middle pedal, but the most common one is the sostenuto pedal.

This is the type of pedal that’s similar to the sustain pedal, but the biggest difference is that it keeps the dampers up just for the selected notes you played before you pressed this pedal.

What is the most important pedal on a piano?

The most important and most used pedal on a piano is the sustain pedal. Because it gives you a louder and richer sound, this is the must-have for any pianist. It’s also the most used pedal when composing the music. It gives you the ability to have seamless transitions between notes which otherwise wouldn’t be possible. 

Even if you have a modern, digital piano, you’ll notice that almost all of the keyboards and pianos have at least an option for a digital sustain pedal to be put into use when playing them.

When should you use piano pedals?

Piano pedals are not meant to be used constantly. Because of their effects, they actually muddy the sound of music and are meant to be used as an effect, not as a standard way of how the piano should sound. 

In some sheet music, you’ll find the notation on when and how you should use the pedals. But there’s nothing wrong with using pedals when you feel that it will give you the better sounding end product.

All that matters is that you don’t overuse them and everything else is more a question of taste than technique. 

How do the pedals on a piano work?

Even though the pedals on the piano all work in a slightly different way, they all have the same principles.

All pedals on the piano are focused on affecting the wires and or hammers that hit them, whether through moving them (soft pedal) or raising the dampers (sustain and sostenuto pedals).

Also, as they are mechanical, they will have an effect only as long as they are pressed.

What is half-pedaling on a piano?

Half-pedaling is the way of the use of the sustain pedal. This is where you press the sustain pedal only halfway through so that it just barely lifts the dampers of the wires. 

Even though this is a hard thing to master, once you break through it, you’ll get the whole new world of magical sound you can get from your piano by using this technique. 

Piano Pedal Notation

There is no standard piano pedal notation in use today, as there are no standard piano pedals as well. Throughout history, some composers didn’t at all notate the use of the pedals, leaving it all to the player to figure out, while many of them did. 

They usually used a grand staff sign to let you know when to press the sustain pedal and an asterisk on when to depress it (i.e. Fur Elisse). 

Piano Pedal Extender

Because you need your feet to be flat on the ground to press the pedals correctly when kids start learning how to play they can have problems with reaching the pedals. So, pedal extenders are used to help them learn.

These are just strap-on long levers that elongate the pedal from the piano.

2 vs 3 Pedal Pianos

When pianos don’t have the third pedal, it’s always the middle pedal missing.

There are different theories on why is that, but the most common and sensible explanation is that most of the average users won’t ever use the middle pedal as it’s meant to be used only by professionals who practice with it for years to get it right.

So, you won’t miss a lot by not having the middle pedal on your piano.

How long does it take to learn the piano?

If you’re a total beginner, who never played an instrument before, you’re going to need at least 6 months to get to some decent playing level.

Of course, all of this is highly personal, because if you’re talented or have better ears, you’ll get it on much quicker then someone who doesn’t have those skills.

The point is, everybody can learn it, it’s just a matter of time and work you’re ready to put in practice.

Some useful resources are:

10 Great Apps for Learning Piano and Keyboard (Android and iOS)

The 10 Best Piano/Keyboard Books for Beginners

10 Easy Piano Songs for Beginners (With Video Tutorials)

Fixing Piano Pedals

Most of the pedals can be fixed when something brakes, as they are mechanical.

In the rare case that the breakage is such that it can’t be fixed, you can always change the whole mechanism, but it will of course cost much more than just the fixing of it.

Summary

We hope that this article has helped you learn all you need to know about piano pedals. Even though they are not that often talked about, they are an important piece of the piano, that gives it that edge through which you can achieve so much more when you use it the right way.

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