What Do The Pedals On A Piano Do? – A Beginner’s Guide
Pianos are unique instruments that have been around for centuries. Though their design has changed little over time, the way they are played has evolved significantly.
One of the most important aspects of playing the piano is understanding the pedals and how they function. In this article, we’ll check out the three pedals on a piano and their respective functions.
Let’s dive right in!
Pianos are one of the most versatile instruments in the world. Not only do they have 88 keys, but they can be played with a wide dynamic range.
Additionally, pianos feature two to three pedals, allowing pianists to add even more dynamic expressions to their performances. Proper use of these pedals is an art that pianists learn to master over time.
Still, you will be able to take your piano playing skills to the next level once you get a good grasp on using these.
Here’s a look at each pedal, starting from the left!
The Left Pedal (Soft Pedal/Una Corda)
Generally Found On: All Pianos
The left pedal on a piano is known as the soft pedal. When pressed, it moves the hammers on the piano closer to the strings. The result? A softer and quieter sound.
The soft pedal is often used when pianists want to create a more delicate sound or when they want to reduce the sustain of certain notes. It’s used for subtlety and accompanying, rather than being the star of the show.
Furthermore, pianists will often use the soft pedal in conjunction with other pedals, such as the sustain pedal. By using both pedals together, pianists can create a wide range of sounds and textures.
Last but not least, the soft pedal is also a good choice if you’re playing a piece of music that has a lot of notes in it. Using the soft pedal can help make the music sound less cluttered and more flowing.
- To change the timbre or quality of sound by reducing the percussiveness
- To create a more muffled sound
- To be used as a ‘practice’ pedal if one wants to play quieter
The Middle Pedal
It should be noted that not all pianos have a middle pedal. It’s a relatively new addition and older pianos from before the late 20th century only feature left and right pedals.
Additionally, the function of the middle pedal on acoustic pianos varies depending on whether the piano is a Grand or an Upright.
For grand pianos, the middle pedal is what’s called “sostenuto.” It allows you to sustain one or more notes while playing other notes unsustained.
This can be useful for creating a sustained chord while playing a melody over top.
For upright pianos, the middle pedal is generally just used as a practice pedal, commonly known as the “mute pedal”.
When it’s pressed, the sound of the piano is somewhat muffled so you can play without making too much noise.
Bass Sustain (Quasi-Sostenuto)
Generally Found On: Low-End Grands And Some Upright Pianos
The bass sustain pedal, also known as the Quasi-Sostenuto pedal, can be used when the pianist wants to sustain certain notes while playing others staccato.
So what does it do?
It allows the pianist to simultaneously hold down one or more low notes while playing other notes.
This can be useful for creating a sustained sound in the lower registers while playing more active melodies in the upper registers.
Additionally, it gives the piano a more legato sound in passages that have tons of low notes.
- Hold out the bass notes without letting the melody sound muddy.
- When you want to sustain bass notes and treble notes separately
Mute Pedal (Only Upright Pianos)
Generally Found On: Upright pianos
The mute pedal on an upright piano is used to muffle the sound of the strings.
By lowering a piece of felt or cloth between the hammers and strings inside the piano. You see, this felt prevents the hammers from striking directly onto the stings, which lowers the volume significantly.
When the mute pedal is engaged, it reduces the amount of vibration that the strings can make. This in turn makes the sound softer and less audible.
First, pianists can use this to their advantage when playing more intimate pieces of music.
It can also be used to create special effects in music. For example, if a player wants to create a staccato effect, they can engage the pedal and then quickly release it while playing a note.
Lastly, the mute pedal can be used to prevent disturbing your neighbors while practicing.
- To reduce the volume of the piano, which is ideal when practicing
- For creating a more intimate sound
- For creating a staccato effect while playing
Sostenuto (Only Grand Pianos)
Generally Found On: Grand pianos and digital pianos with three pedals
The sostenuto pedal was invented in 1844 by Jean-Louis Boisselot. This type of pedal is found on most grand pianos.
As mentioned above, the Sostenuto pedal sustains only those notes that were being played when the pedal was pressed.
Additional new notes that are played will not be sustained.
- To sustain selected notes while other notes remain unaffected.
- Often used to sustain bass notes while upper melodies remain un-muddled.
The Right Pedal (Sustain/Damper Pedal)
Generally Found On: All Pianos
As one of the most important pedals of a piano, the right pedal serves an essential function in creating beautiful music.
It’s commonly known as the sustain pedal, and its primary function is to sustain notes that are played.
When the sustaining pedal is depressed, the dampers are lifted from the strings, allowing them to vibrate for a longer period.
A sustained sound that can be used to create a more legato sound, or to add depth and richness to a piece of music.
Moreover, the sustaining pedal can also be used to change the timbre of a note. When a note is sustained, it will take on a different tone quality than when it is released immediately.
- Joining sounds that the fingers alone cannot join
- Adding resonance and dimension to the chord
- Blending multiple layers of sound together in a unified texture
Pedals On Digital Pianos
Since digital pianos don’t have any strings, the pedals don’t move any dampers.
Instead, you’re sending signals to the inner electronics when pressing a pedal. Then, these signals are instructing the digital piano to alter the notes.
While some digital pianos come with built-in pedals, others do not.
The pedals are plugged into the keyboard via the input section. Additionally, not all models have pedals included.
Nevertheless, most cheaper digital pianos include at least one sustain pedal, while more high-end options include a full setup of three pedals.
- One-pedal setup: Only includes a sustain pedal.
- Two-pedal setup: includes a sustain pedal and a soft pedal in a single unit.
- Three-pedal setup; includes all the pedals found on a Grand Piano, including a Damper pedal, Sostenuto, and Soft pedal.
How to Use Piano Pedals
Piano pedals might look mundane but at the feet of a skilled pianist, they can create magic.
There are multiple pedal techniques that a pianist can learn to better express themself through their music. Some techniques are advanced, while others are easier to grasp.
Simple pedal techniques can be used to add volume or simply accentuate certain notes, while advanced techniques involve adding rhythm and expressions to your music.
When it comes to mastering the pedals, timing is everything. You need to be in sync with the music, especially if you are playing with other musicians.
Here are some pedal techniques you can try to use with your piano:
Delayed legato pedalling is a keyboard technique in which the sustain pedal is used to create overlapping notes.
By holding down the sustain pedal with the left foot while the right-hand play a new note. The new note will start before the previous one fades away, creating a smooth, legato sound.
This technique is often used in classical music, but it can also be used in other genres.
It can add depth and texture to your playing, and it’s a great way to add interest to your performance. With a little practice, you’ll be able to create beautiful, flowing melodies.
When a pianist presses the sustain pedal, it causes the piano’s dampers to rise off the strings. This allows the notes to vibrate and sustain for a longer period.
The pianist can then release the pedal and the dampers will fall back down onto the strings, stopping the sound.
Half pedalling is when a pianist only presses the pedal down halfway. This causes a softer, more delicate sound. Half pedalling is often used in slow, lyrical pieces to create a more gentle sound.
Preliminary pedalling is the process of gently pressing the piano’s pedals before playing a note.
This technique takes the damper off the string before you hit the note, which helps to create a deeper sound. In addition, the notes will ring out even longer.
Simultaneous pedalling is when you press the pedals with your feet, and at the same time hit a note. This type of pedalling technique can be used to create emphasis on certain beats or rhythm patterns.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do Some Pianos Have Two pedals And Others Have Three?
The extra pedal on a grand piano (the sostenuto pedal) allows you to sustain selected notes while still being able to play other notes. This can be useful for creating certain types of textures and effects in your playing.
Do You Need Three Pedals On Your Piano?
No, two pedals won’t present many limitations for most piano players. In fact, older models only feature the soft pedal and the sustain pedal.
When you sit down at a piano, you might notice that there are three pedals at your feet.
But what do these pedals actually do?
The pedals on a piano serve different functions that can help create a more interesting sound:
The right pedal is called the sustain pedal, and it does exactly what its name suggests: it sustains the sound of the notes you play.
The sustain pedal lifts all the dampers off the strings inside the piano so they can vibrate freely. When you play a note, it will keep ringing out until you lift your finger or take your foot off the pedal.
The left pedal is called the soft pedal, and it makes the piano sound softer. It moves some of the hammers closer to the strings, striking them with less force.
Some pianos also feature a middle pedal. Depending on what type of piano you have, it serves different functions.
As an example, Grand Pianos have a Sostenuto-pedal which gives the pianist the ability to only sustain the selected keys.
The centered pedal on an Upright is often a mute pedal, used to muffle the sound.