Pedals on a piano are an essential part of the instrument. By pressing down one or more pedals, you can control the sound and expression of your music in many different ways. Understanding how to use these pedals correctly is key to becoming a skilled pianist, as they provide subtle nuances that make all the difference between amateur and professional playing.
The three most common piano pedals are the sustain pedal (or damper pedal), the soft pedal (una corda), and the sostenuto pedal. Each has its unique purpose, which, when combined with good technique, can add significant complexity and depth to your playing. Let’s take a closer look at each one:
Sustain Pedal (Damper Pedal)
This is the most commonly used pedal on a piano. It works by lifting all the dampers from the strings so that notes will continue to ring out after being played until another note is pressed or until it’s rereleased (hence its name). Engaging this pedal during legato passages creates smooth transitions between notes and longer decays for chords, which result in beautiful sonorities. Additionally, suppose you want some aspects within your composition to shine while others recede. In that case, you can use the sustain pedal to ensure that specific notes will sustain for longer than others.
Soft Pedal (Una Corda)
The soft pedal is also known as the una corda pedal, and it works by shifting the action of a piano to one side so that only one string per note sounds instead of two. This gives notes a softer, more intimate sound which can be great when playing quiet passages or adding subtle coloring during larger pieces. Additionally, if your instrument has an older action with less precise regulation, this pedal can help out any issues caused by play wear or uneven fundamental weighting.
Sustaining Pedal (Sostenuto)
Last but not least, we have the sostenuto pedal; this is quite different from the other two as it’s used to sustain specific notes while leaving all others unaffected. This allows you to create lush sustained chords without altering those around them and you can do some exciting things with it, such as having multiple notes ringing at once without muddying up your texture too much. It’s beneficial in heavier classical music like Brahms, where lots of significant chord changes are needed quickly, and there isn’t enough time for each individual note within them to decay naturally.
Using the pedals on a piano is an art form that takes time to master, and it’s something every student of the instrument needs to learn if they want to play with expression, feeling, and control. While each pedal has its unique purpose, you can bring your music alive by combining them all!