Piano Pedals: What Do They Do and How to Use Them

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Piano Pedals: What Do They Do and How to Use Them

Learning how to play the piano offers many benefits. From improving cognitive skills to providing a creative outlet, the piano is a versatile instrument that can bring joy and fulfillment to people of all ages.

However, for those who are just starting to learn, the piano can seem quite intimidating, with its keys and complex mechanisms. One particular aspect of the piano that often puzzles beginners is the pedals beneath the keyboard.

What do piano pedals do? When should you use them? How can they enhance your playing?

In this blog post, we will go over everything you need to know about the different types of piano pedals, their purpose, and how to use them. So, let’s dive in!

What Do Piano Pedals Do?

Piano pedals are foot-operated levers that control various aspects of the sound produced by the piano. They are crucial for creating different tones and effects, allowing pianists to add depth to their playing.

The pedals work by manipulating the movement of the piano’s internal mechanisms, changing the way the strings vibrate and resonate. This altered vibration produces a unique sound that’s different from the standard tone produced by pressing the keys without using any pedals.

There are typically three pedals on a piano, although some models may have less (such as digital keyboards). The pedals are usually placed underneath the keyboard, with the middle pedal being the longest and the other two on either side of it. The pedals are designed to be used with your feet while sitting on a piano bench, with your hands free to play the keys.

In the next section, we will discuss each pedal’s function in detail so you can understand their purpose and how they can elevate your playing.

Types of Piano Pedals

Types of piano pedals

The three main types of piano pedals are the sustain pedal, the sostenuto pedal, and the soft pedal. Let’s take a closer look at each one:

Sustain Pedal (Right)

The sustain pedal, also known as the damper pedal, is located on the far right of the three pedals. When pressed, it raises all the dampers off the strings, allowing them to vibrate freely and sustain their sound for a longer time.

A damper is a small felt-covered piece that rests on the strings and stops them from vibrating when you release a key. By holding the sustain pedal down, you can create a continuous sound even after pressing the keys.

It’s rare to find any piano sheet music that doesn’t require the use of the sustain pedal at some point. Its function is crucial for creating a full, rich sound on the piano, especially when playing chords or melodies that require longer sustain.

Sostenuto Pedal (Middle)

The sostenuto pedal, located in the middle of the three pedals, is a less commonly used pedal and is only found on certain types of pianos. When pressed, it sustains only the notes that are being held down at the moment, while other keys played after won’t be affected by it.

This allows for specific notes or chords to be sustained while playing new ones without the sound becoming muddy or blurred. It’s often used in more advanced pieces of music where precise control over the sustain is needed.

It’s worth noting that if you are looking to purchase a digital keyboard, you may not find a sostenuto pedal as it’s not a standard feature. Depending on your playing style and repertoire, this may not be a deal-breaker, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Soft Pedal (Left)

The soft pedal, also known as the una corda pedal, is located on the far left of the three pedals.

When you play a piano without any pedals, the hammer simultaneously strikes all three strings of a note. However, when you press down on the soft pedal, it shifts the entire keyboard slightly to one side, causing the hammers to strike only two strings per note. This results in a softer and more muted sound.

The soft pedal is particularly useful when playing in a delicate or emotional style, as it allows for more dynamic control and variation. It can also create a dreamy, intimate sound by reducing the volume of the piano.

How to Use Piano Pedals

How to use piano pedals

Now that we have covered the different types of piano pedals – let’s discuss some techniques on how to use them effectively.

  1. Get Familiar with Your Piano Pedals

Before diving into using the pedals in your playing, it’s crucial to become familiar with their placement and function. Take some time to sit at your piano and experiment with each pedal, paying attention to how they affect the sound. 

Your piano instructor can also guide you through this process and give you tips on how to use the pedals in different musical contexts. It’s essential to have a good understanding of your piano pedals so that you can use them confidently and effectively in your playing. 

  1. Use Correct Posture

As with any aspect of playing the piano, proper posture and technique are vital when using pedals. Make sure you are sitting comfortably at the piano with your feet flat on the ground. Your weight should be evenly distributed between both feet to allow for balanced use of the pedals. 

Avoid lifting your heels off the ground when using the pedals, as this can create tension in your legs and affect your playing. Keep your feet relaxed, and use a rocking motion from the ankle to engage the pedals smoothly.

  1. Experiment with Different Styles  

Piano pedals can add a unique touch to your playing, so it’s worth experimenting with different styles and techniques. For example, using the sustain pedal in a jazz piece may create a more mellow sound, while using it in a classical piece may add depth and resonance. 

Try out different combinations of pedals in your playing to see how they affect the overall sound. Remember to listen carefully and make adjustments as needed. As you become more familiar with your piano pedals, you’ll be able to use them creatively to enhance your musical expression.  

Ready to Take Your Playing to the Next Level? 

If you or your child are interested in learning how to play the piano or want to improve your existing skills, consider enrolling in piano lessons. A good piano teacher will teach you proper technique and posture and guide you on how to use the pedals effectively.

At Be Natural Music, we offer piano lessons for all ages and levels, tailored to each student’s individual needs and goals. Our experienced teachers will help you develop a strong foundation in piano technique, including pedal usage, while also fostering creativity and musical expression.

Contact us today to learn more!

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Matthew Pinck

Matt, fondly known as "Yoga Matt" on stage, has collectively studied music since the age of five and has been teaching in Santa Cruz County since 1998. Among his arsenal of music expertise are: guitar, vocals, composition, piano, electric bass and drums. His vast formal training has taken place in top schools, such as UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and Cabrillo College, eventually earning his Bachelors in Jazz Guitar from Skidmore College in New York.

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