When you watch somebody playing the piano, you’re normally focusing on their nimble fingers. But there’s a lot going on down below as well since the pianist is also having to concentrate on using the piano pedals.
Table of Contents
- Why Have Any Pedals At All?
- How Many Pedals Does A Modern Piano Have?
- Why Do Pianos Have Pedals?
- How To Use A Piano With Pedals
- Piano Pedal Techniques
- Pedal Use In Music
- Steinway & Sons Sponsored Piano Pedals Video
Why Have Any Pedals At All?
These pedals are used to alter the sound of the instrument and depending on how you use them, these changes may be barely detectable or they could have a huge impact on the piece of music.
But if you’re new to playing the piano or are simply interested in this wonderful instrument then you may have wondered how many pedals a modern piano has.
Well, look no further because in this article, I’ll be discussing the number of piano pedals, what they’re used for, and how to use them properly.
My first piano only had two pedals and that’s because it was a much older model. If you own an old acoustic piano then the chances are that it’ll only have two pedals but there are some that are fitted with more than this.
Back in the very early days of the piano, there were a lot of people who would try to improve its design and this included the addition of pedals. However, a lot of the time, these were nothing more than a novelty but some were functional and were there to change how the instrument sounded. This may have been through special effects or simply changing the volume of the pressed keys.
Beethoven Loved Piano Pedals!
We’re all familiar with the composer Beethoven and he was something of a piano nut (that’s probably why we can thank him for that ridiculously challenging third movement from Moonlight Sonata) and he owned several pianos. Each one would have various pedals which allowed him to experiment with music and sound. One of the most well known pianos owned by the legend was a French piano that was considered to be one of the most advanced of the time with four pedals.
On top of this, the great musician was the proud owner of a five pedaled piano that included a bassoon pedal, a keyboard shift pedal, a damper pedal and 2 moderator pedals. It seems a little excessive and even absurd to most of us modern musicians but for Beethoven, it was his passion and allowed him to experiment.
However, while this was something that sparked the great composer’s interest, when you think about it, there really is only a need for two or three pedals. In fact, modern pianos now have three pedals and this is thought of as the most effective design.
On the left hand side, you have the una corda which is the soft pedal while on the right you have the sustain pedal. In the middle, you’ll find the sostenuto pedal and that is now the common layout for all modern pianos. Each pedal alters the sound in a different way 1and is just as important as its neighbor when playing the instrument.
Pianos have pedals as a way of altering the sound. Yes, your hands are doing most of the work on the keyboard to play the melodies and harmonies but your feet play an important role too. Here is a rundown of what each of the pedals on a piano are used for.
- The una corda pedal, known as the soft pedal, is there to alter how loud the piano plays, therefore changing the quality of the sound. You might use this when you want to muffle the sound and a lot of people use it during practice sessions.
- The sostenuto pedal is designed to sustain any bass notes without having an affect on higher notes during a piece of music. However, you should note that the pedal will only affect any keys being played while it is being pressed. Any keys you hit after this won’t be impacted. You can use this pedal along with any of the other two.
- The sustain pedal, which is sometimes called the damper, is the most commonly used out of the three. This pedal is used to move the dampers from the piano strings which allows them to continue to vibrate even after you have taken your finger off the key. This allows for a fuller and more rich sound that gives the piece of music much more dimension.
Learning to play the piano is one of the hardest things I ever did. But it was also one of the best things I ever did because it is such a rewarding instrument. But when you first start learning, the presence of those pedals might throw you off as a lot of newbies don’t even realize that they exist.
But don’t let it put you off learning because you’ll soon get used to them and it’ll become second nature. For the meantime, here are some handy tips to help you get to know how to use a piano with pedals.
- Make sure to always sit correctly. Having a poor posture when playing will not only make you uncomfortable but it’ll also affect the quality of your playing.
- Sit so that you are able to rest your feet flat on the floor. The big toes should be in line with the left and right pedals respectively.
- When you come to use a pedal, you can lift your foot and put the ball of the foot onto the end of the pedal.
- When pressing the pedal down, keep your movement smooth and steady with your heel resting on the floor.
- You’d normally use the right foot with the right pedal while your left foot works the middle and left pedals.
When playing the piano, there are certain techniques that you can use, particularly when pressing the sustain pedal.
You might try delayed pedaling which involves waiting until after you have played a note to press the pedal. You can alternatively try preliminary pedaling where you press the pedal down before you hit the note on the keyboard.
Half pedaling is when you only depress the pedal halfway whereas simultaneous pedaling involves using the pedals at the exact same time as pressing the notes on the keyboard.
You may not realize it but the piano pedals are so integral to the overall sound of the piece that many pieces of music have notations regarding the use of the pedals. Sometimes, these markings will tell you when you need to use the pedal and when to let it go.
You’ll notice that the sustain pedal is one of the most commonly described in sheet music. When it’s time to press it down, there will be a marking that says ped and when it’s time to release the pedal, you will see an asterisk. For the other pedals, the markings to tell you to use them will be sost ped and una corda respectively.
Steinway & Sons Sponsored Piano Pedals Video
Renowned Pianist Graham Fitch demonstrates the importance of Piano Pedals at Steinway Hall, London. Graham covers interesting facts about dampers starting at 1:15:
Playing the piano involves a lot more than just mindlessly tapping away at keys on the keyboard. This is a complex musical instrument that takes a lot of practice to learn. As well as using your hands, you’ll need to use your feet to play the pedals.
Modern pianos have three pedals and these are used to change the way the piano sounds. However, in the old days, there was typically one less. Unless your name was Beethoven, in which case some of his pianos had up to five!