Pedals of a Grand Piano, by Tjako van Schie, under GNU Free Documentation License
It seems like it would be a simple answer that every intermediate pianist should know, but I often meet fantastic pianists who ask what the three piano pedals do. Because this question has been circulating my studio lately, I thought I’d write a post on piano pedals.
Why Don’t More People Know What All the Piano Pedals Do?
While ideally, every musician would have a working knowledge of every aspect of his or her instrument, in reality, most of us know what we use. Pianists rarely use the left and middle piano pedals, and they often learn about them in piano lessons and then forget about them.
So What Do the Pedals Do?
The Damper Pedal:
The pedal on the right, or the damper pedal, is the one most people, often even non-pianists, know about. It’s used to sustain the tones being played so that the sound continues to ring even after the pianist lifts her hands off the keys.
How the Damper Pedal Works:
When you press the damper pedal, also called the sustain pedal, it moves the felt dampers away from the strings so that the strings continue to vibrate.
The Sostenuto Pedal:
The middle pedal, or sostenuto pedal, wasn’t developed until 1844. This pedal allows pianists to sustain certain without having to sustain all of them. If you play a tone or group of tones and then depress the pedal while holding the tones, the pedal will sustain that group of notes even after you’ve lifted your fingers—but the held pedal won’t sustain the other notes played after that.
How The Sostenuto Pedal Works:
The sostenuto pedal only holds up the dampers that were raised when the pedal was depressed. So any tones played after the pedal is depressed will have the dampers on as if no pedal is being used.
The Una Corda Pedal:
The pedal on the left, or the una corda pedal, is commonly called the “soft pedal.” When pressed, in modifies the volume, timbre, and tone color of the notes. Most famously, it makes the sound of the notes softer.
How the Una Corda Pedal Works:
The pedal modifies how many piano strings or what part of the strings the hammers in the piano strike. In the treble notes, for example, the pedal shifts the hammer so that it strikes two strings instead of three.