Have you ever got the chance to see a grand piano and marvel at its beauty without giving a thought to how many pedals it has?

From the outside, it may seem like a piano can only have two pedals. The truth is that there are many more than just two sets of pedals on a piano.

We will also explain why each of these pedals exists and what effect they can have on your music.

Like the keyboard, these pedals play a crucial role in enriching the sound of your music. In acoustic pianos, there are three pedals. Each has a different name and serves another purpose. Knowing their roles can help you master the pedal function, improving the quality of your music.

If you are wondering about using piano foot pedals, you are in the right place. This guide will walk you through the three pedals on an acoustic piano, their uses, and some tips on using them correctly.

Let's get started.

Piano Pedals: What are They Used For?

Piano pedals are commonly found in acoustic, grand, and digital pianos. Despite being a vital piano component, most pianists and musicians never fully understand their uses and why they are there.

The primary purpose of these pedals is to provide pianists with an excellent variety of sounds for their music. Learning how these pedals work is an essential part of your piano lessons, and they can make a great difference to the sound quality.

Depending on your pedal, you can sustain the sound, make it softer, or enjoy the combination of these two.

If you are looking for an expressive piano-playing experience, you need to understand the function of the three pedals.

That's especially important for people using upright pianos and digital pianos. Songwriters, singers, and those involved in the music industry can add a lot of variation to their music with just the three pedals.

Type of Piano Pedals

Great music requires an emotional element, which can be achieved by sustaining the music longer than usual. That's what pedals help you achieve.

Most modern acoustic pianos have three pedals, although their older variants have two. In this post, we will explore the use of each pedal, its connection to the music notation, and the right technique for playing them with the keyboard.

Here are the three piano pedals you will find on all modern pianos:

  • Sustain pedal or damper pedal
  • Soft pedal
  • Sostenuto pedal

Before we go ahead, note that pedals on a piano are for trained pianists. If you are a beginner, you might not use them for a while, or at least until you become a pro at playing the piano.

Sustain Pedal or Damper Pedal

Have you ever wondered how professional pianists get the notes to ring out even when not holding the keys down?

That's the work of a sustain pedal. The term "sustain" in the music industry refers to holding the sound. Due to its nature and use in almost all kinds of music, the sustain pedal is considered the piano's soul.

Also called the damper pedal, the sustain pedal is on the right side. They are found in all acoustic pianos. To test this pedal, press it down while using the keyboard. You will notice how the sound continues even when you have lifted your fingers off the piano. That's how the sustain pedal works.

It blends different notes and piano chords, producing a smooth sound effect. It's also pretty useful when you transition from one music to another.

While these damper pedals give a wonderful and soothing touch to your music, using them too much can lead to the loss of clarity in the sound. So, before pressing it down, ensure you understand how they work.

Una Corda Pedal or Soft Pedal

On an acoustic and an upright piano, each string is grouped in three, each associated with the same sound. When you hit the key, the hammer triggers all three strings simultaneously, producing the best sound.

The Una Corda Pedal, also called the soft pedal or the left pedal, changes the mechanism of these strings. These are located on the left side of an acoustic piano.

Usually, the pianos produce a bright sound when the hammer hits all strings. But, if you are playing music that requires soft sound, you should try the Una Corda Pedal. On a grand piano, this pedal strikes the right side of the string, hitting only the two of them, thus resulting in a softer and more beautiful sound.

Since the entire mechanism is moved to the right strings, the resulting sound tends to be muted instead of bright. Una Cord translates into "one string." The name is derived from the older pianos that would hit only one of the three strings.

If you are using the upright piano, pressing the una corda pedal will shift the string mechanism to the right and bring the hammer and the strings closer, thus producing softer music.

The entire mechanism does not affect the quality of the music or the tone in any way. But, the music becomes softer, as the hammer travels less to strike the strings.

The soft pedal works differently for different pianos. For instance, a soft pedal strikes only a single string when used on older acoustic pianos and two strings when pressed on a modern upright piano or a digital piano.

Sostenuto Pedal or Middle Pedal

Located in the middle of the piano, the Sostenuto pedal serves three crucial functions:

  • Sostenuto pedals
  • Bass damper pedals
  • Practice pedals

The middle pedal, or Sostenuto pedal, works like the sustain pedal, except it plays the notes that are currently played.

In other words, the notes you play after pressing the pedal down won't be sustained. This pedal works on the sound you played while pressing the pedal down.

The main purpose of the Sostenuto pedal is to sustain the selective sound without making it too blurry or cluttered. The middle pedal is the latest addition to pianos, which is why most of the pianos launched before the 20th century do not have this.

Note that not all pianos having this third pedal have a sostenuto pedal. Some musicians get a bass sustain pedal, focusing on the lower or bass notes. Some pianos have a practice pedal as the third pedal. It generates a soft sound (softer than the soft pedal).

Practice pedals are mostly found in upright pianos and are often used for pressing and holding the pedal down so that you don't have to keep pressing the pedal repeatedly. This feature comes in handy when you want to practice in silence with softer tones.

Digital Pedals

Most electronic pianos come with an input jack at the back of the system. These are used to plug the sustain pedals into the pianos. It also allows you to play electronic pianos with the sustaining feature without incorporating other complex pedals.

Most digital upright pianos are equipped with three pedals, just like normal acoustic pianos, but compact ones may not have any pedals. You always have the option to plug the sustained pedal into the jack to incorporate sustained notes.

Now that you know the different types of piano pedals, let's check out the correct technique for using these pedals.

Piano Pedals Function: How to Use a Piano Pedal

Using the pedals require perfect coordination between your hand and feet. But what's more important is that your big toes must align with the pedals. You must use the ball of your foot to press the pedal down.

Your right foot must be used for the sustain pedal, while the left one should press the sostenuto pedal and the soft pedal. When you start aligning your feet with these pedals and experiment with the sound, you will know how these pedals alter different notes on the piano.

Below we have listed a few effective techniques for perfectly using pedals to play piano. Let's take a look.

Delayed Pedaling

Also called Legato pedaling, delayed pedaling is exactly what the name suggests. You press the pedals down after playing a note. You press the pedal, release it, and then press it down again after playing another note.

This is the most popular pedaling technique, as it seamlessly transitions from one note to another without making the music sound muddy.

Half Pedalling

If you want to sustain the sound, but only lightly, half-pedaling can help.

You need to press the sustain pedal partially so that the dampers lightly connect to the strings, producing a sound that's neither too blurry nor too soft.

Preliminary Pedaling

Preliminary pedaling is when you press the pedals down after playing a note.

Although preliminary pedaling is used commonly, it's the best way to achieve a richer tone. The notes keep ringing out in a loud, rich sound even when you have taken your foot off the pedal.

Simultaneous Pedaling

The last pedaling technique is the one where you press down the pedal and play the chord at the same time. This requires excellent hand and foot coordination to achieve a perfect tone. This supports a rhythmic pattern.

Simultaneous pedaling is another less commonly used technique on a pedal piano. But, when used correctly, the chords and the pedals might create a fantastic sound.

Mistakes to Avoid when Using the Piano Pedal

Pedaling is so important for pianists that these three tools can make or break your performance.

When used correctly, the pedal can take your music to a new level, but using it too much or with the wrong notes can ruin it.

Here are some common pedaling mistakes that most pianists make with acoustic and upright pianos.

Not Lifting the Pedal Correctly

A common mistake most pianists make when using pedaling technique is not lifting the pedals completely.

The pedal must be lifted before it's pressed down again. Likewise, when using the pedal, keep your foot on it all the time. Lifting your foot off the pedal can lead to a thunk sound, which might ruin the music.

Changing Pedals Quickly

You shouldn't lift the pedal too early or simultaneously with the chord when playing a new note. That can make the music chaotic.

The right technique is pressing the pedal down shortly after playing a note. That will sustain the note for some time while avoiding the small break in the sound.

Sitting Near the Piano

Many students complain about sore legs from playing the piano and pedaling continuously. That happens when you sit too close to the piano and give your legs no room for extension.

This can be resolved easily by sitting further away from the instrument so that your leg doesn't hurt from constant playing.

Using Pedals to Soon

Pedaling is an excellent technique to add colors and beautiful variations to your music. But that works when you have amazing piano skills. You shouldn't jump to the pedals when you have not mastered the keyboard yet.

As mentioned earlier, pedaling is not a necessity, not for beginners, at least. You should start with the keyboard and incorporate the pedals later into your music.

Not Listening

You can avoid all the above mistakes when you listen to the sound produced when you apply different pedals. Most mistakes can be spotted easily.

However, people don't pay much attention to music. That's a common mistake that most beginner pianists make.

Bottom Line

Incorporating the above pedaling techniques into your piano playing can change how the instrument sounds. Beware of how you use the pedals, as using them too much or not aligning them with your music can lead to blurry and muddy sounds.

Take care of the above-listed common mistakes people make when using piano pedals. Join piano classes to learn more about different pedals, their functions, and how exactly to use them. Take your time with pedaling and apply the pedal only when you are confident about using them.

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Harlan Kilstein began playing piano during covid with no piano background at all. He taught himself how to play learning what to do and what not to do.
Today he's an advanced intermediate player and can help you grow in your skills because he learned all this on his own.