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How to Use Piano Pedals Correctly

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One of the most confusing things for people teaching themselves how to play piano is pedalling.

Why are there pedals under a piano, what do they do and how do I use them?

In this article we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to use piano pedals correctly – from how the work to tips on technique and timing.

If you’re a novice piano player and looking to really level up your playing, be sure to check out our take on the best online piano lessons. They’re a game changer for beginners.

Now, what’s up with those pedals…?

What do the pedals on a piano do?

Depending on the type of piano you have, you may see anywhere between 1 and 3 pedals at the instruments base.

For example, on many digital pianos you’ll only have space for one pedal, whereas on a grand piano you’ll find all 3.

Each one has a different use and application, but they’re all there to enhance your playing with different embellishments. They allow one to add much more expressiveness to their playing.

You often won’t use all of them while playing any single piece of music. But it’s important to familiarize yourself with all 3.

Sustain Pedal

The right-most pedal beneath a piano is the sustain or “damper” pedal and it does exactly what it’s name implies – sustains a note.

That means that when you press this pedal down and hit a key on the piano, the note continues to ring out even after you lift your finger.

This is by far the pedal that you will use most often when playing piano.

Sostenuto Pedal

This pedal is the middle pedal on a typical piano.

It acts similarly to the sustain pedal, but instead of sustaining all the notes that are pressed it only lets the notes/chords that are pressed initially ring out.

Why would you need to do that? Because it allows you to sustain a specific melody or chord while other notes you play do not continue to ring out.

Soft Pedal

The left-most pedal on a piano is called the “soft” pedal or the “una corda” pedal.

This pedal does not affect the way the notes are played at all. Instead it changes the tone (sonic characteristics) of the note.

When pressed, the dampers inside a piano work in a way to give you a mellow, gentler or lighter sounding instrument.

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How to Integrate Pedals Into Your Playing

It can be a bit difficult to start using pedals in your piano playing. That’s because you now have to use 3 of your limbs to do different things instead of just 2.

Getting everything to work together can be a bit tricky at first.

Most importantly, try to make your foot movements smooth and not jerky. Don’t apply too much pressure and don’t pedal suddenly.

You want to try and make your pedal work controlled and flowing along with your playing.

Here are some additional tips on how to use pedals on the piano

  1. Sustain Technique: Press the pedal as you’re playing the notes you want to sustain and stop when you want the notes to stop. Be careful as too much sustain will make everything sound muddy and blurred. together
  2. Sostenuto Technique: Press this pedal down before you hit the notes/chords you want sustained. Release those keys but keep the pedal pressed down – they will sustain, while you’re free to play other unaffected notes/chords. When you want the initial notes to stop ringing out, release the pedal.
  3. Soft Technique: Use this pedal when you want your playing to feel more intimate, soft or subdued and release it to get a normal sound back

Pedalling Mistakes

Here are some of the most common mistakes beginner’s make when learning how to use piano pedals:

  • Over-pedalling: don’t constantly use the pedals (especially the sustain pedal) – they’re meant to add character and embellishment throughout a piece. 
  • Bad Timing: getting the timing right with pedals can be difficult, but keep working on perfecting it. You want to press down at the time it’s needed and release right before you transition to un-pedalled playing
  • Excess Pressure: if you use too much force when pressing down on a pedal you can end up with a bad tone or an overall blurry/muddy sound. Use a controlled and consistent amount of pressure.

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Final Thoughts

When you’re first starting out it can be really tough to get pedalling right – especially the sustain pedal.

Try to train yourself to press the sustain pedal down just as you play a new chord, hold it and release the pedal right before you’re about to play the next chord.

That means if you’re playing different chords rather quickly, you’ll need to really be on point.

It can take some time to get it to flow correctly, but remember that allowing it to flow smoothly is important. So practice pedalling until you’re able to control all your limbs without interrupting the flow of the music while you’re playing.

If you really want to level up your piano playing, there’s nothing better than learning your favorite songs. So I highly recommend you try out FlowKey – the best online piano song library around.

Thanks for reading this article how to use piano pedals correctly – I hope it was helpful.

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    Omar Zulfi

    Omar Zulfi is a music producer, rapper, singer, songwriter and digital entrepreneur. He is the founder and head writer at Deviant Noise. Learn more about what he's doing by clicking here.