Many beginner piano students have a kind of fascination with the pedals. This is probably because, unlike every other section of this great musical instrument, it isn’t obviously clear what they are used for. Unlike the keys which are quite easy to figure out, the pedals have an air of mystery about them for many people, especially beginners.

So unlike the keys, the pedals leave quite a lot to figure out. You could watch numerous pianists perform and keep looking only at their feet, and still not have much of a clue as to what the pedals are doing and what they add to the piece. The following will provide you not only with the information you have been looking for, but also some basic guidelines on how to use the pedals yourself.

Basic Use of the Pedals

The first pedal to look at is the right one. This functions by lifting the dampers from all of the strings, which allows a pianist to do two things: the first thing it allows is to continue a note for as long as the pedal is depressed or the string stops vibrating, whichever comes first. The second thing it does is allow this same note to have a much richer sound. This is because every other string will start vibrating in harmony with the note you pressed.

The type of piano will alter the role the left pedal performs. A grand piano for example has a left pedal that moves each hammer a little to the left of each string, while on an upright piano the left pedal will lift each hammer closer to each string. Grand pianos will therefore produce not only softer sounds when the left pedal is pressed down, each note will also have a more muted timbre. Upright pianos will simply produce a more quiet sound.

Not all pianos have middle pedals – when they do the middle pedal might have different functions depending upon the piano. Concert grands with a middle pedal will lift the dampers for individual notes, the ones that are held when the pedal is pressed, enabling you to sustain certain notes while playing short notes elsewhere on the keyboard.

The left and right pedals are the most vital pedals on a piano. Out of these two pedals the left is the easiest one to use. It should be used to create softer notes when playing with an upright piano, while on a grand piano however you need to be slightly more careful because the effect is different. Although it makes notes softer it will also create a different sound because the hammer is actually moved. With this in mind it should be used sparingly and not just when you wish to play a soft note. It can add a nice dimension to a piece when used appropriately.

The Vital Right Pedal

The right pedal is a very vital aspect of playing the piano but in order to keep this brief explanation ‘brief’ I’ll just quickly touch upon it and offer some advice for learning how to use it properly.

At it’s very basic the right pedal is used to keep notes going that you are unable to sustain by simply holding your finger on the key. The lovely rich and full sound pressing the pedal produces is also why it is used. In pieces such as a Chopin Nocturne one should make extensive use of the right pedal and it would in fact be easier to tell you when not to use it during such a piece rather than explaining when.

Your best bet as a beginner when trying to learn when and how to use the right pedal is to listen to your teacher or work on piano sheet music that have pedaling suggestions within them. You don’t want to risk falling into the trap that even intermediate pianists do of using it in the wrong place and just blurring your music.

It is a good idea to actually practice scores without using the pedals from time to time, even when they call for it. This will encourage you to practice the piece carefully at a nice speed and really become accomplished at it.

Listen Closely And Play Around

It is vital that you realize the connection between how a piano sounds and the location in which it is being played, and how this correlates to your pedal work. For example a piano in a smaller room will probably need full use of the pedals to create the right resonance, while in a large hall the location will help the resonance a lot more, which reduces the need for pedalling.

Also, each piano is unique so you will have to listen closely and play around with each piano before you can get to grips with how the pedals alter the sound. As one of the most difficult things to learn with the piano, discovering how to properly use the right pedal is a big step and once you do it you will be well on your way to mastering this wonderful musical instrument.