I often get asked “what are the piano pedals for?” Pedal function can vary from piano to piano, but in general,the right pedal is called the damper pedal, the middle pedal is the sostenuto pedal, and the left pedal is called the soft pedal. On some pianos, the sostenuto and soft pedals are reversed. On other pianos, the sostenuto pedal has no function making it a ‘dummy pedal.’
“What does the damper pedal do and how does it compare to a sustain pedal on an electronic keyboard?” The right pedal on a piano has the same effect as a sustain pedal on a keyboard. When you depress the damper pedal, notes you play continue to sound even though you lift your finger off the key. However, the damper pedal on a piano does much more than sustain the notes you are playing. Inside the piano, there is a damper that touches each string. When a key is played, the damper lifts away from the string allowing the string to vibrate and a note to sound. On a keyboard, only the notes that are played continue to sound after lifting off the key while depressing the sustain pedal. When pressing the damper pedal on a piano, All the dampers for every string are lifted allowing strings to vibrate that have not been played as well. This allows a piano to have a fuller sound than a keyboard when using the damper pedal.
The sostento pedal allows only the key played to sustain if the pedal is depressed while the key is still down. On some pianos, this pedal only lifts the dampers on the lower register of the piano.
The soft pedal on a piano can work a few different ways. On modern grand pianos and many uprights, the hammers that strike the strings are moved over slightly so they only plays two strings instead of three strings. In Beethoven’s day, the pedal would move the hammers over so one string would play. Consequently, on written music a composer or arranger may mark “una corda” on the piano when they want this pedal used and “tre corda” when the pedal should be released. Often this pedal has a way to lock it in place, keeping the pedal depressed when you lift off your foot. On some smaller pianos, this pedal lifts a felt cloth in front the hammer so it strikes the cloth instead of the string making the sound softer and muted.
If you would like personal assistance with any of the blog concepts, online and on-location lessons are available from Let’s Play Music and Make Art, LLC located in Derry and Londonderry, NH. www.letsplaymusic.com