December 15, 2020

Using the Piano Pedal


A piano’s pedal is a unique part of the instrument. Tomoko remarked, “The pedal is a big project for the pianist, and adds another technique to playing.”

The modern piano has three foot-operated levers, which modify the piano’s sound. The first piano pedal invented – the soft pedal -- acts by shifting the piano’s action so that a hammers hits two strings instead of three so that the sounds are softer and less vibranl. The damper – or sustaining -- pedal raises the dampers off the piano strings so they can keep vibrating to generate a rich tone. The third piano pedal invented, the sostenuto, is used to sustain specific notes without impacting other notes. When the pianist holds down piano keys while pressing this pedal, then lifts the fingers, the note will not be damped until the foot is raised. The sostenuto pedal is mainly used to generate on organ-like texture of long bass notes.

The first damper control was a hand stop, which was inconvenient to use. Then it was replaced by a knee lever. In the late 18th century, a pedal at the bottom of the piano was built to function as a damper, and was shifted below until its present location. At one point, a separate pedal board and set of strings could be connected to grant pianos.

The damper pedal is the most popular piano pedal, and can be operated in several ways to generate different sounds. For instance, delayed – or legato – pedalling involves depressing the pedal after playing a note, then releasing the pedal, and depressing it again after the next note is play in order to create a flowing sound. Preliminary pedalling involves depressing the pedal before playing the note so the damper is off, which creates a richer, ringing tone. Simultaneous pedalling involves depressing and releasing the pedal while playing the notes, which accentuates those notes. Half pedalling involves depressing the pedal just half-way so that the damper just lightly touches the strings, which creates a slightly richer tone.

When using any of these pedals, pianists should keep their heels on the ground and put the ball of their feet on the pedal. Thus, pedal usage requires being well grounded and nimble footed. Tomoko fits that profile.