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What Do The Pedals Do On A Piano?

The pedals on a piano are vital to the pianist in playing the piano. Some pianos have two pedals and some have three but the far right pedal is generally considered to be the most important. Continue reading to find out more.

How Many Pedals Are There And What Do They Do?

What Do The Pedals Do On A Piano?
Pedals on an Upright piano

The picture above will help show what the pedals do. On an upright pianos there are usually two or three pedals. The furthest right pedal is the sustain pedal. This is the pedal which is used to lift the dampers - which mute the strings - so that the strings can resonate at the appropriate time. This is used throughout piano playing adding colour to the music. As we have discussed in another blog if the dampers are not working properly with the pedal, then the strings will not sustain and mute correctly.

The second pedal on all upright pianos is the una corda, or the soft pedal, which is the picture above is on the far left. This pedal is used to soften/lessen the sound which is played and is achieved by the entire hammer assembly moving closer to the strings. In simple terms, this reduces the amount of distance to the strings, decreasing the velocity built up by the hammer movement and thus sound achieved by how hard the strings are hit. The una corda softens/lessens the sound uniformly across the instrument. When you release the pedal the hammer assembly returns to it's normal position.

The third pedal sometimes seen on an upright piano is the middle pedal which can be pushed down and across to this left. This is a practice pedal and serves by moving a pieced of felt in between the hammers and the strings thus deadening the sound. This is excellent for when you are practicing and want to "kill the sound" whether it be for the neighbours, because you are practicing a section repetitively, or small children are having a little too much fun hitting the keys!

Each of the pedals works with a pedal rod which moves up and down pushing the relevant assembly in to the correct place. A picture of one of the rods can be seen on the left in the picture below.

What Do The Pedals Do On A Piano?
Pedal rod on the left hand side which pushes up the hammer action for a sostenuto sound

What about on a Grand Piano?

On a Grand Piano the right hand pedal is still the sustain, and the left hand pedal is still the una corda. It is important to note that on a grand piano the una corda actually moves the whole piano action assembly to the right by 2/3mm so that the hammers only hit some of their designated strings to soften the sound; as opposed to the upright which lifts the hammers closer to the strings to lessen the strike distance.

However the middle pedal is the sostenuto pedal. This serves to hold some of the strings in sustain whilst then playing others around it without the sustain. This is achieved by pressing and holding the notes you would like sostenuto and then depressing and holding the pedal; then play the surrounding notes which will be without this affect and release the pedal when you have finished the section. There are certain pieces of music which call for this affect and a grand piano must be used to achieve this.

There are some pianos which have extra pedals or the pedals do something slightly different but this is very rare. The vast majority of pianos conforms to the above principles.

It is important to have the pedals regulated properly in order to achieve the right affect. It can be very annoying to have squeaks and clunks when you press the pedals and often these are fairly easy fixes that can be achieved by a competent piano technician/tuner. As with many things piano related it is better to see to these issues sooner rather than later to prevent unnecessary wear and tear or the possibility of bigger problems.

We hope that this short blog on What Do The Pedals Do On A Piano? has helped answer some of the most common questions related to pedals. Remember to seek out a trained professional to work on the pedals if they are not quite up to scratch to increase your enjoyment of playing and ability to play correctly.


Pianos Inside Out by Mario Igrec

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